Flash 8 Video: Flash in the Pan or Serious Contender?

Don’t say Douglas McIntyre didn’t warn the industry. At the 2005 Streaming Media East show in New York, McIntyre, the Chairman and CEO of On2 Technologies, was one of three panelists speaking at a session dealing with the future of Internet video. Since the topic was open-source video compression technologies, he only mentioned as an aside the fact that the industry would see On2’s last-generation VP6 compression technology under a new name—Flash 8 video—within the coming months.

But with Flash 8 now on the market and Flash Player 8.5 set to launch on October 17 at Macromedia’s MAX conference, McIntyre’s aside takes on much more importance. Early indications are that Flash 8 video files, which can be downloaded as standalone files (.flv) or as part of an interactive Flash file (.swf), rival H.264 and VC-1 at certain data rates.

Flash 8’s video compression is receiving attention within the Flash development community, which is known for being fiercely loyal to Macromedia-only solutions, and has been receiving rave online reviews in the Macromedia forums. One recurring topic of discussion is that Flash 8, with its inherent interactive functionality, coupled with the higher-quality video codec supplied by On2, actually meets the interactivity goals set forth by the MPEG-4 systems standard.

While MPEG-4 has made quality strides, especially with the advent of the H.264 codecs that will be used by both the HD-DVD and Blu-ray next-generation DVD players, the interactive MPEG-4 has been less successful in achieving market penetration.

"The original MPEG-4 standard was introduced to great acclaim, but its adoption has been so poor—even in products such as handheld devices where cost and power consumption are critical—that it can hardly be called a "de facto" standard," says McIntyre. "Almost from day one, MPEG-4 has lagged behind proprietary codecs in performance. Put simply, by the time the standard was ratified and products were ready to ship, the state of the art had moved on significantly."

On2 is losing no time capitalizing on its newfound success. Less than two weeks ago, On2 launched an aggressive affiliate program, spawning a grassroots marketing effort that leverages the Macromedia Developers’ forums, which keep Macromedia’s mindshare at the forefront of the online Web development community. These forums are frequented by numerous professional and amateur Web developers, and have spawned several influential blogs that may further expand On2’s grassroots marketing effort.

"There are over one million Flash developers around the globe," says McIntyre, "and our mission is to put the industry’s highest-quality Flash video encoding tools into the hands of each and every one of them. "

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