Graphic and Web designers have used Flash, animations and other Flash authored content on Web sites for many years now. While the content provided a rich experience for users, large file sizes often meant long download times, even with broadband connections. This is not something Internet users these days are willing to put up with.
In response, Macromedia has introduced several advances in Flash 8 that allow for even richer content while also lowering the file size of the finished Flash project.
One of the great things that Macromedia did with Flash 8-authored content is to offload much of the rendering work to Flash Player 8. Using tags in the Flash project, the player can now render filters in real-time as the user interacts with the project.
What this means is that Macromedia has been able to incorporate built-in filter effects like drop shadow, blur, glow, bevel, gradient bevel, and color adjust to make a richer user experience. These filters or visual effects can be applied to movie clips and text fields in the Flash project and then passed off to the player when the project is executed on a Web page.
Macromedia has tied Flash and the Flash player together in other ways to improve performance. Another new feature called Bitmap Caching allows content creators to designate any movie clip symbol as a bitmap, which gets cached by the Flash Player at runtime.
Movie clip symbols are designated as bitmaps by using the property inspector or ActionScript. These instructions are passed to the player at runtime, saving processor cycles that would typically be spent on recalculating vector shapes.
Even though the object is being cached as a bitmap, vector data is still maintained, allowing the author to convert the object back to vector again at any time.
Flash 8 also allows user much more control over fonts with the inclusion of the FlashType font rendering engine. FlashType allows content creators to have as much control over fonts as they have with the other elements of a Flash project.
Flash includes presets for font rendering and it provides optimizations for animated text versus higher-quality static text. The rendering engine makes text look very clear, even with small font sizes, which is a big step forward for the application.
Animators will enjoy the new Custom Easing feature, which allows the author to visually control all properties of a motion tween. It is now possible to precisely control the velocity of animated objects through a graph that provides independent control of position, rotation, scale, color, and filters.
Macromedia aimed to expand the interactive Web experience in previous releases with the introduction of Flash Video. Flash 8 continues that goal as the company adopted a new video codec and broadened the options for encoding video destined for the Web.
In addition to being added to the Flash Player, Macromedia also included a standalone video encoder in Flash Professional. Authors now have the option of using the Sorenson Spark codec or the new On2 VP6. The new On2 codec’s aim is provide a rich, interactive experience while keeping the file size at a minimum, similar to the Apple-supported video codec H-264.
The new video tools also provide developers with advanced options to optimize the quality and file size of video content.
Video in Flash 8 now allows for cue points to be embedded with custom metadata. Using the embedded cue points, events – like graphics and animation – can be triggered dynamically during playback.
Using the new On2 VP6 codec, developers are able to encode an 8-bit alpha channel in videos for real-time compositing on top of any other Flash content. The overlay video can be composited with a transparent or semi-transparent alpha channel.
A centralized video workflow is now available in one dialog. The dialog presents all available options for deploying Flash Video, whether it is via the Flash Communication Server for streaming video, via progressive download of external FLV files over HTTP or a number of other options.
Other noteworthy features
This story, "First Look: Flash Professional 8" was originally published by PCWorld.