The streaming solution specialists at Sorenson Media play a key role in Macromedia’s new Flash MX. They’re facilitating the integration of video support in Flash MX and Macromedia Flash Player 6 with their Sorenson Spark codec.
Sorenson Spark lets designers and developers deliver compressed video as part of Macromedia Flash content and applications. By bringing video support within Macromedia Flash, developers can create entirely new types of interactive video applications while maintaining a higher level of control over the user experience, providing “seamless integration” of video-based content within Web sites, according to Ed McGarr, vice president of marketing and sales for Sorenson Video.
“About 10 months ago, Macromedia came to us and asked us to produce a video codec for Flash MX,” he told MacCentral. “So we developed the Spark codec, which is similar to our QuickTime model. We licensed a standard version (2.0) of the Spark codec to Macromedia. It’s included in the authoring tools so Flash MX can import video and do compression. We also built a decoder that will be included in the Flash 6 player.”
Video support in Macromedia Flash MX and Macromedia Flash Player 6 gives designers and developers new opportunities through the ability to embed video into their content and applications. Video content in Macromedia Flash enables a seamless user experience, unlike existing video options that require external players to be launched and have platform inconsistencies, McGarr said.
Sorenson Spark is available in both Standard and Pro Editions. The Standard Edition is included inside Flash MX. The Pro Edition is part of Sorenson Squeeze and is sold separately. Sorenson Squeeze with Sorenson Spark Pro is a compression tool that accesses the advanced features in Sorenson Spark Pro to produce professional-quality video for progressive downloads and CD delivery.
Macromedia Flash MX can import any standard video file supported by QuickTime or Windows Media Player, including MPEG, DV (Digital Video), MOV (QuickTime) and AVI, according to Ammen Harper, Sorenson’s director of product management. Users can then manipulate, scale, rotate, skew, mask, and animate any video objects as well as make them interactive using scripting. The video is automatically compressed by the Sorenson Spark codec in Macromedia Flash MX.
Sorenson Squeeze is a Variable Bit Rate (VBR) compression application for novice and pro users alike. It lets you encode and deliver high-quality QuickTime media for streaming and progressive downloads. Built for Sorenson Video 3, Sorenson Squeeze is the first VBR compression application for novice and pro users alike, McGarr said. For beginners, its drag-and-drop interface makes intelligent compression of audio and video media as simple as selecting a data rate, he added.
Sorenson Squeeze for Macromedia Flash MX costs US$299. The price is the same for the Macintosh and Windows version. Those who want both will soon be able to get them bundled for $499. Mac beta versions of Sorenson Squeeze for Flash MX should be available today for interested parties.
“We want to lower the prices and improve the ease of use,” McGarr said. “We’ve put more features into Squeeze while maintaining the same easy interface with lots of presets. We want the average person to be able to be able to create content of phenomenal quality.”
All this fits in well with Apple’s “digital hub” approach, he added. After all, Flash plays “everywhere and is coming to mobile devices,” McGarr said.
“It gives folks on Mac and Windows systems the ability to quickly compress digital media assets once and deliver anywhere,” he explained. “And it has MP3 audio support built-in so Flash MX offers digital ubiquity.”
In fact, with today’s announcement of Flash MX, Macromedia hopes to bring even more robust authoring and deployment capabilities to Internet-enabled devices. Macromedia says its Flash Player is the leading rich client on the Internet, with more than 98 percent of online users able to view Macromedia Flash content today across leading platforms and devices. But an even bigger goal is in mind.
“Macromedia Flash MX will define the user experience on devices and platforms through its compact delivery format, lightweight client, and ability to deliver unparalleled user experiences,” said Rob Burgess, chairman and CEO of Macromedia. “Macromedia Flash MX contains new application development features, device-centric templates, and reusable components that will enable users to quickly and affordably deliver rich content and applications.”
Designers and developers gain additional market opportunities for their content and applications by delivering Macromedia Flash content that can be used across Internet-enabled devices including wireless handsets, PDAs, set-top boxes, game consoles and Internet appliances, he said. Many consumer electronics manufacturers, mobile carriers, and service providers are using Macromedia Flash content as a value-added service to differentiate themselves from their competitors by ensuring their customers have engaging content specifically tuned for their devices, which also increases customer retention and adds potential new revenue streams, according to Burgess.
The new Macromedia Flash MX development environment ships with templates for Nokia handsets and Pocket PC devices to streamline content development. It comes with pre-built user interface components. Users can also build their own reusable components.
Content and applications can also be created in Macromedia Flash MX to run on devices that support earlier versions of Macromedia Flash Player. The Macromedia Flash Player 6 SDK will be available for device manufacturers later this year, which will enable them to build support for the latest player into their devices and platforms.
What’s more, Flash MX and its ability to provide embedded video could offer some competition to the QuickTime Player, Real Player and Windows Media Player, McGarr said.
“There were three players and now there’s a fourth,” he said. “But Flash MX stands a chance of becoming ubiquitous overnight if the licensing problems over MPEG 4 [which is part of the problem in QuickTime 6’s delay] aren’t resolved satisfactorily.”
However, the enhanced features of Flash MX offer some architectural issues that the market needs to understand, McGarr said. Flash has always been fast and lightweight. The embedding of small video files won’t change that, but long, high motion, high quality video could result in “packet loss” and “pipe jamming,” Harper said.
“The necessity of distribution services for the ‘last mile’ are now more important than ever,” he added. “That’s where our Vcast service comes in. In Squeeze you can upload files frictionlessly with Vcast and it will send back a URL or reference to the file that you can include in Flash.”
Vcast is a service that will allow users to register online and send video (live or on-demand) to anyone in the world. After downloading the Vcast client and filling out an online registration form, a user can stream live video from a camera connected to their computer, or compress existing video content with Vcast. The content is then posted to the Internet for Vcast to stream. The total cost of the broadcast is based on the number of viewers the user anticipates will watch the event.
When you go to the Vcast Web site to fill out the registration form, you’ll need to enter some personal data as well as info about the streaming you need, such as the number of users you expect and the length of your video content. Once you’re registered, you can plug a video camera into your workstation, send an URL-like movie reference to users, and you’re set. Normally, your video will be hosted on your own Web site. Also, when you register to purchase an event, the Vcast client, the tool used to get content into the system, will be downloaded.
When the users access the movie reference, they’ll see your video play in the QuickTime Player (yep, Vcast is QuickTime-based). The Vcast client itself, which is Mac and Windows compatible, will hide the complexities of the whole operation from both the broadcaster and the viewer.
The Vcast client is basically a simplified version of Sorenson Broadcaster, which enables users to stream video and audio using QuickTime. Unlike its “parent,” the Vcast client has lots of presets to make it easy to use even by those who know little or nothing about video production and streaming.
McGarr said Vcast is and will be used to meet the needs of education, entertainment and communications. He said that a small hospital in Utah is using a preview version of the system to stream surgery over the Internet. Educators can use it for distance learning courseware. And, for example, real estate firms could use it on their Web sites to offer video-based walkthroughs of properties, McGarr said.
Sorenson is currently offering a 30-day free “test drive” for Vcast. When you use squeeze, there’s a Vcast button that lets you upload content and try the service.
“It lets you taste the honey and see how easy it is,” Harper said.