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

Do Browsers Matter? What About Full-Screen?

Does Your Browser Matter?

Surprisingly, yes. It's not something many people talk about, but remember that Flash is technically provided as two plug-ins. There is an ActiveX version written specifically for IE8 and another one for every other browser. 

Playback: YouTube 1080p on Asus UL20AAero Enabled, Hardware Acceleration EnabledCPU Usage: Windowed
IE8 32-bit: 8.0.7600.168535%
Firefox: 3.6.1249%
Opera: 10.63 (build 3516)25%
Chrome: 8.0.552.21528%
Safari: 5.0.326%

As far Adobe is concerned, the differences between the two Flash versions should be negligible. From a performance standpoint, the company has no specific example to suggest one browser is better for Flash than another.

Our own testing, however, reveals some interesting results. Generally speaking, we do see high CPU usage on Firefox and IE8. All browsers and all configurations are able to play video without stutter (24/30 FPS), provided the browser is in windowed mode and has hardware acceleration enabled.

We actually reran the numbers on a few systems after looking at the results from our first round of testing. The second round of numbers showed similar margins, which is why we believe this is a not an aberration. From our conversations with Adobe last week, it seems likely that there is something within each individual browser that affects how they are handling Flash video.

We also noticed a bit of a glitch unique to IE8. If you move the cursor rapidly during Flash video playback, skipping occurs. The degree of frame dropping depends on the CPU. Even on a Sandy Bridge Core i7-2820QM-based laptop and a Core i7-920-powered desktop we see the same results, which is downright strange considering the raw horsepower under each machine's hood. Because this is limited to IE8, it seems to be an artifact of the software-based difference between ActiveX and the plug-in version of Flash Player. Adobe seems to be unaware of this glitch, but we are informed that they are looking into the issue.

What About Full Screen?

Playback: YouTube 1080p on Asus UL20AAero Enabled, Hardware Acceleration EnabledFullscreen
IE8 32-bit: 8.0.7600.1685CPU Usage: 52%27.0 FPS
Firefox: 3.6.12CPU Usage: 60%27.8 FPS
Opera: 10.63 (build 3516)CPU Usage: 37%15.5 FPS
Chrome: 8.0.552.215CPU Usage: 39%14.0 FPS
Safari: 5.0.3CPU Usage: 39%13.8 FPS

Full-screen matters. On the Windows side, remember all post-processing data operations, such as scaling, occur on the CPU. So, we weren't surprised to see higher CPU usage. What did surprise us was an inverted relationship between CPU usage and FPS. Even with lower CPU overhead, the FPS count is almost half of what it should be in order to see fluid playback on Sarfari, Opera, and Chrome.

Strangely, there seem to be two factors in play here: the browser we use and the available CPU horsepower. On a beefier system like the ThinkPad T510 (Core i5-540M), we don't see that browser choice matters, beyond some impact on CPU usage, since playback is completely fluid. Across the board on non-desktop-class systems, we do see this phenonmemon occurring--perhaps another artifact of the way individual browsers handle Flash video.

  • Scott2010au
    Notify Mozilla - they care!
    Reply
  • Tamz_msc
    Detailed and interesting article.
    Reply
  • Another interesting article they should do in regards of flash is games/applications in flash vs java and other methods. I know a majority of the flash games that are on facebook have a tendency to put netbooks into a crawl whereas other methods perform a lot better. Also, an article on how to possibly improve flash performance on netbooks would be a really useful article as well.
    Reply
  • reprotected
    This article should have not been released. Now Apple, Chrome and Opera is going to race against Firefox and IE for the best flash playing browser. MORE HYPE!
    Reply
  • What about performance of flash in different operating systems. For example speed in Ubuntu and Windows?
    Reply
  • acku
    What about performance of flash in different operating systems. For example speed in Ubuntu and Windows?

    Installing Flash in Ubuntu isn't straight forward unless you are on the 32-bit version. I hear 64-bit is a nightmare. And I'm talking about the official version. That says nothing about the poor performance of Gnash and swfdec. Now there is nothing wrong with using Linux, but it wasn't intended for that type of usage. I code in Linux occasionally. That said, we might look into it down the road.

    Can you clarify what you mean by speed comparisons? I'm not sure I follow. Video is video. Regardless of operating system, the difference is going to be performance overhead.

    Andrew Ku
    TomsHardware
    Reply
  • What baffles me is the frame rate drop in full screen mode on Chrome/Safari/Opera.

    And it would be very interesting to see results on a Mac.
    Reply
  • acku
    UmrathWhat baffles me is the frame rate drop in full screen mode on Chrome/Safari/Opera.And it would be very interesting to see results on a Mac.
    Yeah, we only can speculate as to why that is for those three. There defiantly is something going on. As for Macs, point taken I'll be sure to address that in the future.
    Reply
  • randomizer
    9507892 said:
    Installing Flash in Ubuntu isn't straight forward unless you are on the 32-bit version. I hear 64-bit is a nightmare. And I'm talking about the official version.
    The 32-bit version works fine on 64-bit Linux, you just need to install the 32-bit libs. Flash player 10.2 beta has a 64-bit version I believe, and it doesn't need to pull in all those extra dependencies. I've used it on Arch Linux without an issue. Hopefully 10.1 officially gets replaced soon :)

    9507892 said:
    That says nothing about the poor performance of Gnash and swfdec.
    Gnash is an admirable project, but it's too far behind Adobe's Flash player to be relevant. I don't think it even works with some more recent videos.
    Reply
  • acku
    9507895 said:
    The 32-bit version works fine on 64-bit Linux, you just need to install the 32-bit libs. Flash player 10.2 beta has a 64-bit version I believe, and it doesn't need to pull in all those extra dependencies. I've used it on Arch Linux without an issue. Hopefully 10.1 officially gets replaced soon :)

    Gnash is an admirable project, but it's too far behind Adobe's Flash player to be relevant. I don't think it even works with some more recent videos.

    https://help.ubuntu.com/community/RestrictedFormats/Flash#Flash%20for%2064-bit%20%28x86_64%29
    While 64-bit Flash for linux is still beta, Ubuntu mentions that it provides
    # Greater stability
    # Greater speed and performance
    # Fewer dependencies to install

    over using 32-bit Flash in 64-bit Ubuntu. I haven't tried it myself, so I can't say for sure. I'm trusting Ubuntu's internal tests on this one.

    We're of the same mind on gnash.

    Andrew Ku
    TomsHardware
    Reply