Why are browser-based videos so slow on my computer?
October 27, 2009 7:22 PM   Subscribe

Why are browser-based videos so slow on my computer?

I can play high-quality video files off of my hard drive without any difficulty. But watching a video a fraction of the size and resolution in my browser (such as a Youtube video) results in constant skipping and stuttering, even after the video has loaded completely. Why is this? Is there anything I can do to fix it, short of a hardware upgrade?
posted by dephlogisticated to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
What kind of computer/ operating system do you have? Flash based video is very processor intensive and, as of yet, isn't GPU enhanced. But it's especially CPU intensive in OS X.

For starters, I recommend making sure you have the newest possible version of Adobe Flash Player.
posted by sharkfu at 7:33 PM on October 27, 2009

YouTube videos get decoded by Flash Player, which is off in its own little world and doesn't share codecs with anything else on your computer. Try updating to the latest version. If that doesn't help, your best bet might be to install something like the Video DownloadHelper which will let you grab stuff from YouTube and play it with a proper media player.
posted by flabdablet at 7:33 PM on October 27, 2009

Flash video codecs arent as efficient as the stuff you probably have in your video collection. I think the newest version of flash addresses this a little. Make sure you have the newest version of flash installed.

It may be your browser. Does IE and Firefox act the same way?

Is this a netbook? I know some of the low wattage CPUs have trouble keeping up with flash video.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:33 PM on October 27, 2009

The issue is not the codec, but the player. Especially on any platform other than Win32 flash is a slow moving CPU hog, best off to use downloadhelper as mentioned above and a real video player.
posted by idiopath at 7:44 PM on October 27, 2009

Response by poster: I'm running a Dell laptop. Certainly oldish, but not ancient (3.06GHz, 512MB of RAM, Windows XP). I tried updating to the latest version of Firefox, as well as updating Flash. Neither helped the video issue, unfortunately. May have to try a download add-on. Thanks for the suggestions.
posted by dephlogisticated at 7:46 PM on October 27, 2009

My netbook chokes every time, especially on HD videos on Vimeo. I was told it was the lack of dedicated video memory.
posted by drjimmy11 at 7:47 PM on October 27, 2009

Oooh, 512MB of RAM? In my experience that is barely enough to run WindowsXP at all, let alone any programs. I would pick up an upgrade- can't guarantee it will help play videos but it will sure help your computer in general.
posted by drjimmy11 at 7:49 PM on October 27, 2009

The Adobe flash player can't use hardware video acceleration because it operates in RGB colorspace (for whatever brain dead reason) whereas most video cards' hardware overlay only supports YUV. So that means the scaling is all in software. I've read that newer versions use an OpenGL API instead of the hardware overlay which can be accelerated.
posted by Rhomboid at 7:55 PM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: At this point, I'm just trying to squeeze every mile I can out of this thing—I'll undoubtedly upgrade to a new system soon. But I was curious as to why there would be such a discrepancy between different forms of video. The hardware vs. software issue makes perfect sense.
posted by dephlogisticated at 8:06 PM on October 27, 2009

I forgot to mention that you can try tweaking the scaling algorithm that Flash uses to trade off quality for speed. For example with youtube try YousableTubeFix and set the quality setting in the options to low quality.
posted by Rhomboid at 8:15 PM on October 27, 2009

You should be able to get 1GB of RAM, shipped, for something like $40. If you have a reasonable net connection, current Firefox and Flash, and don't have some horrible malware, a 1.5 GB, 3.06 Mhz laptop has pretty much no reason to be unable to play browser-based video smoothly.

Good Luck!
posted by Hello Dad, I'm in Jail at 10:25 PM on October 27, 2009

How many tabs do you have open in Firefox? I've often got twenty (often more) tabs going, I open all kinds of pages and then sleaze through them slowly, reading -- for example, today was just a huge day on the blue, I went down through it and opened all the interesting items and then came back through, reading. I've found that when I play vids when I've got tons of tabs open it chokes, bigtime.

How many extensions do you have on Firefox? Yeah, the more you have the more fun it is but each one of them takes some resources, a little here a little there and before long you've got a lot of computing power and memory allocation eaten up by all of these sweet extensions.

Also, it's good to kill Firefox every now and again, restart it, I don't know why, I've read (It was on the internet so it must be true!) I've read that it's got memory leaks. No telling. But taking it down and then loading the vid again helps matters.

For that matter, restart XP every now and again; I keep it running too long and it starts gagging and choking and getting all left-handed and dumb-footed, you don't have to take it down to a cold boot but just a restart. In my experience; YMMV.

Get more memory -- it's dirt cheap anymore, and not a machine on the planet that doesn't want more, and like more, and happier with more, it's like a whore with a credit card.

Seconding DownloadHelper -- download whatever it is you're interested in and then play it in VLC, which is (I think) the best player there is, fast fast fast. Plus if you download it then you are not subject to the vagaries of high/low download speeds, you've now got the whole thing on your puter, then you can keep it or dump it as you see fit.
posted by dancestoblue at 11:42 PM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

A lot of less expensive laptops don't have dedicated video memory - they share memory with the system. So your 512 MB RAM might mean 128 MB video memory, and 384 MB memory left over for Windows. Upgrade that. It should be a criminal offense to ship a laptop with 512 MB RAM now. It should have been criminal to do it when you bought the thing in the first place.

Be forewarned that upgrading might not be especially straightforward. Your 512 might be a single chip, or it might be a pair of 256 MB chips. You might have one memory slot or two. You might have one upgradable slot, and one non-upgradable fixed slot containing the shared video/system memory. Basically, it isn't as simple as what I have now + what I bought = total memory. You might buy 1 GB RAM and end up with 1 GB RAM if you have only a single slot to use, or you could get lucky and end up with 1.5. Check your system specs on the Dell support page for your laptop, and by all means don't buy directly from Dell unless you enjoy paying way more than you should for memory.
posted by caution live frogs at 8:50 AM on October 28, 2009

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