Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Chrome 4.0 / HTML 5 Video Playback

Google's just released the next major revision of its Chrome browser, version 4.0, to the masses in the last day:

Previously Chrome 4.0 was only available to the initiated (development release). Updating to 4.0 for existing users is simply a matter of clicking on the wrench icon in the rightmost toolbar area and then selecting About Google Chrome.

DownloadSquad featured a variety of Chrome plugins in a November article (only useful at the time to folks with the development release):

With 4.0's release Chrome's extensibility goes up dramatically and thus its utility.


Chrome's addition of extensions overshadow its in HTML 5. Among them, video playback. The ramifications of this while not immediately forthcoming are significant. For quite some time most web designers/developers have assumed their users to have Flash but it turns out Flash has its issues. For starters, Flash's performance under Mac OS X is very poor and something that many Mac fans continually scoff at. The proof is in the pudding:

For a variety of reasons including the fact that the HyperText Markup Language (HTML) originally was focusing on document publication and not rich multimedia experiences, Macromedia (a well known company later acquired by Adobe) entrenched itself with the novel idea of extending browsers with video playback. Before you knew it, its Flash platform became the defacto standard for video playback. The fly in the ointment is that as the Macintosh user base has grown dramatically, they're increasingly a louder voice and unhappy with a second rate video playback platform. Rest assured, the number of Macintosh users is growing faster than Adobe (and Steve Ballmer) would like - Apple's recently announced latest quarterly results were phenomenal.

There are two big issues with Flash. First, Adobe has struggled with lots of security issues with both its Flash plugin and PDF reader. Secondly, as much as I've been a fan of Flash for blazing trails, I hate to say this but I'm liking the idea of not requiring it on my desktop. It turns out performance-wise, by today's standards its architecture poorly leverages my hardware. Despite Flash being pervasive for the better part of a decade Adobe only now has seen it fit to leverage GPUs during video playback. GPU acceleration within Flash is still in beta:

In other words, Flash can be very CPU intensive while your computer' graphics subsystem and its computational prowess goes unused. It turns out decoding video is intrinsically a parallel computation, something GPUs excel at.

I'm willing to bet anyone with a laptop, even a powerful one, knows all too well what happens when you start playing lots of Flash content - the fan starts cranking.

I'll close with pointing out that if you are running Chrome 4.0, you can opt to use HTML 5 video playback by default on YouTube instead of Flash by visiting the following page:

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