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A Skeptical Comparison of HTML5 Video Playback To Flash 391

Posted by timothy
from the always-a-naysayer dept.
gollum123 writes "Think we'd all be better off if HTML5 could somehow instantly replace Flash overnight? Not necessarily, according to a set of comparisons from Jan Ozer of the Streaming Learning Center website, which found that while HTML5 did come out ahead in many respects, it wasn't exactly a clear winner. They did find that HTML5 clearly performed better than Flash 10 or 10.1 in Safari on a Mac, although the differences were less clear cut in Google Chrome or Firefox. On the other hand, Flash more than held its own on Windows, and Flash Player 10.1 was actually 58% more efficient than HTML5 in Google Chrome on the Windows system tested. As you may have deduced, one of the big factors accounting for that discrepancy is that Flash is able to take advantage of GPU hardware acceleration in Windows, while Adobe is effectively cut out of the loop on Mac." gollum123 also links to additional tests indicating that Flash "does not perform consistently worse on Mac than on Windows."
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A Skeptical Comparison of HTML5 Video Playback To Flash

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  • by sopssa (1498795) * <sopssa@email.com> on Sunday March 14, 2010 @05:03AM (#31470766) Journal

    The second test seems to forget that Flash added GPU acceleration in Windows, which dramatically drops CPU usage [engadget.com]. It's not even small amount, it's 60%->12% with YouTube 720p video and most likely even more with 1080p. They've been working a lot with NVIDIA on it, which means more bad news for HTML5. I also installed those new NVIDIA drivers and newest Flash beta and full screen video is considerably smoother. [nvidia.com]

    And where's Opera in this test? They added HTML5 support in 10.5 final too and their whole drawing engine will be hardware accelerated, with websites also. Their canvas implementation is also faster than with any other browser.

    • by Aladrin (926209) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @07:02AM (#31471188)

      So they're saying that when Flash isn't -doing- anything, it still sucks down 12% of the CPU. Yeah, that's awesome! Whoo!

      They're also saying that With Flash using the GPU to the hilt, and HTML 5 not, they use about the same CPU.

      Seriously, these are not impressive numbers.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by wisty (1335733)

        It's just odd to compare two different tech stacks (which can do just about anything) by measuring their video playback performance.

        As long as hardware acceleration works, the language (or whatever you want to call it) is not a big factor. It's like comparing an apple (which may have a gorilla supporting it), in a cage match with an orange (which may have a gorilla supporting it).

        Flash uses the GPU (except on OSX - boo Apple). HTML5 will use the GPU on every platform sometime in the future. I know which on

        • by jedidiah (1196) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @10:52AM (#31472098) Homepage

          > It's just odd to compare two different tech stacks (which can do just about anything) by measuring their video playback performance.

          It's the point of comparison because hardware acceleration DOES NOT WORK.

          It doesn't work despite there meant a means to do so on both Linux and MacOS. Adobe continues to give same excuses while sandbagging.

          Their Windows version probably isn't even living up to it's own potential in this regard.

          Video playback performance is fixated on because it means the difference between being able to use an Atom or needing a 3Ghz or Quad Core machine.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Skapare (16644)

      If NVIDIA would put the effort into making an open codec (such as Dirac) directly in the GPU firmware, and keep their Linux driver updated properly (or just open source it ... all the magic is in the GPU so the driver should just be a means to pass data between CPU and GPU), then an HTML5 based video would display well, too.

      This is NOT a showing of whether Flash is better than raw video, or not. It's a showing of what secret backroom deals can do to lock out safer, more secure, more open, ways of doing thi

      • by cheesybagel (670288) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @10:14AM (#31471940)
        No need to bother. All that needs to happen is for someone to add CUDA or OpenCL acceleration to the codec playing and it will still be offloaded to the graphics card.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Blakey Rat (99501)

        If NVIDIA would put the effort into making an open codec (such as Dirac) directly in the GPU firmware, and keep their Linux driver updated properly (or just open source it ... all the magic is in the GPU so the driver should just be a means to pass data between CPU and GPU), then an HTML5 based video would display well, too.

        And... what would be in it for them? They're not going to spend all that money to get Slashdot bragging rights.

