Building the solution: Part 1 – The Format Wars

One of the fundamental questions when dealing with video on the web is: what format do I use? This question actually seems a lot easier to answer today than it was even in recent memory with the apparent dominance of Flash 8 video as the format of choice.

Flash had been showing up mostly on smaller sites, but recently I’ve started to notice more and more of the commercial news sites (like Foxnews) using Flash. I think I can safely say at this point that Real and Quicktime are dead as web video formats. WMV still has a little life, but given the horrible bugginess of the web control, I expect to see WMV disappear pretty quickly.

More and more of the sites using Flash are delivering good quality, fast serving, and great cross-platform/browser compatibility. Add to this the ability to brand/customize your player, plus supply a bloggable version, and the solution is awfully compelling. (One of the implications here is that if you’re not using Flash, then you’re at a competitive disadvantage).

One of the knocks against Flash has been the requirement to pay server licensing fees for the Flash video streaming server. Could this be the reason that YouTube appears to be using progressive download instead of streaming? It’s an interesting question since in theory streaming should save you a lot in bandwidth costs, for the simple reason that LOTS of video downloaded through an HTTP GET never gets watched by the user.

The server license cost can be offset somewhat by the fact that most of the CDNs are now supporting Flash streaming (see Limelight Networks or Vital Stream), although the Flash service does command a price premium.

So now that you’ve choosen Flash, how do you get your video into that format? Most of the authoring tools support a Flash codec, but for on-demand server encoding, you need an automatable solution. One that seems popular is On2, whose Flix Engine product supports server side Flash encoding. Anyone want to suggest any others or share your experience with them?


8 comments so far

  1. Erik on

    There’s no doubt that Flash is a much better video environment. One of the best things is that you’re pretty much guaranteed a consistent user experience across different browsers and OSes (no more WMV for PCs and QuickTime for Apples). I hope you’re right on this one.

  2. Kaz on

    I see that many vow sites are using Flash and you state that wmv does not have much life left… May ask why your company is using wmv? Just curious.

  3. videoontheweb on

    We are going to be rolling out Flash at gofish very soon (next few weeks). We had historic reasons for using WMV, but have been planning the move to Flash for a while.

  4. Jules on

    I’m going to use Flash 8 video on one of our websites and currently considering to buy On2 Flix. Can you tell me what encoding technology you are going to use for flash 8 video ? and why..

  5. videoontheweb on

    We are evaluating On2 right now. They seem to be the defacto standard for server-side Flash generation. We have not actually looked at the Flix engine, because it’s sort of “shrink wrapped” and offers less flexibility. Instead we are looking at using their DirectShow filter which will give us more control over the transcode process. If I were looking for something simpler I would probably go with Flix. I will post more when I have more to report.

  6. Thomas on

    For a new venture, I have been testing out the Turbine Video Engine SDK from Blue Pacific Software ( Its immediate API is limited to Microsoft COM+ and .NET use but that API could be easy wrapped to work with other application development technologies, were that your intent. At about US$ 1500 for a server license, it seems pretty affordable and, in my initial testing, it seems to be pretty performant in both synchronous as well as asynchronous encoding to Flash.

  7. scottp on

    Thomas – thanks for the note. I should point out however that I don’t believe the Turbine engine supports Flash 8 format, only previous formats. That’s OK (I believe YouTube uses pre-Flash 8 video, or at least they did originally), but people should know that the Flash 8 codec gives better quality results, and the On2 solution supports both versions.

  8. Thomas on

    It doesn’t look like Turbine supports the Flash 8 format. I’m relatively new to Flash, so I’m very undiscerning even when it comes to such important differences. Thanks for the great blog and the diversity of topics – I feel much more informed about Web-based video since I started reading your materials.

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