Shocker: New Study Shows Web Video Is Still a Mess

Flash: quick or dead?

Flash: quick or dead?

A new study released Wednesday pits Flash Player’s video performance against that of native HTML5 video playback in several different web browsers.

The verdict? Flash is a CPU hog in some cases, and native H.264 video is a CPU hog in some cases. That’s right — both options threw strikes and gutters.

Video playback in the browser has been a central issue of discussion in the tech world of late. The forthcoming HTML5 spec allows for native video in the browser. But with patent issues causing squabbles between browser vendors over which codec to support, and with Apple rallying against Adobe’s Flash Player — which none of Apple’s mobile devices, including the iPad, will support — there’s been a great deal of debate over what the future of video on the web will look like.

Continuing that debate, Jan Ozer of the website Streaming Learning Center has posted a study of the performance differences between Flash video player and H.264 video playback in Safari and Chrome on both Windows and Mac.

H.264 video playback through HTML5 performs admirably on Mac Safari, but was neck-and-neck with Flash on Chrome for Mac. On other platforms, Flash outperformed native H.264 video. Ozer notes the latest version of the Flash Player is actually quite efficient at video playback on platforms where it can access hardware acceleration. On systems where it can’t, it tends to gobble up resources just like Flash Players of old.

Flash Player 10.1 can access a system’s GPU on Windows, giving a large boost to performance. But Mac OS X users are left out, because Apple doesn’t allow browser plug-ins to access the proper APIs. So, as Ozer argues, “the ball is in Apple’s court” to fix that limitation.

This study essentially backs up the arguments we’ve been making since the debate began — that the current crop of web browsers are not ready for native video playback and that Flash isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

However, there’s one troubling omission here: Ozer’s study leaves Firefox out. He chose YouTube’s HTML5 demo pages to do his testing, and YouTube is currently pumping out H.264 videos on those pages, which Firefox can’t view. Firefox only supports videos in the Ogg Theora format. He does include Firefox in the study, but only uses it to measure Flash performance.

It doesn’t help that the author keeps referring to H.264 video as “HTML5″, when they are certainly not the same thing. H.264 is a patent-encumbered video format, so it’s disingenuous to treat the format as a fair test subject for measuring native video performance across browsers.

This isn’t ignorance on Ozer’s part, just an oversight — the man has written numerous books and articles about video codecs, after all. It’s an interesting study, but be aware that it doesn’t provide a complete picture of where native video playback is today.

[via Read/Write Web]

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