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?