Adobe and Nvidia announced that the next version of the Flash player will take advantage of Nvidia graphics processing units (GPUs) to improve online video. Adobe Flash Player 10.1, which will be in beta by the end of this year, will be designed to get a boost from Nvidia's GeForce, Ion and Tegra chips.
Netbooks and nettops based on the Ion platform will benefit from Flash 10.1, since online video is an area where Intel's Atom platform currently falls short. But the new player, the first released under Adobe's Open Screen Project, is part of a broader effort to have a consistent browser-based Flash runtime that works across all devices from PCs running Windows, Mac OS or Linux to smartphones. Adobe also announced it would release the Flash 10.1 runtime for Windows Mobile, Palm's webOS, Android, Symbian, and eventually BlackBerry (the iPhone is still missing). Smartphones using Nvidia's Tegra will also get the GPU acceleration.
The benefits for smartphones are pretty clear--they don't even support Flash today. But what do laptops and Ion-based netbooks, which run Windows and Flash and can play 720p video, get out of it? Using the GPU to handle video playback should reduce the load on the CPU, and ensure smooth HD video playback, even on budget laptops and netbooks that struggle with those intensive tasks.
Last week, I spent a couple of days at Nvidia's GPU Technology Conference, and it was clear that the company has made a lot of inroads with GPU computing for the sorts of high-performance applications in universities, medical research, oil and gas exploration, and finance. But its efforts to promote the GPU as a co-processor for consumer applications are really just getting going. Applications such as Elemental Technologies Badaboom, MotionDSP's vReveal and Cyberlink's PowerDirector 8 have been around for a while. Adobe Photoshop CS4, which has been shipping for about a year, has several "Accelerated Canvas" features that use the GPU to improve the responsiveness of the program when working with large images. But a Flash runtime with GPU acceleration should make the benefits of GPU computing, on certain tasks, more obvious to millions of users.
Whether they'll be using Ion netbooks, however, remains to be seen. HP is the only major company currently shipping an Ion netbook, the Mini 311. The Lenovo IdeaPad S12 and Samsung N510 are now scheduled to ship sometime after the Windows 7 launch on October 22. Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang told the UK-based reviews site that Intel was trying to "suffocate" Ion, but the technology will continue to exist because it helps computer companies to differentiate their netbooks.
The Mini 311 has yet to receive the full review treatment, but earlier today Laptop Magazine posted some early test results, which look very good, but I'm waiting for the battery life results to reach a verdict on Ion.