Geek gripe: Why are YouTube volume controls a CPU killer?

Changing the volume on a YouTube clip (or any other Flash movie) - should it really need a supercomputer?

The volume truly goes up.

What a pleasure it was to first experience being able to render scenes quickly in Cinema4D even with radiosity and 8x anti-aliasing, when I got my first Core2Duo processor.

So many things got quicker, particularly in multi-threaded applications. When I augmented the PC with a couple of extra GB of RAM, it was as if I’d finally been freed from the 1990s.

Except when I try and change the volume on a movie playing in YouTube or in several of the other wrapper SWFs that various similar sites have adopted.

Just hovering the cursor over the slider seems to make the computer gulp. Slide that sucker up and you can practically see Scotty running for the escape pods.

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Up..up…

…the hard disk rumbles, the browser hangs on to its memory allocation for dear life and your very warranty seems to hang in the balance.

Once you (inevitably) panic and just let go, you tend to make do with whatever volume level you were left with. Whether it’s too loud or too low, it’s going to be better than repeating something that frightening.

I should add that this experience has proved ubiquitous for me across all platforms, and is as guaranteed to cause my Intel iMac to quake in fear as my huge home desktop PC. And that changing the volume of movies in YouTube and similarly commercial sites has been this unpleasant an experience for several years. In fact, I can’t remember it being otherwise.

I used to code Flash sites, and I know from experience that changing the volume of an MP3 (and that’s what the soundtrack will be if you’re watching a Flash movie) is neither rocket science nor a heavy hump for even a pretty dated processor.

If you don’t believe me, and figure that there must be something particularly difficult about it, check out the example in this simple tutorial at flash-creations.com.

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Wasn’t that smooth and easy?

If the basement-kids of the world can do it with their knocked-off copies of Flash, why is the Google-backed YouTube unable to implement such a simple function without sending your CPU cycles through the roof?

Perhaps there’s more going on, and every notch up or down gets sent back to the data-processing centre at the YouTube/Google black helicopters. Knowledge is power, after all, and if new volume policy comes out of it in three years’ time, it’s bound to have been worth frying the odd CPU to get the dataset…