  • by symbolset (646467) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @05:04AM (#31470778) Journal

    How much of a performance hit am I prepared to accept for open standards? 100%. The performance of the open platform will double every 18 months, but the DRM'd content will be forever limited.

    • by sopssa (1498795) *

      Open standards and DRM don't really have much to do together. Merely because the underlying system is open standard doesn't mean it cannot have DRM system implemented in it. Two different matters.

      • by drizek (1481461)

        It does if it is licensed under GPL v3.

        • by sopssa (1498795) *

          How does GPL v3 restrict implementing DRM?

          It's always possible to use GPLed code to write software that implements DRM. However, if someone does that with code protected by GPLv3, section 3 says that the system will not count as an effective technological "protection" measure. This means that if you break the DRM, you'll be free to distribute your own software that does that, and you won't be threatened by the DMCA or similar laws.

          Of course someone could try to fork the code in a way that can output non-DRM'd version of the file, but it's perfectly possible that GPL'd application can implement DRM. The earlier versions of Voddler [wikipedia.org] did this too (though now they've changed to website based system with Flash)

          • by drizek (1481461)

            Interesting. I had never seen that language before.

            Still, it is a pretty big loophole.

        • by DrXym (126579)
          Not necessarily. I could pipe content which I have decrypted and validated from a DRM'd container to a GPLv3 application for decoding. Alternatively I might modify the GPL app to call out to my proprietary process to decode the content for much the same effect. Nothing to stop me doing that at all. I could even supply the source of my modifications and it wouldn't necessarily help someone crack the DRM. If it was an LGPL v3 library (as most codecs are likely to be), I wouldn't even have to bother separating
    • I do use linux, since that doesn't have GPU accelerated flash, I am clearly not all that bothered by it. Oh and I do get performance bonus after all with this.

      And will it be all that hard for browsers to pull the same trick as flash did?

    • by DrXym (126579)
      100% performance hit... In 18 months double of nothing is still nothing. Assuming you meant sucky software only vs hardware accelerated playback, I expect the vast majority number of people would go for the latter because their principle concern is doing stuff like playing video, and not worrying if their codec or graphics driver are open source.

      Besides which you confuse and conflate free, open standards and DRM all into one. For example h264 is an open standard but its not free (although the majority of

    • The performance of an implementation should have no baring on a standard at all. You can implement the video tag on IE 6 with Flash and a tiny bit of JavaScript or XSLT. This entire test makes about as much sense as deciding whether .mkv or .mov is a better container format by measuring H.264 playback performance with VLC and QuickTime.
  • by javilon (99157) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @05:08AM (#31470792) Homepage

    As soon as the video tag becomes popular implementations using the GPU will appear, and will not only work in Windows. We will be farther better off.

    And if Google open sources the VP8 codec the just purchased, it will be even better.

    • by sopssa (1498795) * <sopssa@email.com> on Sunday March 14, 2010 @05:20AM (#31470860) Journal

      Actually, GPU acceleration is why Theora is losing to H.264 again. H.264 can be already hardware accelerated in almost every device from PC's to mobile phones. But Theora doesn't have such support.

      • Tailspin (Score:3, Interesting)

        by gd2shoe (747932)

        You've just described the tailspin that we're in. To get out of it, somebody must loose face because their device/system is incapable of supporting open and free standards. It's sad that the end users will be collateral damage to this, but the sooner it happens, the better off we'll be.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by FrostedWheat (172733)
        Theora doesn't need anywhere near as many CPU cycles to decode as H.264. Hardware acceleration would be nice, but it's not as critical as you'd think.
        • by dingen (958134) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @07:10AM (#31471214)
          Maybe not on a PC, but in a handheld device you really can't let the CPU do the decoding. You simply can't get the 10 hours (or so) of video playback on a phone that way with today's chips and batteries. A dedicated video decoding chip is the only option for such devices and right now, a chip for decoding MP4/H264 is already present in most systems.
          • by BeardedChimp (1416531) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @08:31AM (#31471478)
            Many system on chips such as the omap3530 have a dsp. These are general purpose and for example the omap3530 can do 720p h264 and mpeg4 decoding.
            However adding theora or vp8/6 decoding is a matter of writing a codec for the dsp as opposed to having to create a whole new decoder chip.
            Devices that use something similar could add this functionality through patching even after either vp6/8 or theora get some support.
      • The hardware acceleration that Flash is benefitting from on Windows isn't h264 decoding from what I understand. It's actually colorspace conversion. Flash allows authors to overlay arbitrary graphics on top of video, which means mixing data from RGB and video colorspace. That in turn meant hitting non-accelerated codepaths. Adobe, Microsoft and the driver devs worked on fixing that and now Flash is super smooth on Windows. Apple meanwhile have either not created or not exposed the necessary APIs, so Flash s
        • by cortana (588495)

