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GPU Acceleration Comes to Flash Video E-mail
Written by TechReport   
Thursday, 10 December 2009

GPU Acceleration Comes to Flash Video

The introduction of Intel's Atom and the rise of the netbook have unquestionably validated the market for low-cost, low-power computing. Compact little systems that are "just fast enough" for the general set of uses people have for computers-surfing the web, chatting via Skype, sending emails, balancing the checkbook, taking notes, conducting Ponzi schemes via Craigslist-have been selling like mad for the past couple of years, and they show no signs on slowing down in the future. Once you exclude a few tough cases like video editing and hard-core gaming, low-cost PCs tend to do very well on the most common sorts of PC applications, which is why consumers have been buying them in droves.

But there's long been one area of common PC usage where low-cost systems tend to choke: dealing with Adobe's Flash platform, especially the near-ubiquitous Flash-based videos plastered all over the web. Pull up that latest hilarious YouTube clip of babies and/or kittens on your hot pink MSI Wind, and you're in for deep disappointment. Those lovable little balls of flubber/fluff slow to a near-standstill. Meanwhile, the Wind works to earn it name; its fan kicks up, shooting a stream of hot air out of its side, to no great effect. You're stuck in slideshow land, from which the best escape is closing the browser tab-if only the system would respond to your clicks.

This is a tragic outcome for what is otherwise a dynamite little computer, made more infuriating by the fact that such systems will play a range of video formats just fine via Windows Media Player or the like. The difference is that traditional media players often employ some form of GPU acceleration, at least for scaling up the video to the size of the display or window in which it's being played-and perhaps even for decoding a highly compressed format like H.264. Trouble is, Flash doesn't make use of the video acceleration logic built into most graphics chips, so the poor low-power CPU is left to fend entirely for itself. A tragic kitten slideshow is the only possible outcome.

Until now, that is. Adobe has recently released a beta version of Flash 10.1 with built-in GPU acceleration. The support for GPUs is preliminary and is largely focused on video decoding alone, but it's already being facilitated by new video drivers from AMD, Nvidia, and Intel. The promise? Low-power computing just might be able to conquer its one long-standing bugaboo. Amazingly enough, given Flash's broad popularity, this is a development of pretty serious import in certain quarters. To see how much of a difference GPU acceleration can make, we rounded up a trio of low-power systems with integrated graphics and took the Flash 10.1 beta for a spin. TechReport


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