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First Look: Macromedia Flash Professional 8

New video technologies lead beefed-up feature set By Dave Nagel
Macromedia today introduced the next generation of its interactive content creation tool, Flash 8. The new software will be available in two editions when it ships this September, Professional and Basic, with the Professional edition included as the headlining act in the newly announced Macromedia Studio 8. (The Basic version is being offered as a stand-alone application only.) In conjunction with the release of Flash 8, Macromedia is also launch the new Flash Player 8. 

Of all of the new tools in the new Studio 8 suite, Flash Professional 8 is clearly the most radically revamped, with improvements in several significant areas--particularly in the area of video, but also in the addition of new creative tools and workflow improvements. We;ll take a look at several of the major changes in the Professional edition, along with a glimpse into the new Flash Player 8 and a look at the differences between the Professional and Basic editions.

Flash Professional 8: New video technologies
Leading off the list of new features in Flash Professional 8 are several enhancements in the area of video encoding. The new release sports an entirely new video codec called On2 VP6, which offers, among other things, support for alpha channels in both the authoring environment and at runtime. The screen shot below of the Flash 8 interface shows a sample movie with an alpha channel composited over text and a background image created in Adobe Photoshop.

Note that with the new codec and Player, full 8-bit alpha channels are supported for transparent and semi-transparent video backgrounds.

In addition to the new codec--and as an extension to it--Flash 8 also includes a new video encoding engine that manifests itself in three different ways: as an internal encoder integrated into Flash Professional 8; as a stand-alone application; and as a component for exporting to Flash video from a variety of video editing, motion graphics and other types of video applications.

The integrated encoder acts as a wizard within Flash. Whenever you import a piece of footage (such as a QuickTime movie), either to the stage or to the library, the encoding wizard pops up to walk you through the process, with options for embedding the video in the Flash file, streaming it, using progressive download, etc. It also calls up options for various compression settings, including codec (Sorenson Spark or On2 VP6); the option to include the alpha channel; bitrate; scaling; key frames; quality settings; and various audio options.

It also allows you to embed cue points for triggering events during playback.

And it offers cropping capabilities and the option of setting in and out points.

The stand-alone version of the encoder offers identical functionality, but it also adds batch processing for handling multiple video source files at the same time.

And it offers a plug-in component for exporting to the new Flash 8 format directly from non-linear editors, motion graphics applications and other QuickTime-based programs. (Below you see the export dialog in QuickTime 7 Pro, with the new Flash Video export option selected.)

Other new video enhancements include higher-quality video encoding and improved options for skinning.

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