Adobe on Wednesday released an update to version 10.1 of its Flash Player, bringing it to 10.1.82.76. The major feature in this release is the long-awaited addition of hardware-based H.264 decoding for newer Macs. Formerly, the feature was only available via Adobe Labs in the "Gala" beta of Flash.
Macworld reported on the hardware acceleration feature back in April when the beta was first released, allows Flash to take advantage of the video cards in newer Macs when playing H.264 content, rather than relying only on the computer's CPU. This can result in faster and better Flash performance as well as reduced load on your computer's processor (and thus some potential battery life improvement for portable Macs).
Unfortunately, because of the way Apple originally configured the API that Flash is taking advantage of, most Macs manufactured before 2009 won't see any of these added benefits. Computers that will support video hardware acceleration include: MacBooks shipped after January 21, 2009; Mac minis shipped after March 3, 2009; MacBook Pros shipped after October 14, 2008; and iMacs shipped after the first quarter of 2009. The Mac Pro and MacBook Air are not supported at this time.
Some other issues existed in the earlier beta version of the 10.1 release; Adobe engineer Tinic Uro detailed many of the limitations at the time in a blog post. For example, some video resolutions were not supported; hardware decoding of improperly encoded video files occasionally caused frames to play out of order; and the hardware decoder could only handle two videos at a time. Adobe has yet to update its release notes for Flash Player 10.1, so it's unclear how many--if any--of these issues have been resolved in this latest release.
Issues aside, April tests of the beta from the Macworld Lab on two MacBook Pro models showed impressive processor load decreases in comparison to Flash Player 10. It's worth noting that not all Flash video on the Web uses the H.264 format, but many of the big providers--YouTube, Hulu, Vimeo, and so on--do, so at the very least this update may provide users with some faster, less battery-intensive keyboard cat bliss.