Gone in a flash

So Steve Jobs doesn’t like Flash.

Flash has always had a chorus of catcalls and boos from off-stage, way before Mr Jobs started his campaign. It dates back fifteen years ago, in fact: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/9512.html and http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20001029.html

Nevertheless, the reason why Flash became so popular in the Corporate video world was that Mac based video generators found WMV a hard format to publish in, and WMV wasn’t the nicest progressive download format around. QuickTime was a bit of a no-no at the time, with a 40 MB download and cumbersome install (from the viewpoint of conservative IT departments). Flash played nice on both Mac and PC, and was ‘as standard’ on corporate PCs.

Now… imagine a world where Microsoft adopted QuickTime (that’s never going to happen, but just imagine), would we be messing around with Flash? Sure, Flash works, but the playback is prone to stuttering and feels gritty in all but perfect playback environments. And even then, a dropped frame would never occur in the same place.

I used to use QuickTime for web based work. It was easy to integrate, provided smooth playback, looked great and worked well on the PC – so long as you installed QuickTime, which went from 7 MB to 42 MB (mandatory iTunes install) in the days before ubiquitous broadband. So QuickTime was out for client-facing stuff.

I adopted Flash, learned to like and to use flash, because the alternative was so unappealing (convincing Corporates, NGOs and the like to adopt QuickTime.

Well, hell’s closed for skiing and formation pig-flying:


We think H.264 is an excellent format. In its HTML5 support, IE9 will support playback of H.264” — Microsoft.

Flash gave lots of us video guys a solid foundation on getting video on the web as a reliable, easy standard that any website could benefit from.

Then Mr Jobs comes along, starts a war, and it’s out with Flash, in with HTML5 if you want to play in his little iGarden.

Don’t get me wrong – Flash is going to be around for some time yet. Many corporates do not use HTML5 compatible browsers, but give it a couple of years and Flash for video publishers will fade to black.

So it’s time to get good at H.264. For those of us publishing corporate video, we’ve got to get to know new settings, new wrinkles, new ‘chops’ that get even better results. New gamma, new keyframes. Maybe new software, or new plug-ins. New workflows.

And more importantly, new hardware. H.264 is not a quick codec to encode to. Whether it’s raw horsepower with an Octocore Mac, a mid-end solution like the Matrox MXO2 or an Elgato Turbo264 HD, we’ll need hardware help for a while yet. It’s not like encoding to the On2 codec!

And there’s a transition period. Remember, H.264 works in Flash now, and that’s pretty much the bleeding edge as corporate web video goes. The safe route has been On2’s Flash 8 codec, but I for one will be moving on to become H.264 based.

Until, of course, the next great codec comes along.

2 thoughts on “Gone in a flash

  1. Hi Matt- love your blog, and this latest post is very timely. I”m redoing my website (flash..bad..) but cannot get anyone to give me a straight answer on how to encode and playback my video samples. I’m hearing encode in H.264 then convert to f4v for most compatible playback(pcs/macs in corporate world)..but you’re saying that thinking may not last (in part due to Apple)- I’ve never heard of any H.264 playback skins..So what would you advise?? A lot of people are saying a lot of different things..This stuff is all moving so fast! Thanks..Leigh

    • Straightest answer I can give is that the widest compatibility for a predominantly PC using audience (especially corporates) is to encode to the On2 VP6 codec, also known as ‘Flash 8’. You can then choose to provide ‘bigger’ higher quality versions in H.264 played within a Flash player. Note that the file extension should be m4v rather than f4v.

      By this time next year, I will probably be 98% H.264. Right now, I’m completing a shift from 10% to 80% H.264 content, but will still be using Flash for at least the next 18 months whilst we wait for IE9 to take hold (for HTML5 and H.264).

      If you really need iPad and iPhone support, it means doing two separate pages and checking for the browser type, ugly and tedious, but that’s the only way to get ‘jam today’.

      Oh yes, and the Elgato Turbo.264HD accelerator dongle is lovely – finals still look better from Compressor, but for quick encodes for client preview, or fast turnaround web stuff, I’d highly recommend it. Probably a separate blog about it later.

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