My Eee PC 901 is more than powerful enough to play back 480p video, but not when it’s playing though Adobe Flash Player. 408p YouTube videos drop frames and don’t play back at full framerate. YouTube has an experimental HTML5 video player that should offer better better performance than Flash. I enabled it, but it seems that very few videos support it because advertising will cause a fallback to Flash.
VLC media player supports network streaming from a YouTube. Select Media->Open Network Stream, paste a YouTube URL, and click Play. This seems to work for any YouTube video, and plays back noticeably smoother than Flash on my netbook.
VLC isn’t a perfect solution. First, there’s the inconvenience of copying and pasting a URL for each video. Second, there doesn’t seem to be a way to change the resolution (but it defaults to 480p, which happens to be what I want). Third, VLC doesn’t seem to handle buffering as well as Flash does. While YouTube can play continuously, VLC sometimes has to stop and buffer more video. Selecting Show more options and increasing the cache size to something like 20000 ms seems to help a bit.
I’ve been using Ubuntu 11.10′s VLC for this. While Ubuntu 11.04′s VLC seems to support YouTube, I’ve only been getting VLC can’t recognize the input’s format errors with this version.