          Jobs does not spread make these comments out of spite.

          Apple have put a tremendous effort into developing a closed platform where they vet every application that their users run. It is not in their interest to allow this to be bypassed by making Flash available on the iPhone and the iPad; therefore they discourage its use on their desktop platform by ensuring that the resulting user experience is unpleasant (that is, buggy and slow).

          The public comments from Jobs about Flash is another prong of this stragegy:

    • by WarJolt (990309)

      maybe it will work in linux. Flash has a poor record

  • The author implies that adobe can't use gpu for flash on mac. Why not? Is he getting confused with iphone which is different from the mac, at least the last time I checked.

    • Not a crap article (Score:4, Informative)

      by Macka (9388) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @07:27AM (#31471280)

      The author implies that adobe can't use gpu for flash on mac. Why not?

      It's not a crap article because it's true. If you look at the 10.1 public beta release notes [adobe.com] it says:

      In Flash Player 10.1, H.264 hardware acceleration is not supported under Linux and Mac OS. Linux currently lacks a developed standard API that supports H.264 hardware video decoding, and Mac OS X does not expose access to the required APIs. We will continue to evaluate adding the feature to Linux and Mac OS in future releases.

      How Apple react to this will be a good litmus test of how fair Steve J is prepared to be with Adobe. Will he make the APIs available to benefit his customers but risk making HTML5 less attractive, or will he just ignore them and play hard ball.

      As for Linux, the historical lack of a unified approach to solving this (that includes all interested parties) is going to leave us out in the cold for some time yet. Let's hope that Gallium3D sticks, gains enough traction and doesn't get dropped for something else a few years down the road. That will make a nice change!

      • by heffrey (229704)

        Wow! I stand corrected. Guess I don't know as much as I thought I did. I always assumed that Linux and OSX were proper grown up client operating systems - apparently not. Makes Windows look pretty good. Developers Developers Developers!

      • by Skapare (16644)

        The hardware that is doing the accelerated video decoding is the GPU itself. All that is needed is for NVIDIA to program its video driver properly so the video application that is displaying content on some part of the screen has a means to designate a portion (or all) of that to be the video display, and send the video stream in to be decoded into that space.

        This is NOT an issue of Linux. It is an issue of NVIDIA not putting an equal effort into other platforms, or not opening up the interface specs (thi

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by JonJ (907502)
        Why can't they do this via the Quicktime APIs that expose hardware acceleration to H.264?
      • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @09:57AM (#31471872) Journal
        It's not quite true on OS X. There is a standard way of playing back H.264 using hardware acceleration: use QuickTime. Adobe can't use this because they ship their own H.264 implementation (which is slower than the QuickTime one and ffmpeg), rather than using the supplied one. There aren't hooks for adding GPU acceleration to arbitrary CODECs, unless you use OpenCL, but there are APIs for playing back H.264.
  • by ottawanker (597020) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @05:20AM (#31470856) Homepage

    From what I can tell by reading the article that says that 'Flash "does not perform consistently worse on Mac', what they really mean is that not only does Flash run slower on Mac, but Safari is also coded really poorly for Windows.

  • Sure it gets bashed on Slashdot for not being open source but so what? Slashdotters would love to see Ogg audio take over the world and MP3 die a painful death too, and I don't see that happening either.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by gaelfx (1111115)
      Well, for those of us interested in the development of Linux as a viable alternative to other operating systems, closed source software that comes to be considered "necessary" for general computer use means more time and resources spent on developing software against the de facto closed standards. Imagine if all those people trying to make Flash work on Linux could do something else with code that they can actually see. I dunno about you, but when I code for something, I like to know what the heck I'm work
    • by deniable (76198)
      Open source? Who cares? How about flash cookies, horrible ads, and stupid UIs for web-sites.
      • Horrible ads? Adblock/Flashblock. Flash cookies? Delete them. What people care about is, erm, having a Linux version of Flash that isn't a horrible smoking pile of excrement, performance- and stability-wise.

