Adobe released version 10.2 of their Flash Player plugin at the beginning of the month. This latest version adds preliminary support for Stage Video, which is supposed to reduce CPU usage during video playback. In order for Adobe to improve the Flash Player, they need to improve battery life by reducing CPU usage during flash playback. Heavy CPU usage may not be a major factor on desktop computers, but it is on anything using a battery, as it drains the battery quickly. Is this new version any better on the Mac?
Looking at CPU usage will be the way to determine if Adobe Flash has improved or not. The best way to test this new version is to compare it with older versions of the Flash Player and similar sites running HTML5. This test was conducted with Adobe's Flash Player 10.0, 10.1, and 10.2. An Aluminum 24" iMac with 4GB of memory, 2.8GHz Core 2 Duo, and running Mac OS X 10.6.6 was used as the test platform. Safari version 5.0.3 and Firefox version 4.0b11 were both used to conduct this test.
The main goal for Adobe with this update was to improve Flash Player's video performance, and this is an obvious place to start. The video test was conducted with the Transformers Trailer on YouTube at a resolution of 720p. YouTube's HTML5 playback for Firefox uses WebM codec and does not have a 1080p version, so 720p was used instead. The CPU usage measured in each test is the average over the two minute trailer after it was fully downloaded.
The next test was to look at a static Flash Player graphic website and compare it to a similar static HTML graphic site. Google Analytics was chosen as the flash website, and Flickr's analytics page was chosen as the html page. The CPU usage was pretty consistent after the page was fully loaded, so the data was collected 30 seconds after loading the page.
The last test was conducted on a HTML and FLASH animation website. Adobe's Flash demo was used for the Flash Player test and a HTML5 animation by Paul Hamill was used for the HTML5 test. The data was collected after 30 seconds of inactive user interaction. The HTML5 does have moving objects, but is less complicated. Adobe's Flash demo was not moving at the time of data collection, but it is a more complex 3D animation, which should require more CPU or GPU usage.
While the test shows little improvement in general Flash Player usage between 10.1 and 10.2, the video performance did improve from 40% to 30% in CPU usage on Safari. This is still 50% higher than Safari playing the video directly with 20% CPU usage. While there was a definite improvement in video playback, Adobe still needs to keep working to reduce CPU usage to make it competitive with HTML5 video playback. Flash also has a problem with static web pages. Even though nothing is moving in the Flash graphics, it still takes up a significant amount of CPU usage. For static webpages, it is still unacceptable for battery powered devices.
Two other unexpected observations came out of this test. The Firefox/WebM combo used twice the CPU usage than did Safari/H.264. Even though Firefox 4 is still in beta, this still shows WebM is nowhere near ready for prime time. Google has a lot of work to do to optimize WebM for portable devices. Second, generally Flash performs very poorly on Firefox compared to Safari. Ultimately, if battery life is a concern, Firefox should be avoided as it uses significantly more of the CPU than Safari.
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