Getting Fired up during lockdown

Because of lockdown we’re all working from home at the moment so my access to hardware is somewhat limited. On a whim, I decided to try Flow on my Amazon FireTV Stick and was a little surprised to find it wouldn’t run. I grabbed some logs and asked colleagues what they thought the problem might be. They were able to quickly spot what the issue was and they gave me a build to test within a few hours. Armed with a working version I thought I’d see how Flow compares with the other browser options that are available.

Browser performance on a second generation FireTV Stick

Apart from Amazon Silk, there aren’t that many browser options for the FireTV Stick on their app store. It also became apparent that the latest version of Firefox for FireTV that is available is a Firefox UI on top of the OS’s inbuilt WebView. To get a good browser lineup for comparison, I sideloaded Chrome, a simple WebView tester and Flow.

The graphics benchmarks I chose were MotionMark and OrangeMark as between them they give a good overall picture of performance for animating with both HTML and canvas. I used JetStream to look at JavaScript performance as it combines aspects of many other benchmarks to give a good overview.

Each benchmark was run three times and the table shows the average, in all cases higher scores are better. 

 MotionMarkOrangeMark 2D
OrangeMark 3D
OrangeMark Canvas
Chrome (81.0)8.435.424.904.5012.94
Silk (80.5)
Flow (5.9.0)13.998.386.505.4215.45

OrangeMark works by doubling the complexity of the test up to ten times; this means a browser scoring 6/10 is twice as fast as one scoring 5/10. The OrangeMark results show that Flow is nearly eight times faster than WebView for 2D graphics. For HTML canvas, Flow still has the edge, but it’s a narrow margin as there are still some areas we haven’t yet accelerated on the GPU. 

MotionMark’s results also echo my general feeling that Flow is around twice the speed of other browsers on the STBs that we use in the office.

Flow uses the SpiderMonkey JavaScript engine from Mozilla which, as the JetStream benchmark shows, is able to hold its own compared to the V8 engine which the other three Blink based products use.

Why do these figures matter?

Many applications and UIs are written in HTML as it makes them much easier to create for multiple operating systems. For these, a faster browser means a smoother and more responsive UI. A faster browser also lowers the minimum CPU requirements for an acceptable UX.

A reduction in CPU requirements can make products less expensive and more attractive for customers. This opens up a larger potential market for service providers, such as OTT video operators, who target those products.

For app developers, lower CPU requirements also increase the number of products they can target. With the varying performances of the wide range of Android based hardware being used, having a faster browser to render apps makes them significantly more appealing.

Ultimately, Flow’s ability to get more out of less means costs can be saved and margins maintained.

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