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Should Codecs Matter To Me?

Adobe Flash: A Look At Browsers, Codecs, And System Performance

Should codecs matter? Yes they should. At the end of the day, anyone that consumes multimedia doesn't care about how the video was packaged and delivered. Everyone wants high-quality video with a low performance overhead that has the minimal impact on bandwidth. And generally, the priorities fall in that order.

However, we should point out though that the much-hyped hardware acceleration capabilities of Flash Player 10.1 only apply to H.264-encoded video. In your everyday life, how pervasive is H.264 compared to VP6 and Sorensen Spark? Well considering that roughly 90% of all Flash-capable systems are running Flash Player 10, the vast majority of Web sites use H.264.

Web siteSelected QualityResolutionVideo Bit Rate (Kb/s)
Flash Codec
YouTube240p400x170253Sorenson H.263
YouTube720p1280x5442016, max:11.3 Mb/sH.264
YouTube1080p1920x8163560, max:17.9 Mb/sH.264
DailyMotion Ad-400x300600VP6
Vimeo #1SD506x380497VP6
Vimeo #1HD640x4901110VP6
Vimeo #2SD640x360602, max: 1416H.264
Vimeo #2HD1280x7201999, max: 4332H.264
Youku #1-432x324238H.264
Youku #2-448x336218H.264
Sevenload #1-320x176740Sorenson H.263
Sevenload #2SD448x256711Sorenson H.263
Sevenload #2HD1280x7201850, max: 3359H.264
Sevenload Ad-640x480800VP6
(Youtube Hosted)
CBS(Adaptive?)640x360(Adaptive?), 700 nominalH.264
CBS ad-640x360700H.264
Fox clip-560x315600VP6
Fox full episode(Adaptive?)480x270(Adaptive?), 300 nominalH.264
ABC ad-640x360602H.264
CNN-416x236393, max:1024H.264
CNN ad-640x360752VP6
ESPN ad-440x330712VP6
ESPNHQ off576x324260VP6
ESPNHQ on576x324800VP6

This is a quick and dirty lay of the land, but it is an imperfect analysis. Even though we chose sites both on the corporate and the consumer side, it became quickly apparent that most of the sheer volume of Flash content is on the consumer-oriented side. Furthermore, we don't include a site unless we can download a file and analyze it, which causes some problems with streaming servers.

More to the point, even though we may know a site uses a specific codec, it sometimes is impossible to get accurate bit rate information because its implementation of Flash is capable of adaptive bitrate streaming. Hulu and Fox are an uncertainty in the this regard. Hulu's technical FAQs suggest that adaptive bitrate is a only a discrete setting, but the answers within their forums and the wording makes the issue somewhat ambiguous.

In addition, you will need an internet connection with sufficient bandwidth. Our videos stream at 480 Kb/s or 700 Kb/s, and we'll adjust our stream based on your bandwidth, but we recommend a downstream bandwidth of 1000 Kb/s or higher for the smoothest playback experience. You can test your downstream bandwidth at many Web sites. Search for "bandwidth test" on the Web to find many of the most popular bandwidth test Web sites.

Some of our videos now come in a 1,000 Kbps, H.264, 480p stream. You can recognize these streams by the 480p Hi-Res button that will appear in the lower right of the player. To watch these high resolution streams, you'll need to upgrade to Flash Player 10.0.32, and we recommend a downstream bandwidth of 1,500Kbps for the smoothest playback experience.

Yet its Media FAQ and recent blog posting makes everything a bit more confusing.

Hulu videos are streamed as Flash video files (FLV files). These files are encoded using the H.264 codec that is supported on Flash Player 10 and above (which is installed on more than 97% of computers in the U.S.).

Hulu currently supports dynamic bit rate streaming to create the best viewing experience on each device and platform. Our player chooses the optimal stream for each client based on the available bandwidth.

Hulu currently supports four different streams including 480 Kb/s, 700 Kb/s, 1000 Kb/s (an H.264 encode that is not on On2 VP6) and 2.5 Mb/s.

You can turn on adaptive bitrate streaming in our new video settings menu in the player. That menu also allows you to force the player to stream at a fixed resolution of 480p, 360p, or 288p, but we recommend that you select adaptive bitrate streaming. When it’s on, you can rest easy knowing Hulu is offering you the smoothest playback at the highest resolution possible for your bandwidth.

We have tried to reach out to Hulu to clarify this matter. As of yet, the company has not responded for our requests for further information.

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