Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

How to get a better Flash experience on OS X (beta)

Yesterday Adobe released a new beta version of Flash 10.1 for Mac OS X. There’s some interesting new features, so if you want to try them all out, here’s what to do:

1. What’s new?

  • Private browsing support – if your browser has a ‘Private Browsing’ mode (also known as ‘porn mode’), Flash will detect this and not save any data for any sites while the mode is active.
  • Out-of-Process plugin support – some browsers, like Firefox and Chrome, can run some plugins in a separate process to the main web browser process. That means that if Flash crashes, it only kills its own process and not the whole browser. So rather than having Firefox crash on you completely, you’ll see a greyed-out panel with a sad brick in place of the guilty Flash animation.
  • Hardware-accelerated H.264 video – any H.264 video on sites like YouTube or Vimeo will be decoded using your graphics card and not your CPU. This reduces the amount of CPU power needed, and, if you’re on a MacBook or MacBook Pro, should increase the battery life.

2. Requirements

While the Private Browsing support is available to all users, some features require specific hardware and software before they will work. For Out of process plugins, you will need:

  • Mac OS X Snow Leopard – older versions won’t work
  • A Mac with an Intel processor – for the above reason, Snow Leopard isn’t available for PowerPC Macs
  • A browser which supports this feature – Google Chrome and Safari support this now; for Firefox you will need Developer Preview 4. Firefox 3.6.4 will bring this feature to Windows and Linux but more testing needs to be done on OS X.

To get H.264 support working, you will also need, in addition:

  • A relatively new Mac with nVidia graphics (such as the 9400M). If your Mac is up to a year old, you’re probably fine.

Note that during the beta any videos where hardware acceleration is enabled will have a small white square in the top-left corner, to show it’s working.
To see it in action, go to YouTube and watch any video in HD (720p or 1080p). If you have a compatible graphics card, you should find the playback much smoother, especially when viewing full screen on a high-resolution screen.
The lack of hardware-accelerated H.264 support was one of the things Steve Jobs mentioned in his Thoughts on Flash open letter. It’s good to see that Adobe has already made some ground; while the likelihood of Flash support being added to the iPhone is somewhere between highly unlikely and never, at least performance on OS X has improved somewhat.

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