A while ago we published a story about how awesome Silverlight was, and how we fully expected it to crush Adobe under its Microsoft-shod heel and become the dominant video-streaming platform. Adobe is either a massive fan of what we do here at Crave or the recipient of a Google alert that warns it when Silverlight and Flash are used in the same news story together. Either way, the lovely Adobe people asked if they could come in and explain why Flash is still amazing.
We accepted, and a very sweet man called Steve, with the exciting job title of 'technical evangelist', arrived at our offices. He came armed with a computer and a surfeit of enthusiasm for his product. First, we tackled Silverlight. In our recent article we had suggested Flash was looking rather clunky compared to the newer Microsoft-backed system. Not so, Steve told us -- Flash is capable of all the same tricks that Silverlight wowed us with.
Smooth streaming as the available bandwidth changes was no problem, as a demo showed. In the same way Silverlight made it possible to restrict the bandwidth, so did Flash. In the Adobe system, there are several streams encoded for several target bandwidths. Flash is capable of detecting the available data rate and switching to the most appropriate stream. It does that without disrupting your viewing.
We also talked about GPU acceleration. One of the things that impressed us with Silverlight was the way even windowed video could take advantage of our work computer's GPU. With both iPlayer and YouTube we noticed a significant drop in the frame rate of HD video. Steve told us YouTube was essentially a concoction of technologies that the company had designed from the ground up. It was, after all, one of the first high-capacity streaming sites online. Adobe's involvement with that system was minimal, and unlikely to get any more significant.
On the other hand, iPlayer fans will be delighted to hear that the next version of iPlayer is likely to make windowed HD video smoother. Steve did say that Flash Player 10 can apply GPU acceleration to video, even if it was delivered from an older system. There is a new version of iPlayer due reasonably soon, which might improve the situation too.
The thing that intrigued us the most, however, was the potential Flash has to deliver interactive features to TVs. Soon, Sony will start selling the first televisions with built-in Flash decoding. The obvious assumption here is that this would enable video to be delivered to the TV via the Internet, in much the same way YouTube functionality works on home entertainment devices.
The demos are much more interesting than that, however. In theory, you could send a video stream over the air, via Freeview, and then use the Flash capability to overlay statistics or information. This would work brilliantly in F1, for example, where up-to-date race data could be sent over the Internet and synchronised with what's on TV. Or it could bring a whole new level to interactive TV and digital Teletext. With Web access becoming more common on TVs and developers using the Air platform more and more, we can only imagine what will be possible in the future. TweetDeck on your Bravia?
It was all very impressive, and it didn't take many demos to convince us that there are great things on the horizon. Flash has the potential to be an incredibly powerful platform, and Steve pretty much sold us on its virtues. But then, as we were writing this piece, everything on our PC became intolerably slow and Chrome started to complain that there was an unresponsive plugin. Then this message appeared:
Seems as though Adobe still has some work to do...