…The company has promised big changes in Flash 8, and many of them center on its video capabilities. Flash 8 boasts a new codec, On2 Technologies’ VP6, that both companies claim will provide dramatically improved quality over the Flash 7 video codec. Flash 8 also supports alpha transparency, which lets authors combine Flash video with text, vector graphics and other Flash elements.
But while Macromedia touts Flash 8’s new video bells and whistles, those betting on a Flash video ascendancy point to longstanding Flash benefits, particularly its cross-platform reach.
Because of its small size and its being bundled with Microsoft Windows and other operating systems, Flash is almost universally distributed. More than 98 percent of personal computers connected to the Web have some version of the Flash player installed, according to Macromedia, and more than 100 equipment manufacturers are building Flash into their devices.
In several demonstrations of Flash video in recent months, Macromedia has mocked the experience that some Web surfers go through when trying to access RealNetworks or Windows Media video clips. In the demonstration, the people trying to access the video are confronted with dialogue boxes prompting the download of large players. Then they have to choose bandwidth speeds and other options.
Flash video, by contrast, is “playerless.” That means video clips play embedded in the Web page, and Flash developers can design their own interfaces and determine their own buffers and other technical settings.
Macromedia’s potential competitors say the software is too lightweight, failing to offer an array of features important to both media purveyors and consumers.
“Flash doesn’t have digital rights management, and studios care about DRM,” said Michael Schutzler, senior vice president of media for RealNetworks. “We are focused on intellectual property that has value, where DRM matters. Flash is fine for ads, but none of the studios are going to do this.”
“I don’t think there’s really direct competition between Flash video and Windows Media,” said Kevin Lynch, Macromedia’s chief software architect. “The direction we’re headed with Flash video is aiming at Web video, video embedded on Web pages. That’s a different segment than downloadable videos, full-length movies, and Windows Media is supplying features toward that model.”
“While I never discount Microsoft and doubt that Windows Media Player will get knocked out of the marketplace by Flash video, I also know that some leading brand sites are already voting for Macromedia,” said Harley Manning, an analyst with Forrester Research. “And I think that more will do the same when the new player and tools arrive. At the very least, this will force Microsoft to think differently about some aspects of their product.”