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Creative Cloud Snubs FLV and F4V, But Flash Video Use Continues
Was Adobe's decision to remove FLV and F4V export from Creative Cloud the last gasp for Flash? No, and there are better tools around, anyway.

In June of this year, Adobe released the 2014 edition of Creative Cloud, which included updated versions of Premiere, After Effects, and Media Encoder. With this new release, Adobe removed the capability to export the FLV and F4V video formats from these video production tools. While video professionals might interpret this as a death knell for Flash video, this decision does not affect the market for Flash-based video in any real way.

You can -- and should -- still encode video for browser delivery through the Flash Player. Flash-based rendering of video will remain a necessary fact of life until legacy browsers are virtually nonexistent and a viable live streaming format is pervasive across browsers.

The FLV and F4V formats, which are containers for video and audio codecs that are not proprietary to Adobe, were specifically engineered for playback in the Adobe Flash Player.

The FLV file format can contain Sorenson Spark (sometimes referred to as H.263) and On2 VP6 (with S or E profiles, as well as 8-bit alpha channel support) for video, as well as MP3 or uncompressed PCM for audio. When FLV was first introduced, most if not all web video and audio codecs were just as “singular” in their playback capability -- WMV files were mainly designed for Windows Media Player, MOV files for QuickTime Player, and so on.

When the MP4 file format and the H.264/AAC codecs were added to Flash Player 9’s feature set, Adobe introduced a new file extension, .f4v, for additional data tracks included by Adobe Media Encoder for Flash Player enhancement. These tracks were entirely optional, and for the most part, you could (and still can) replace the .f4v extension on an F4V file with an .mp4 extension. Any MPEG-4 video player, from VLC to QuickTime Player, then more easily recognizes the file.

So why did Adobe remove these formats from export out of its video tools? According to an Adobe blog post by Todd Kopriva, the formats were removed “because maintaining these obsolete exporters was a large amount of work” and that the time could be better spent on improving other features. When viewed within the overall scope of video usage on the web, Adobe’s decision was sound -- in 99 percent of online video deployments, AVC/H.264 is a format that most HTML5 browsers and mobile devices can decode. FLV is not a format to continue to use for browser-based video playback.

However, as a consultant who works on projects with special use cases, I’m well aware of the continued use of the FLV format outside of browsers. Live streaming still largely uses the FLV wrapper over RTMP to publish streams to media servers. Most media servers, including Wowza Streaming Engine and Adobe Media Server, can be configured to record incoming streams as either FLV or MP4. (Hint: Publish your stream with a stream name starting with “mp4:” if you’re using Wowza Streaming Engine.)

Another use of the FLV format is transparent video -- the ability to knock out the background behind a subject and “float” the video over other content. This special feature of the On2 VP6 codec and the FLV container still has not been replaced by HTML5 standards. (The AVC/H.264 specification allows for an alpha channel, but I have yet to see any encoder or decoder support it.) Web shops producing kiosk displays for video demos are more likely to be affected by Adobe’s decision to remove FLV export. Frankly, I’m happy to still have Wildform Flix Pro available for FLV export for these types of engagements.

But mentioning another vendor’s product brings me to the larger point: Use the best tool for the job at hand. While it can certainly be helpful to have an “all-in-one” video production suite, professionals should be using professional tools. Anyone who’s attended my encoding sessions at Streaming Media conferences knows I don’t rank Adobe Media Encoder at the top of the list. There are far better H.264 export (and FLV export) tools than those available from Adobe.

Don’t groan over any decision involving Adobe Media Encoder -- if you are, then it’s time to look at other encoding options. Encoding with FFmpeg and x264 is by far the best option for H.264 output, but its FLV export quality is weak. Should you require FLV output, Wildform Flix Pro remains the best tool for the job.

This article appears in the October 2014 issue of Streaming Media magazine as "FLV and F4V: The Beat Goes on Without You."

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