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CNET tests Flash 10.1 beta 3 on Netbook with Broadcom Crystal HD accelerator (video)

Adobe has finally made Flash 10.1 beta 3 available to download, which the PC makers who offer Netbooks with the Broadcom Crystal HD video accelerator claim would provide for HD streaming Web video support.

We've been highly skeptical of the benefits of buying a Netbook with a built-in Broadcom Crystal HD video accelerator.

First, we're fans of Nvidia's Ion GPU, which not only provides similar HD video playback assistance but also basic 3D graphics support. Second, the Broadcom part wasn't supported by Adobe's Flash player, making it useless for streaming Web video, which is what we'd imagine a lot of Netbook owners would want to play.

But, as the Nvidia Ion in its current form is not available on Netbooks built around Intel's newer Atom N450 CPU, the Broadcom chip is the only game in town at the moment.

Fortunately, Adobe has finally made Flash 10.1 beta 3 available for download, which, according to the PC makers who offer Netbooks with the Broadcom Crystal HD video accelerator, provides better HD Web video streaming performance.

We took a Netbook with the Broadcom Crystal HD video accelerator, HP's new Mini 210, and ran it through several Web video tests to see if the new Flash player actually provided any benefit. A video overview of our results is embedded (excuse the occasional cameo appearance by my face in the overly reflective glossy screen).

First, we played a full-screen 720p YouTube video and a 480p Hulu video on the system as it was shipped to us. As we expected, the video was choppy, stuttery, and just plain unwatchable.

Then we uninstalled the existing Flash software, downloaded, then installed the new Flash 10.1 beta 3 player. We reran our tests, and as you can see, the 720p YouTube video showed a decent amount of improvement, although we wouldn't call it an outright success. The Hulu video, despite being of a lower resolution, showed less improvement. It was definitely smoother, but we definitely wouldn't call it a satisfying consumer experience.

Despite the modest improvements we saw, there's still a major problem with relying on a 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."

If you're looking to buy a Netbook for all-around HD video playback, our advice would be to hold off for future (and hopefully non-beta) software updates from Adobe, Broadcom, or both; or hang on until the next generation of Nvidia Ion Netbooks appear (and we can test them to make sure they work reasonably well). Netbooks are great for a lot of things, but streaming HD Web video still isn't one of them.