A new Chrome feature automatically mutes multiple tabs

An experimental new Chrome feature lets you focus on one noisy tab at a time.

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One of my favorite features of Chrome—that has since landed on other browsers—is the volume icon that appears when a tab is playing audio. Google took it one step further when it made it possible to click that icon and mute the noisy tab. Now, Google’s blazing a trail again with a new feature in the Chrome developer (Dev) channel called “manage audio focus,” as first spotted by Ghacks.

This new feature automatically silences browser tabs that aren’t in use. Imagine you are on Facebook later today. You open a bunch of stories you found there in new tabs. Unfortunately, some of those new tabs have autoplay videos. Suddenly, a cacophony of news reports and how-to tips are coming through your headphones.

With “manage audio focus” enabled, only the tab you are actually looking at will make noise. Well, more or less, but we’ll get to that in a second.

This feature is only available in the Chrome Dev channel—an experimental version of Chrome that can have problematic bugs from time to time. If you’d rather stick to the mainstream, super-stable version of Chrome, don’t sweat it. I’ll update this story once the feature goes mainstream.

For those who would like to be a little daring, check out our earlier tutorial on how to switch to different versions of Chrome—it’s easy.

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Once you’re on the dev channel, copy and paste the following into the address bar: chrome://flags/#enable-default-media-session.

Look for the headline “Manage audio focus across tabs”—it should be highlighted. Click the drop-down menu below it and select Enabled. Now click the blue Relaunch Now button that just appeared at the bottom of the Chrome window.

You’re all set to start using this feature. Open up Facebook and YouTube. Let the YouTube video start playing with sound. Next, move to Facebook and...nothing happens. That’s because the second tab hasn’t started playing audio yet. Scroll down your news feed until you hit a video (if your news feed is anything like mine it shouldn’t take long). As soon as that Facebook video starts autoplaying, the YouTube video stops. Now if you want to hear sound on Facebook you’ll have to unmute it since autoplaying videos start muted, but that’s just a quirk of the social network.

Humor me and turn on the Facebook video’s sound, and then with the Facebook video playing go back to YouTube. Hit the play button on YouTube, the Facebook video stops. Magic.

There are a few downsides to this feature right now: It only works with HTML5 video. If you hit a site that plays Flash (awkward!) the video will keep on playing sound and all. There is a version of this feature that silences Flash, but as this is the Chrome Dev channel Google currently flags the “Flash focus” option as “experimental.” In other words, it’s probably not worth the trouble at the moment. The good news is that most websites use HTML5 for video and those that do use Flash often fall back to HTML5 if Flash is disabled.

The other problem is that this feature can fail from time to time, but it works well enough to be usable right now. If you’re not sold on the feature yet, or don’t want to switch Chrome channels, try using an extension that lets you manually mute multiple tabs pumping out audio.

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