How to maximize battery life while watching YouTube video?

September 14, 2012 By | Add a Comment

[Note] Part of this article is obsolete. Updated article can be found here.

When you play YouTube video on your laptop PC, decoding compressed video stream is usually one of the most power consuming processes. To make the video playback smooth, modern PCs are capable of offloading that process to dedicated circuit in the graphics adapter hardware. This feature is, not only helps smooth playback, effective to extend the battery life of laptop PCs. So, making sure that hardware decoding is working is the key to the extended battery life.

Does your PC support hardware decoding?

Intel mainstream PCs have been supporting hardware decoding since GMA X4500HD integrated graphics adapter (2008 product). Netbooks usually do not except for the ones with external graphics adapters.

If your PC supports hardware decoding

You can ensure that the hardware decoding is enabled by the following steps.

  1. (For Internet Explorer only) Install the right version of Adobe Flash Player

    Minimum version with hardware decoding support is 10.3. But it is highly recommended to use the latest version (it is 11.4 as of this writing) because several other power saving improvements were made after 10.3. You can download and install the latest version from Adobe Flash Player web site.

  2. (For Chrome only) Disable one of the two Flash Player plug-ins included in Chrome
    Fig 1. Chrome Plug-ins Page

    The latest version of the Chrome Browser (21.0.1180.89) comes with two versions of Flash Player plug-ins (11.3.31.232 and 11.4.402.265) pre-installed. Apparently, 11.3.31.232 has a problem in enabling hardware decoding and, if you would like to maximize the battery life, it needs to be disabled with the following steps:

    1. Enter “chrome://plugins” into the omnibar.
    2. Expand the list by clicking on the “Details” link on the upper-right corner of the screen.
    3. Click on “Disable” link for Flash 11.3 r31

  3. Make sure that hardware decoding is enabled in Flash Player
    Fig 2. Flash Player Settings

    Go to any YouTube video playback page and right mouse click on the video window and select “Settings…”. Then select “Display” tab (left most tab) and enable “Enable hardware acceleration” check box.

  4. Configure YouTube to use Flash
    Fig 3. Opted out from HTML5

    Go to YouTube HTML5 Trial page and make sure that you are NOT in the HTML5 trial program (you can find the setting near the bottom of the page)

How to verify hardware decoding is working?

Fig 4. High CPU Warning

The “Enable hardware acceleration” checkbox in the Flash Player setting does not necessary mean that the hardware decoding is actually working. Hardware decoding may not work even if this item is checked for several reasons including:

  • When the graphics adapter and/or its driver does not support hardware decoding, and
  • Hardware decoding is not supported for the specific video content format/quality.

If the hardware decoding does not work, CPU utilization of the web browser will be high during video playback and, if Battery Life Maximizer is installed, you will see the warning like the screen shot on the right.

If you see this message while you are watching YouTube video, please double check the recommendation listed above.

If your PC does not support hardware decoding

In this case, you need to choose the stream format and decoder that uses minimum CPU cycle so that you can maximize the battery life. As of this writing, WebM uses less CPU cycle than other decoders and the following steps will ensure your web browser to use it.

  1. Install WebM plug-in (for Internet Explorer 9 only)

    Internet Explorer does not support WebM natively, but you can download and install the plug-in from WebM for IE9 download page

  2. Configure YouTube to use WebM (HTML5)
    Fig 5. Opted in to HTML5

    Go to YouTube HTML5 Trial page and opt-in to the HTML5 trial program (you can find the setting near the bottom of the page)

Additional tips for longer YouTube playback

  • Adjust LCD backlight brightness appropriately

    Backlight brightness is always an easy knob to tweak and yet has significant impact to the battery life.

  • Select reasonable video quality

    Although hardware decoding compresses the power consumption difference between different video quality settings, there is still some benefit to use lower quality. If you are watching the video in a small window (e.g. 640×360 or smaller), selecting Full-HD (1080p) quality does not make sense.

    Exception: If your PC supports hardware decoding, please do not select 240p wide screen content. Apparently, Flash does not use hardware decoding for that case. Selecting 360p usually gives longer battery life for wide screen videos.

More Details (for those who are interested in the technical details)

The following table summarizes video stream format used, and if hardware decoding is available or not.

Table 1. Video decode difference by Browser / Decoder combination
BrowserYouTube
HTML5 trial
Decoder Plug-inStream FormatHardware
Decoding
1Internet Explorer 9Opt-inWebM for IE9 not installedH.264 (with HTML5)Yes
2WebM for IE9 installedWebM (with HTML5)No
3Opt-outFlash 10.3 or later installedH.264 (with Flash)Yes
4Internet Explorer 8 or olderOpt-outFlash 10.3 or later installedH.264 (with Flash)Yes
5Chrome 21.0.1180.89Opt-inDon't careWebM (with HTML5)No
6Opt-outChrome built-in Flash
(11.3.31.232 – default)
H.264 (with Flash)No
7Chrome built-in Flash
(11.4.402.265)
H.264 (with Flash)Yes

If you use Internet Explorer to watch YouTube videos, most likely your browser is working in combination #3 or #4 and you are getting hardware decoding by default. But, if you are using the latest Chrome, your browser is working in combination #6 by default and you need to change the plug-in settings to get better battery life.

The following shows how long full-charged system [1] can play YouTube video before the battery drains.

Table 2. Battery Life Comparison
BrowserDecoder Plug-inHardware
Decoding
Battery Life (hh:mm)
360p720p
3Internet Explorer 9Flash 11.4.402.265Yes4:194:04
5Chrome 21.0.1180.89Chrome Built-in WebMNo3:423:15
6Chrome Built-in Flash (11.3.31.232 – default)No3:363:09
7Chrome Built-in Flash (11.4.402.265)Yes4:183:55

As you can see in this table, selecting right stream data format and decoder is very critical for longer battery life during YouTube video playback. The difference at 720p content can be as high as 25%, and it become much higher as the video quality increases.

Your feedbacks are welcomed. If you have any comments, questions or future topic suggestion, please leave your reply using the form below.


  1. Test System Setup:
    CPU:Intel® Core™ i3-2310M (2.10GHz)
    Graphics:Intel® HD Graphics 3000
    Battery full charge capacity:43.6 Wh
    Memofy:4 GB
    OS:Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit + SP1
    Browser (IE):Internet Explorer 9 9.0.8112.16421 (32bit)
    Flash (IE):Adobe Flash Player ActiveX 11.4.402.265
    Browser (Chrome):Google Chrome 21.0.1180.89 (32bit)
    YouTube video: Megastructures. Megaship / 720p / NatGeo

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