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Flash Streamlines Video on the Web

DMN Interview with two of the movers and shakers at Macromedia By Charlie White

Macromedia Flash has come a long way since its inception. Now that it's been teamed up with high quality video, its usefulness in Web authoring has increased dramatically. In this exclusive interview, Digital Media Net's Charlie White talks about the past, present and future of Flash video with Chris Hock, Macromedia's Director of Product Management for Flash Video Streaming Products and Services; and Jim Guerard, VP of Product Management for MX tools.

DMN's Charlie White: Let's start out with an overview of where Flash has been and where it is now.

Macromedia's Director of Product Management for Flash Video Streaming Products and Services
Chris Hock: Sure. The high-level overview is that Flash as a fantastic tool for delivering lightweight vector graphics on the Internet. That's really where Flash's historical strength has been, but recently, we've added a lot of new technology and functionality to the Flash platform to enable all sorts of new uses for Flash technology on the Web -- everything from in-depth client/server functionality for developing rich Internet applications to -- and on the side that may be more pertinent to your readers -- deep capabilities for delivering and authoring compelling video experiences on the Web.

DMN: The video isn't vector-based, though, is it?

Hock: No, it isn't. It is actual video graphics. We've worked with technology providers that have a long history in the video graphics industry -- Sorenson is one that comes to mind -- and we've added video encoding and decoding capabilities into Flash Player as well as into our authoring tools. Actually, one of the sneaky things we did is while everyone was using Flash for vector animations, we put a video encoder and decoder in Flash Player 6 so that high-quality compressed video can be delivered or captured over the Internet. So that same Flash Player 6 or higher can now be used in conjunction with our streaming products to capture and encode the video stream, send it up to our Flash Communication Server technology, and publish that for live video graphics as well as on-demand video.

DMN: One of interesting things that I've noticed is that you can have video in the same frame as animation, and you can place it exactly where you want it. That's a great thing for advertisers, isn't it?

Hock: Yes, because we treat video as just another object in Flash. You have full control over the video object, and the ability to synchronize that with graphics -- vector and bitmap images -- but also the ability to synchronize it with other video streams. So you can take it to an extreme like our customers at Red Bull have done with their "Co-Pilot" site (see the showcase here and the Red Bull site here) and you can synchronize one video stream with three other audio streams. An audio stream could be the commentary of the particular race or video clip that you're seeing and, as Red Bull has done, you could go even deeper and provide rich interactivity by synchronizing the video with other video clips so the user can navigate through and select different clips or different camera angles of the same video event. It switches instantaneously. One of the things you'll notice in the Red Bull site is that creativity extends not only to, for example, a background image, but it also extends on to what you can do with the video player itself. For example, in the Red Bull site, the scrub bar is controllable and you can actually see where they have the RPMs and the heart rate and so forth -- it's mapped out on top of the scrub bar. You can see that the window doesn't necessarily have to be four-by-three, but can actually have a mask on top of it. You can have an alpha channel graphics layered on top of the actual video image. 

DMN: What are some of the objections that potential customers have to Flash? I know in the past some people said, well, it's not as navigable, and perhaps it's not as searchable -- the search engines might not pick up on it. Are those some of the objections that you still hear?

Hock: I tell you, the number one issue -- and I don't know if I'd characterize it as an objection -- but the number one issue that we have is, people don't know that Flash has high-end video capabilities.

DMN: It can do full-screen high-quality video, can't it?

Hock: Absolutely, it can do extremely high-quality video, it can do live video, the video can be delivered in progressive downloads, it can be embedded into a script or it can be streamed from our Flash Communication Server or video streaming services, and this is our main objective. The main problem that we have is educating our customers, and people that are maybe outside of our customer base, who are using other media products -- educating them to the benefits and capabilities of Flash.

DMN: You're getting a lot of pickup on this technology, aren't you Chris? It seems like there are a lot of sites that have video now. What percentage of Web sites have video now?

Hock: In terms of the number of companies, I don't know if I have a hard answer for you on that, but just to return to this whole notion of how many people could possibly put video on their Web sites, one of the limitations in the past has been: Will the customer have the right player? They might say, "I don't want to put video on my Web site because does the customer have the right player? Or maybe the customer is going to connect at dial-up or broadband. Which video do I support?"  What this has led to in the past is something that we think is broken -- when you approach most video on the Web, you click the play button, and what happens? You dont get a video. You get a confusing array of, do I want QuickTime, or Real, or Windows Media? Do I want small, medium, large? You might have even seen some sites that give you a help system after you click the Play button.

DMN: This is not good.

Hock: You know, if I went home and I clicked on my TV tonight, and a help system came up that I had to read before I watched the program, I'm taking that TV back. So this is what we're able to correct with Flash, and the reason we're able to correct it is because of the deep penetration of Flash Player. So interesting enough, in terms of people who have capabilities and can watch Flash video today, what that equates to is 94 percent of all connected desktops on the Internet today can watch Flash video. 

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Related Keywords:Macromedia Flash, high quality video, Web authoring, exclusive interview, Digital Media Net, Charlie White, Chris Hock, Director of Product Management for Flash Video Streaming Products and Services, Jim Guerard, VP of Product Management for MX tools

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