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Lucky Macs get Flash speed bump

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Updated A lucky chunk of Apple Mac owners can now enjoy hardware-accelerated Flash video — not all Mac owners, mind you, but that's not Adobe's fault.

"You should notice now a nice difference when playing H.264 content on your Mac in terms of CPU usage," writes Thibault Imbert, product manager for Adobe's Flash Player, on his ByteArray.org blog.

The new version of the Flash Player (for Mac OS 10.6.3 and above) is available for download here. After you grab a copy, though, we suggest that you take a control-click Show Package Contents trip into the Adobe Flash Player.pkg's Info.plist file to make sure that the version you download is 10.1.82.76 — that's the one with the new H.264 acceleration. According to Imbert: "It may take a few hours to get propagated."

Apple — as world+dog is all too aware — has an ongoing love/hate relationship with Adobe's Flash. Steve Jobs has called it "buggy" and a "CPU hog", and famously banned it from his company's iPhone/Pad/Pods, suggesting in an open letter: "Perhaps Adobe should focus more on creating great HTML5 tools for the future, and less on criticizing Apple for leaving the past behind."

But despite this Jobsian disrespect, Apple surprisingly added hardware-acceleration hooks to Mac OS 10.6.3, which debuted on March 29 — perhaps entirely coincidentally only a month after independent testing showed that hardware acceleration raised Flash performance to that of video performance in Jobs' beloved HTML5.

Apple's introduction of the Video Decode Acceleration framework in 10.6.3 was too late for Adobe to incorporate into Flash 10.1, which debuted on June 10. Adobe did, however, launch a beta effort codenamed Gala in late April — the debetafication of that effort is what's now available.

Unfortunately, Cupertino's hardware-acceleration beneficence is minimal. As explained in Apple Technical Note TN2267, the new video-boosting framework introduced in Mac OS 10.6.3 (and carried over into 10.6.4, released in mid-June) only works on Macs equipped with Nvidia GeForce 9400M, 320M, and GT 330M graphics.

If you'd like to try out Adobe's Flash Player 10.1.82.76, first check your Mac's graphics capabilities, either in Apple Menu > About This Mac > More Info > Graphics/Displays, or by scanning the list of Macs that use the Nvidia GeForce 9400M and 320M here — and add the newly redesigned Mac mini to the list of 320M-equipped machines. The GT 330M is used in current MacBook Pros.

When — if? — Apple plans to expand the range of graphics subsystems that can take advantage of the Video Decode Acceleration framework is a secret known only in the halls of One Infinite Loop.

Until that effort gets the Jobsian go-ahead, owners of, for example, a new iMac with an ATI Radeon HD 5670 or a new Mac Pro with an ATI Radeon HD 5770 or 5870 won't benefit from hardware-accelerated H.264 video decoding, and the "CPU hog" epithet will remain in effect. ®

Update

When first published, this article had mistakenly listed the supported graphics subsystems for Flash 10.1.82.76 to include the Nvidia GeForce GT 320M. The correct part — as the article now states — is the GeForce 320M.

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