HTML5 vs. Flash: The Video Benchmark Deathmatch

With the release of the iPad, among other things, HTML5's been pitted against Flash as the savior of web video. It might be! (Or not!) Either way, a crucial arguing point is that it's more efficient. So, uh, is it?

Jan Ozer at Streaming Learning Center decided to run some tests—simple tests—comparing CPU utilization for HTML5-embedded and Flash-embedded h.264 videos, in different browsers, and across Windows and OS X. Spoiler: It didn't go so well for anyone involved.

Illustration for article titled HTML5 vs. Flash: The Video Benchmark Deathmatch
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So, this whole test is just a mess of incompatibilities. For HTML5, they're obvious: a lot of browsers just don't have h.264 decoding support, so they can't decode the HTML5 video at all. For Flash, the incompatibilities are more subtle: On Mac, Flash 10.1 doesn't support hardware video acceleration, whereas on PC, it does. In the cases where Flash video is actually more efficient than HTML5, the reason is that it's accelerated by the PC's graphics hardware.

To make it all worse, neither set of incompatibilities will be resolved soon. Adobe claims that Apple's reluctance to give them access to relevant APIs in OS X has made it impossible to implement hardware acceleration, which is why videos require so much less CPU power in Windows than on OS X. And for what it's worth, this is a defensible philosophical choice. Says Gruber:

The Apple way to play H.264 is through the QuickTime APIs (and really, as of Snow Leopard the new QuickTime X APIs), not to write your own H.264 playback code that seeks to directly access hardware accelerators.

Apple could make Flash better on Mac, but it would be a break in tradition, and judging by Steve Jobs apparently disdain for Flash in general, Adobe shouldn't expect any extra help to come from Cupertino.

And as for the terrible browser compatibility problems, these are just as insidious, and much less calculable. Mozilla says they'll never support h.264 video, and even if Microsoft decided to in Internet Explorer 9, for example, the vast masses of people who still use older versions of IE—including IE6, which is still one of the most popular browsers on the internet, despite being originally released in 2001—will never support it. (See our Giz Explains on the subject for more.) And so there's that!

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The moral of the story, weirdly enough, is that we should frame this whole issue in terms of video performance. Flash is widely used for ads and other dynamic content as well—both of which could theoretically be replaced by some combination of HTML5 and Javascript, but which face the same browser compatibility issues as HTML5 video. In theory, HTML5 video sounds like it ought to be more efficient than plugin-based Flash, but right now, minor differences in CPU utilization? That's the least of our worries. [Jan Ozer via ReadWriteWeb]

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DISCUSSION

HMTL5 is a Metaphor for Apple and their Dev. apps saying please don't kill our apps store. First, HTML5 video is so many years behind what flash can do today... And by the time html5 get close to it... we will be flying our cars to work. The true power of flash is not the video but yes the capability to make anything you imagine possible. What other tools beside Adobe Suite that you can start to finished a complex interactive system without using another software? None! Microsoft try to do that and could not make it... so, they make flash run inside Silverlight. And to prove my point what runs on the zune HD site? Flash! I love new tech but HTML5 to me is just going back years and not moving forward. First time I saw flash and play with it... I saw the future in how we will deal with video and graphics (Interactive TV)... And the present and future is to be using Smart Interactive Motion Graphics (video or images)... And the tools that will make that possible was and still is flash. Remember the time when you want to watch a video and you could not play because there is 100000000000000000000000000000... QuickTime codec and after you find the right one you have to pay for it? Yes, flash really made QuickTime, RealPlayer, Windows Media, Director, and many other ghost and pointless to use on the web. What was taking months for a programmer using Director to create an interactive CD's you could do in flash in one or two weeks... And that's why Director die like QuickTime, Realplayer and so on... QuickTime did not die you may say... so, why when there is a new trailer coming out all links point at YouTube? and not at the original trailer url... People wants things now and fast! And flash delivers that. Now, if you have expend thousands of dollars in a Mac and the flash plays better in a 10 years old PC... It's no brainer that Apple want you to have that cause what is the point of I-tunes and apps? The I-phone OS was not built in one or two years.... ways longer then that and that's why they did start long ago making flash a bug software in such OS. And If you are a software engineer you will see what I am saying... and it's so easy to write a function to make any software run as bug as hell. Anyway, there was a company way back in "8 to 9 years ago" showing video playing inside the e-mail browser and the video was playing better quality and it did better frame per second too then the current HTML5... and that was 8 to 9 years ago. All this HMTL5 thing is all BS and everyone that has some neurons sees that!