Web video showdown: Flash vs. QuickTime vs. Windows Media
How do the three major web video formats compare in terms of CPU usage and battery life? You might be surprised at the results.
Disclaimer: Scott Raymond is married to an Adobe employee who does not work in the Flash group, and to avoid any conflict of interest she did not assist in any way with this article. Also, to provide separate, corroborating tests, Jason Perlow handled his own testing independently.
There’s been a substantial amount of press about web-based video performance lately, specifically aimed at Adobe Flash - and with good reason. Historically, Flash has been buggy, used a great deal of CPU, and consequently drained battery life as a result. However, Adobe has taken great pains to try to alleviate these issues. We propose to test the three most prevalent web-based video formats, comparing CPU usage and battery life.
Jason Perlow and I each picked a movie we owned on DVD over 90 minutes in length; I chose “Big Trouble in Little China” and Jason chose “The Empire Strikes Back”. We used AVS Video Coverter; to generate videos of identical output in each of the three formats. The particular reason for choosing this application over others was that it was capable of generating all three video formats in one program, and that it was a stable, mature application.
The video specifications we chose were:
Frame Rate: 29.97 fps
Video Bitrate: 1200 kpbs
Audio: 44100Hz, 16-bit Stereo
Audio Bitrate: 96 kbps
For Windows Media, the codec used was the WMV9 codec for video, and the WMA2 codec for audio. For both QuickTime and Flash, we used H.264 for video, and AAC for audio.
How We Tested
Server Side: At first we assumed that it would be a simple matter of embedding the video in an HTML file on an Apache web server on our local respective networks, then playing them through a browser. This worked fine for WMV, but for Flash we needed to use a SWF player application stored on the sever, and added to the HTML code. This made things more complex.
We had been in contact with the Adobe Flash team for any technical assistance, and while they did provide us with a quite useful SWF player, we instead chose to go with Flowplayer, a stable, easy to use embeddable flash player. We also felt that by using a third-party application like this there would be no question of collusion or special code that could affect the outcome of the tests in favor of any one format.
QuickTime was another story entirely. QuickTime videos do not embed properly for standalone playing, and we ended up having to install the Darwin Streaming Server in order to stream the video to a browser. Also, the QuickTime video file had to have “hints” installed on the video and audio tracks, which was accomplished through the use of mpeg4ip-server tools. Once we had this set up, however, streaming worked properly.
Client Side: On the client side, we decided to go with Firefox as the browser for both Windows and OSX to ensure equality on both platforms. We installed QuickTime 7.6.6, Flash 10.1 RC7 and the WMP Firefox plugin on the Windows systems; on the OSX side we installed the Flip4Mac Windows Media plugin, Flash 10.1 RC7, and then later Flash Player Gala Preview 2.
System SpecsRead more...