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Problem with hardware acceleration on HBO GO

Aug 8, 2011 6:42 AM

I just got a Zotac ZBOX AD02 (AMD E-350 APU w/ Radeon HD 6310) and in general it's working great.  However, I  have a problem with Flash video on HBO GO.  For the first minute or so  of steaming video, everything seems perfect.  Video is high quality and  smooth, CPU is around 50%.  Then after a minute or two there will always  be some visible video glitch and CPU utilization will jump up to  90-100% and playback becomes extremely choppy.  So I'm guessing Flash  hardware acceleration is working initially, then something happens that  kills the hardware acceleration, and of course the E-350 CPU is not up the  task by itself.

The really strange thing is that it seems to be specific to HBO GO.  I  can stream HD all day long from Amazon Instant Video and Youtube (at least when Youtube is able  to dish it out fast enough).  And it's definitely not a bandwidth  problem.  I have Comcast cable (20Mb down), and a bigger computer I have hooked up  to another TV  has no problem with HBO GO.  I think the same problem happens on the bigger computer, but it's faster CPU can overcome the lack of hardware acceleration.

I've got the latest drivers from AMD and the latest Flash player (even  tried the 11 beta) and have tried all the main browsers (FF, IE, Chrome), but it's always  the same: 1-2 minutes of perfect playback and moderate CPU utilization,  then jacked up CPU and choppy playback.

Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be any way to contact HBO GO directly about this problem (support links just refer you to your cable provider), so I thought I'd give it a shot here. Is anyone else out there having this problem with HBO GO or any other  Flash video sites?  Any thoughts on what else I could do to track down the  root cause?

 
Replies
  • Currently Being Moderated
    Mar 29, 2012 6:09 PM   in reply to Mitch McHenry

    Mitch -

     

     

    I have a very similar problem with HBOGO and Flash Player. Check out the description and Adobe suggestions at:

     

              http://forums.adobe.com/message/4300443

     

    Bill

     
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  • Currently Being Moderated
    Aug 12, 2013 2:46 PM   in reply to Mitch McHenry

    Sorry to resurrect this thread, but it's the only place I found where people were already talking about this issue.

     

    I just started using HBO GO (I usually watch HBO shows on satellite, but I've been looking through some of their back catalog), and I'm seeing this exact same behavior. I'm running a Core 2 Duo E6600 and a GTX 460, but the effect is the same: Video is smooth and CPU utilization is low for a couple minutes, then CPU usage spikes to 90-100% and the video playback gets choppy. Did anyone ever figure out what was causing this issue? It essentially makes HBO GO useless on my computer. I'm running the latest version of Flash (11.8) and recent video drivers, so I don't think either of those are the issue. Also, hardware acceleration works on all the other video sites with flash-based players that I've tried; HBO GO is the only site where I experience this issue.

     

    EDIT: I feel quite silly now. I looked at the site code and found that HBO is using wmode tranparent in their flash object, preventing any hardware acceleration. The bump in CPU utilization appears to simply be the player switching from SD to HD bitrates (which triggers about two minutes in, apparently, if you have a high enough speed connection).

     
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    Aug 12, 2013 6:24 PM   in reply to Mitch McHenry

    We clearly think alike in our troubleshooting methods. I actually tried installing 10.2 for IE as part of a test earlier today, but the HBO GO site rejected me outright, saying it needed Flash Player 10.2 or better to run. I tried 10.3, as well, but received the same error, so it appears the Flash version detection script is broken when running against newer versions of IE. The site loads fine in IE if I'm running an 11.x version of Flash.

     

    With regards to the root issue: The problem shouldn't be specific to any video cards or drivers, since the site isn't actually utilizing them. I have no clue why they're using wmode 'transparent' (as opposed to 'direct' or 'gpu', which allow hardware acceleration), since they don't need to composite the player with anything else on the site. Heck, the entire site is essentially just one large flash object, so they don't really need to worry about interaction with any standard HTML objects at all.

     

    I imagine the site works fine for people with fast processors (although my 2.4GHz dual core should be plenty powerful for HD video if it were encoded/rendered properly), and lots of people access it through apps (iOS/Android/Roku/X360) that don't even use the site's code, so they probably figure that it's not worth their time to fix the site for people with older computers.

     

    As far as an HTML5 or Silverlight version of the site goes: Even the main (non-streaming) HBO site is written in pure Flash, so the HBO web designers are clearly very enamored of taking the Flash approach to media display. I wouldn't expect that to change anytime soon without an incredibly compelling financial reason.

     
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  • Currently Being Moderated
    Aug 13, 2013 10:10 AM   in reply to Mitch McHenry

    Wow... we really think alike. I first tried a GreaseMonkey approach to fixing the wmode yesterday, but found that it didn't work consistently. Instead, I opted for using Fiddler (a web proxy debugger tool) to substitute my own customized version of the 'go.js' file that the site uses to generate the flash player object. That way, I didn't have to modify and regenerate the player object after the page loaded to engage the new wmode.

     

    Unfortunately, the player would still seem to drop out of hardware acceleration mode from time to time. Perhaps there is something in the player's code that is causing the object to refresh itself in into a transparent wmode when certain bitrate changes occur? I'd be curious to hear if your GreaseMonkey script works on your home PC that was having all the issues, since I couldn't seem to get the wmode to stick properly using a userscript technique.

