Adobe’s Flash has been the defacto standard for web video clips. It’s proponents range from major networks to YouTube. They’re all attracted to its relative ease of implementation. It’s ubiquity is attractive to. The Flash player is browser based and resident on well upward of 90% of desktop computers. Flash is also widely used and well represented with portables and hand-held devices.
Where Flash has struggled (if you can characterize a market leader as struggling) are issues related to speed and image quality. Small competitors like Move Networks have been able to find opportunity with big clients (Discovery Communications and ABC) by selling against those weaknesses. They push a higher quality video that plays with less pre-load time and buffering; desirable features for full length television shows and features. (Streaming video content plays while simultaneously downloading the rest of the video. The time cushion between what is playing and what is downloading still is often called “buffer time”)
Tuesday, Adobe quietly addressed one of the weaknesses with an offering code-named Moviestar. Beginning with the newest version of Flash, available yesterday in Beta, the players will now support high definition video. They will rely on an encoding standard called H.264. It is the same standard used to encode both BluRay and HD DVD next generation DVD’s. It is also the same standard used by most next generation set-top box makers.
Adobe has been a little slow to accept and adopt the standard. Apple added it to their Quicktime player a few years ago already and Microsoft has adopted their own proprietary standard for their Windows Media platform.
It will take some time for audiences to see or notice any changes. Content producers will need to encode their work into the new standard. Hollywood companies making direct-to-net video content and television networks interested in streaming replays of full length episodes in higher definition will probably be among the first to make use of the upgrade.
It remains to be seen if going Flash High Def will add (or subtract) anything from Flash’s other weakness: buffering/lag time. What is relatively certain is the fact that larger sized high-def flash files will increase the strain on bandwidth, both for the Internet as a whole, and for video portals like YouTube if they embrace High Def Flash with open arms. (Putting bandwidth in perspective: Some reports say video traffic will account for 30% of Internet bandwidth usage by 2011. Other reports say that U.S. based video websites presently transmit more data per month the gross total of Internet traffic for all of the year 2000.)
The new version of Flash will also support AAC audio (AAC means "Advanced Audio Coding"), it is a higher efficiency audio encoding standard that should raise the bar for audio played through the player as well.