    • by compro01 (777531)

      Non-OSSness is the least of flash's issues. Security issues and pathetic support on Linux (especially 64-bit systems) rank higher on my list of reasons why flash should die in a fire.

    • by jgrahn (181062)

      Sure it gets bashed on Slashdot for not being open source but so what?

      The practical results range from extra trouble (doesn't come prepackaged with my OS) to showstoppers (have a 64-bit CPU? Sorry, we don't support that.) The only application good enough to make up for that kind of trouble is Opera.

  • HTML 5 is a clear winner by virtue of not being Adobe Flash or any other proprietary application but an open standard.

  • Could someone please tell me what the point of Flash video(or html 5 video) is? I can watch mpeg2 films on clonky old hardware (remember multimedia PCs?) that won't play Flash, so is it just that flv is a smaller filesize? If so, how much smaller? Is it that flv renderers scale better than mpeg2?

    • by flyingfsck (986395) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @07:42AM (#31471320)
      MPEG2 compresses by a factor of about 5 to 10, while H.264 AVC compresses by a factor of about 20 to 30 and the subjective quality is better too, being not blocky.
      • by zmollusc (763634)

        So, assuming that Flash video is H.264 AVC, we are trading the huge pain in the ass of Flash players for 75% less 'buffering' time that could be spent looking at another tab?
        Neat!
        Personally, I would prefer software that downloaded the film clip, checked it was all there and then let me play it backwards, forwards and pause as I please without hanging the browser or rebuffering the whole thing again. But this is probably just crazy talk.

  • Anecdotal evidence (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Ma8thew (861741) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @05:41AM (#31470952)
    Obviously this is anecdotal, but the fans on my Macbook pro often spin up playing full screen flash video, but never while playing video in Quicktime. But even if HTML5 performs no better than Flash currently, HTML5 still wins because it doesn't rely on Adobe to issue security and performance updates.
    • by EvilIdler (21087)

      My fans spin up playing *windowed* Flash video. Adobe aren't even trying on OS X.

  • by diamondsw (685967) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @05:53AM (#31470994)

    gollum123 also links to additional tests indicating that Flash "does not perform consistently worse on Mac than on Windows."

    Yes, tests provided by... Mike Chambers of Adobe. I'm sure that they're completely impartial.

    When I turn on HTML5 video support at YouTube, the exact same clip in the exact same browser on the exact same OS on the exact same session runs at a third of the CPU power. Sure, it's an anecdote - and one that's been observed by hundreds if not thousands of others, consistently over the years. But according to Adobe, nope, no problems at all. Emperor's clothes look really chic.

    Fuck off, Adobe. You had years to improve your damn plugin, and we'll all be better off when it and its horrid performance and security record are no more.

  • Let's compare an established de facto standard which is a monstrosity beaten into submission over several years, to an experimental implementations of an unfinished standard. Oh, and lets leave out the fact that the new one is perfectly cross-platform and open while the old one isn't.
  • Let's wait and see (Score:5, Insightful)

    by oljanx (1318801) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @05:59AM (#31471014)
    It's not really fair to compare a technology that is still being developed to others that are very well established. The big benefit of HTML5 is it's non-proprietary nature. Once the standard is adopted and applications are built around it these comparisons will look very different.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      I don't think openness of the standard is a benefit in this specific instance. Flash has to be optimized once per platform (so, 3 times). HTML5 video has to be optimized once per browser per platform, which is considerably more work. If only one popular browser doesn't do a good job, HTML5 video will be an unsuitable solution (because that browser will still need to use flash, and at that point you might as well deploy flash for everyone).
      • 3 times ? So your platforms are Win 32, Win 64, and Blackberry ? what about the other ones ?