     

    If the GreaseMonkey trick isn't working at home, and you'd like to try my Fiddler approach, just send me a PM, and I can give you the updated code that I'm running through Fiddler (as well as a quick Fiddler tutorial, if you haven't used it before).

     

    EDIT: If you don't want to have to refresh your GreaseMonkey script when you go to a video page, just change the 'include' line to:

    @include http://*.hbogo.com/*

     

    That way, it'll trigger no matter where you are on the site, and make the site render more smoothly, in general, since even the navigation is Flash-based.

     
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  • Currently Being Moderated
    Aug 14, 2013 9:16 AM   in reply to Mitch McHenry

    I've been using Firefox for most of my testing, as well, but I was going to try both Chrome and IE with my Fiddler approach later today (since it's a browser-independent solution). The wmode direct setting runs fine for the rest of the site with no issues (moving through "pages" on their site is really just manipulating layers of the flash object, so the video "pages" are essentially identical to the browse "pages"); it appears there's no real need for the wmode transparent anywhere on the site.

     

    At this point, I'm guessing that the site may be straight up ignoring the wmode parameter set in the object (or resetting it to transparent internally the second any action is taken on the site), and that the low CPU utilization is only a result of low-bitrate streaming when the streams start up. I'm not sure if you see the same effect, but the player always runs fine when it's streaming the ugly, low-res picture for the first couple minutes, and immediately starts to choke when it switches to high res (with noticeable visual improvements). It would really be nice if HBO gave us a bitrate selector like Netflix does, so we could test that hypothesis, but I don't really expect them to improve the player any time soon, since it doesn't seem to be a significant part of their revenue model.

     
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    Aug 14, 2013 4:48 PM   in reply to Mitch McHenry

    It's very curious to me that the site is acting differently on the Intel GPU machine. I was running some more tests (no better luck with Chrome or IE, alas), and noticed that, despite wmode direct being set, StageVideo (the hardware acceleration pipeline for OSMF) never gets used on my machine. Can you check whether that's true on the Intel GPU machine? If you right-click on the video while not in fullscreen mode and select "Show Video Debug", it should show you the StageVideo status.

     

    On my comp, the debug status shows StageVideo as being enabled in OSMF and supported by my version of Flash, but the HBO GO player always says "StageVideo is not being used, regular video 'probably' is." This suggests to me that HBO simply isn't using the StageVideo class in their streaming code, meaning there shouldn't be hardware acceleration available regardless of wmode settings. Based on the dev documentation for StageVideo, acceleration should also be engaging in fullscreen (if available) regardless of the wmode setting. Since I don't see any improvements in fullscreen mode, it seems highly unlikely hardware acceleration is available for the player in any shape or form.

     

    I wonder if the improvements on the Intel machine may simply be a result of wmode direct being generally less resource intensive, making it easier for the player to be rendered on the CPU, instead of a benefit from hardware acceleration kicking in.

     

    EDIT: I'm not sure why I didn't think of it earlier, but I just checked my GPU's video engine load during HBO GO playback, and it's not engaging at all, so I'm clearly not getting hardware acceleration at any point with the player, regardless of wmode. I think I'm going to throw in the towel here and give up on watching HBO via my computer. Roku boxes are pretty cheap these days, so I may look into grabbing one of those to hook up to my TV for HBO GO playback. It's still annoying that the HBO GO techs couldn't be bothered to configure the player in such a way that it allows for hardware acceleration.

     
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    Aug 15, 2013 1:33 PM   in reply to Mitch McHenry

    The fact that you can't get the debug info to show (combined with the massive shift in CPU usage) on the Intel machine when using wmode direct makes it sound like something is happening to the display pipeline with wmode direct. I don't see any of those effects on my nVidia machines. I wish I had an onboard Intel GPU machine around here to test on.

     

    I don't know if GPU-Z will monitor engine loads from onboard graphics or not, but you might try it on the Intel box, just for kicks. If it does happen to work, it could tell us definitively whether the player is somehow being hardware accelerated on that machine or not.

     
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    Sep 2, 2013 5:40 PM   in reply to Mitch McHenry

    HBO updated the site to allow hardware acceleration! They updated the javascript code for their "supportsWModeDirect" function in the main go.js, and they appear to have made whatever changes were necessary on the back-end to allow the stream to run GPU accelerated. The end result: in Chrome (I'm running the v30 beta, but it shouldn't matter), I get full hardware acceleration for HD video on the site. The javascript is explicitly denying WMode direct support on any browser with with Firefox or Minefield in the user-agent string, so there's still no hardware acceleration in FF.

     

    Can you test the site in Chrome (with no userscripts or fiddle proxy scripts) on your AMD machine to see if you get GPU acceleration on your Radeon (using the standard GPU-Z test), as well?

     
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  • Currently Being Moderated
    Mar 6, 2014 6:47 PM   in reply to Eavesdown

    I suffer this problem too.

     

    80-100% CPU.  Chrome, plays ok till HD, Firefox plays ok till HD, IE does a little bit better using 64-bit flash, but eventually chops too.

     

    This wouldn't particularly be a problem if HBO would allow the user to force standard deffiniton... Silverlight does not have this issue.

     

    OS is 64-bit Win 7 Pro, ATI on-board graphics, AMD Athlon x2 CPU.

     
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