Adobe Flash Player: Not The Typical Video Player
In most conversations, people generally don't realize that Adobe Flash Player is extremely unique. It's not your typical video player, as it works on an entirely different premise. It's a common question: why isn't Adobe Flash Player more like Windows Media Player, a day-to-day player that everything defaults to?
When you play something in VLC or Windows Media Player, generally, the encoded video data passes through the video decoder and is spit out as YUV data (color space) and put onto your screen.
Since Flash Player is designed for both composited interactive graphics and video, it has more work to do. After processing the video into YUV data, there is another conversion to RGB color space in order to blend interactive non-video elements. After that, it still needs to interact with the browser to display the content to the user.
That is why playing back a downloaded video file is not the same as playing it within the browser. This is the reason why any Flash video benchmark must be run within a browser.
Now, what are the "interactive non-video elements"? Think about the interactive controls, subtitles, and annotations when you watch a YouTube video or the UI with intermixed video and graphics on Hulu. Keep in mind that Flash is also more than just adding playback controls and visual cues. It is also provides a framework for ActionScript, along with webcam and microphone functionality. This all occurs within a single plug-in that a majority of users have installed.
And even though dedicated video players and Adobe Flash Player both provide linear multimedia playback, Flash Player does it in a way that allows you to jump in at any point of the video track without having had processed the entire video. This is why you can jump to a specific scene within Hulu or YouTube in an on-demand fashion.
ActionScript is an often glossed-over benefit. Consider video on Comedy Central, MTV, or a myriad of other sites that employs adaptive bitrate streaming; it is done in ActionScript. This feature allows content providers to provide multiple quality settings that are automatically adjusted to take advantage of what limited bandwidth you have available at the time of playback. While not having quality controls available to the user generally frustrates the HTPC crowd, it generally bodes well for those of us that multi-tab browse (sometimes Web sites also provide manual control).