      • by esme (17526)

        I think you're dead wrong. This test clearly shows the problem with the current proprietary solution: Flash video has low CPU usage on Windows because Adobe has optimized for that platform, but high CPU usage on Macs because they haven't bothered for that platform. And because it's a proprietary plugin, if Adobe doesn't want to fix this problem, neither Apple nor anyone else can do anything about it.

        Having a standards-based solution, with multiple open source implementations means that anyone can add the

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by IICV (652597)

        I don't think openness of the standard is a benefit in this specific instance. Flash has to be optimized once per platform (so, 3 times).

        But Flash has been optimized zero times per platform. It is under the sole control of Adobe, so unless you have some mystical way of improving their legendarily shitty code, Flash is simply not going to get any better ever. Adobe has exactly zero reason to make Flash work any better, because they have zero competition in the market (Silverlight? Don't make me laugh, at thi

  • Retro machines (Score:3, Insightful)

    by stimpleton (732392) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @06:09AM (#31471038)
    By saying "PC and MAC", TFA disregards handheld and small devices. These may be dominant players in the medium term(till they are as powerful as PC's and Macs). HTML5 may have an edge, especially with the iPad attitude of limited Flash support
  • Even if the results are real, there are a few shortcoming.

    Mainly, the performance issue, especially on MacOS, is
    not limited to video. Even plain simple Flash with animated
    clip art is a CPU hog. This is what REALLY needs to
    be benchmarked and documented.

    Then, all videos are not equal. For the same bandwith, when comparing H264 in HTML5 and Flash codec in Flash player, we need to compare the CPU usage AND the final
    quality.

    Finally, the test should be performed on the same hardware for both MacOS and Windows.

  • Misses the point (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gweihir (88907) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @06:30AM (#31471100)

    Performance is rather secondary. This is about standards and cross-platform compatibility. Flash is an atrocity in this regard, and the earlier it gets tossed out on the trash heap of computing history, the better.

    • by dingen (958134)
      You are exactly right. Performance isn't the issue at all, it's rather a nice side effect.
  • With Safari on the Mac, Flash did show a significantly higher CPU utilization, but Ozer attributes that to Apple's use of GPU hardware acceleration with HTML5. ... Adobe has added hardware acceleration with Flash Player 10.1, and Ozer argues that if Jobs were to embrace such a setup, CPU hogging would no longer be a problem. Of course, that still leaves the buggy bit. And the security bit.

    So the answer is to let some bug-ridden security-mess proprietary plug-in have direct access to the hardware. Brilli

    • So the answer is to let some bug-ridden security-mess proprietary plug-in have direct access to the hardware.

      No, let the plug-in have access to the hardware through a hardware abstraction layer. Several steps of block-transform video decoding aren't too different from pixel shading, yet video games using pixel shaders don't have destructive access to the hardware.

  • Try having text-to-speech read you a flash-based site some time. So much for ADA compliance on the web. HTML5 will encourage sites to fix this.

  • Honestly (Score:5, Insightful)

    by trifish (826353) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @08:06AM (#31471394)

    I don't care if Flash is 50% faster than HTML5 video. I don't want the vulnerability-laden Flash on my primary OS just to watch a YouTube video. Period.

    • Agreed! And I don't care how much faster Flash is on Windows. I don't use Windows and Flash is the _only_ video playing app that can't play full-screen video smoothly. VLC can do it, mplayer can do it. So I don't buy the GPU argument, even if using the GPU helps. Even if Firefox or Chrome can't do it yet at least it is in our hands to do something about it instead of waiting forever in vain for Adobe to take other platforms seriously.
  • So of course Flash will do some things better. HTML5 will come along very quickly, however, because of the number of people (consumers and companies) that hate Flash. Adobe dug this hole for themselves with their arrogant attitudes and sky-high pricing. Now that the rest of the industry has an alternative to rally around, it will soon be a new world. It won't be flash-free, but Adobe will have to clean up it's act to compete.

  • Having a platform based/built on open standards is way more important than having some monetarily driven format underpinning everything we develop for. I don't care about efficiency; I care about being able to use the internet without having it dictated to me that I need to use a Mac, or Vista, or a special browser feature some asshat wrote that I need for my banking. The world doesn't need another microsoft. The world doesn't need another swiss-cheese plugin controlling the web so shaddap about it alrea

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