A little over a month ago, Adobe announced plans to release a beta of its GPU-accelerated Flash 10.1 player "later this year." Well, we're now later in this year, and as planned, the beta has become available for download from the Adobe Labs site.
Adobe offers versions of the Flash Player 10.1 "prerelease" plug-in for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux, but only Windows plug-in has hardware acceleration goodness enabled. Adobe welcomes consumers to try the new plug-in "to preview hardware acceleration of video on supported Windows PCs and x86-based netbooks."
According to the official release notes (PDF), the hardware acceleration applies to H.264 Flash videos only, and you'll want a GPU that has hardware H.264 acceleration functionality built in. That includes Radeon HD 3000-series, GeForce 8 graphics processors, and Intel 4-series chipsets. On the AMD side, Adobe doesn't mention support for Radeon HD 5000-series cards, and it says users need the still-unreleased Catalyst 9.11 drivers even with older Radeons.
Anand Lal Shimpi at AnandTech tried the new plug-in on a handful of different systems, and he reports great results with an Atom nettop based on Nvidia's Ion integrated graphics chipset. CPU utilization generally decreased in 720p YouTube and Hulu videos, reducing the number of dropped frames to the point where videos were "totally playable." Performance with AMD GPUs running 9.10 Catalysts wasn't so great, predictably, and Intel GMA 4500MHD integrated graphics turned out to be a "mixed bag," with frame rates in a standard-def Hulu stream inexplicably tumbling to 10 FPS.