Interview: Page (1) of 3 - 08/08/05 Email this story to a friend. email article Print this page (Article printing at page facebook

Macromedia Talks Studio 8

A look at the last major release before Macromedia's acquisirtion By Dave Nagel
On the eve of the company's acquisition by Adobe, Macromedia today unveiled Studio 8, arguably one of the most major updates in the history of the multimedia content creation suite. It's certainly the most dramatic, with the addition of two technologies (Contribute 3 and FlashPaper 2) and the loss of one significant one--Freehand.

I had a chance to discuss Studio 8 with several of Macromedia's product managers in an attempt to find out the philosophy behind the release and learn about where Macromedia's software is heading.

Now, obviously, in addition to the basic questions of "what's new" and "why this or that has changed," Macromedia's users do have some important questions about which of their favorite products will continue to exist under Adobe's banner and which ones might be modified to suit Adobe's own product strategy better. For legal reasons, however, Macromedia can't address these types of questions, flatly refusing to offer speculation about how, for example, upgrade strategies will differ, about potential changes to support or about the future of such significant products as Director and Freehand, neither of which is slated for a major update prior to scheduled completion of the Adobe acquisition this fall--at least as far as we're aware. (But Macromedia does say that Freehand, which is seen as one of the more vulnerable products in the company's lineup, will "continue on as part of the Macromedia family of products.")

And so the discussion sticks to the new release of the Studio itself. Not that there isn't much to talk about there. In addition to the changes in the composition of the suite, Studio 8 (which has dropped the "MX" monicker) also offers up a dramatically revamped Flash Professional 8 and upgrades of Dreamweaver and Fireworks, both of which are jumping to version 8. To help illuminate the new Studio for us, we have three representatives from Macromedia: Jim Guerard, vice president of product management and product marketing for MX tools; Mike Downey, product manager for Flash; and Jennifer Taylor, product manager for Dreamweaver.

DAVE NAGEL: I'd like to get into the core Studio applications starting with what is clearly the most major update of them all--Flash Professional 8. Some of the major new features are in the area of video. Even video encoding itself has also been changed fairly dramatically, with a new standalone encoder and the integrated encoder.

MIKE DOWNEY: The new video tools and workflows in Flash Professional 8 offer industry-first capabilities for integrating video within digital experiences. Video professionals can now easily design, encode, and deploy customized, interactive video using the new Flash Video Encoder, which delivers some of the highest quality video in the industry at the smallest file sizes. The encoder operates as part of the integrated authoring tools in Flash or as a stand-alone product with batch-encoding options. New support for 8-bit alpha channels at runtime means customers can now combine semi-transparent video with other video, graphics, or digital assets for amazing online productions. Also included is a new Flash Video plug-in for professional nonlinear video editing systems so editors can export video directly for the web in Flash Video format.

We found that we needed to provide a full encoding solution to our customers.  This includes an encoder within the Flash authoring tool used for importing video, a plugin for professional video editing tools so they can export directly to Flash video, and a standalone video encoder so our customers can batch encode large libraries of existing video content.  To simplify workflow and development, we architected an encoding library that we call "FLVCore" which is reused by all three encoding scenarios.  This means that the UI and functionality is the shared across all three encoding experiences.  This is consistent with our over-arching focus on maintaining consistend workflows and usability across all of our tools.
As far as the changes and improvements that we've made to our encoding solutions in this release, we've actually done quite a lot of work.  As I mentioned before, we've added to our solution by including a standalone version of our encoder.  We've also added a new codec to our run-time so we've added support for encoding to the new VP6 codec.  With this new codec comes support for alpha channels at run-time, so our encoder also includes the option to encode an alpha channel.  To further strengthen the interactive layer of Flash video, we've added support for embedded cue points in an FLV file.  This means that users can set chapter markers or assign text strings to different points in a video and respond to these cues during playback using Flash's scripting language, ActionScript.

NAGEL: The addition of alpha channels to the Flash video codec is major. How does it work, and how did it come about?

DOWNEY: Well, this is kind of interesting.  When we were doing our customer visits early on in the cycle we found that a lot of people were trying to do elaborate tricks with image sequences and complex masking in order to get this type of effect.  Several people asked us if we could just add native support for alpha channels in our video codec.  However, with no other video technology on the web offering this, the management team was not that confident that this would even be possible so we slowly moved lower and lower on our priority list.  Then one day I stopped by the desk of one of our top engineers who happened to be in the middle of integrating our new VP6 codec into the Player and I asked him if it would ever be possible for a run-time environment to support alpha channels.  He said, "Yeah, we could probably do that."  So I left thinking that we'd pull together a brainstorming session later on to talk about the possibilities.  Three hours later I got a call from the engineer saying, "OK, I've got it working.  Do you want to come take a look?"  And the rest is history...
Basically, the user creates an alpha channel in their video using a tool like After Effects.  This could be something like a chroma key of a presenter in front of a blue screen.  They output the video with the alpha channel as either a PNG sequence or a Quicktime movie with alpha channel.  Then the user encodes the video using our encoder and chooses "Encode alpha channel" from the encoder settings.  The Flash video file (FLV) is then created with the alpha channel.  During playback, the Flash Player decodes the video and preserves the alpha channel.

NAGEL: Another of the dramatic changes has to do with effects. Flash Pro 8 now has several graphic effects that really weren't viable before, but now the new Flash Player makes these possible. Tell us about the new effects and how they've been implemented without adding a huge amount of overhead to the files.

DOWNEY: We really wanted to go big with regard to graphic rendering in this release so we embarked on adding pixel level control to our run-time for the first time in the history of Flash.  To do this we did some major rebuilding on our graphics rendering engine - while optimizing performance every step of the way.  We surfaced an ActionScript API for this pixel level control so Flash developers can create custom effects while, at the same time, building our own library of graphic effects such as Drop Shadow, Blur, Bevel, and Glow.  To further optimize performance, we did targetted enhancements to the Player.  One example of these is the new added use of OpenGL in the Mac version of the Flash Player for better graphics rendering.

NAGEL: Flash 8 is also doing more for the mobile development market.

DOWNEY: Flash Professional 8 also includes core tools to aid developers who want to create and deploy content and applications for mobile devices using the Macromedia Flash Lite player. Flash Professional 8 includes interactive device emulators that make it easy for developers to build content once and test it on a wide variety of devices using preset, updatable profiles for over 70 mobile devices enabled with Flash Lite.

NAGEL: As for Flash Basic, that's no longer available in the Studio bundle, correct?

DOWNEY: Flash Basic is only sold as a full version, standalone copy.  There is no upgrade to Flash Basic available and it is not available in a Studio suite.

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Related Keywords:macromedia studio 8, flash professional 8, flash 8, dreamweaver 8, freehand

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