Update: Check out our video of Flash 10.1 beta 3 in action!
With portable 10-inch screens and prices as low as $299, a Netbook would seem to be a great choice for video-watching on the go. Sadly, your average Netbooks can't handle HD video, so getting a good experience from Hulu, YouTube, or Netflix on Demand is out of the question most of the time.
One could always apply some lowered expectations and consume only SD video sources, but if that really the kind of world we want to live in?
One step in the right direction was Nvidia Ion GPU, released late in 2009, which provided a decent level of both HD video playback and 3D gaming. Unfortunately, it was only available in a handful of systems, and has not yet managed to make its way into the new generation of Intel Atom N450 Netbooks.
A widely touted substitute has been the Broadcom Crystal HD video accelerator, which some PC makers are using in place of the Nvidia Ion, as it is currently available in Netbooks with Intel's N450 CPUs. But it's been a halfway solution at best -- it works fine for playing HD WMV files on your local machine, but streaming video sites such as Hulu (which use Adobe's Flash) couldn't take advantage of the HD video hardware.
At least, not yet. PC makers have been waiting for the arrival of the 10.1 beta 3 version of the Flash Player, which they claimed would support the Broadcom Crystal HD chip. Of course, this glosses over the problem of relying on a not-yet-released beta version of third party software to achieve the minimal level of functionality consumers would expect from a Netbook with something called an "HD video accelerator."
We have a couple of Netbooks on hand with the Broadcom Crystal HD chip, an HP Mini 210 and a Dell Mini 10, and are currently loading up the new beta version of the Flash Player to see if it gives us an acceptable streaming video experience, so check back for updates and full reviews of both systems. If you want to try it for yourself (it also adds support for Intel's older GMA 500 integrated graphics), download Flash 10.1 beta 3 here.