on point: articles and opinions

In this section we discuss concepts, standards, problems, etc. for website and Flash development. In our latest article we're looking at Video in Flash — definitely a new dimension in multimedia for your site.

Previously in On Point:

  • What's Wrong with this Page? — in which we show you a sample page and ask you to find the problem. Then we look at why it's a problem and how it affects more sites than you might think.
  • Name that Web Page! — about the importance of choosing the right titles for all your pages and some of the factors you need to consider.
  • Streamlining with Stylesheets — Most sites now use CSS in a fairly limited way. In this article we look at the many advantages of using CSS for the actual layout of a Web page.
  • But What About Netscape 4? — about whether we should let the limitations of the Netscape 4 browser continue to hold us back.

Video in Flash: a new dimension

February 18, 2004 (Updated July 1, 2004)

While many websites use Flash, a much smaller number use video — strange, given our addiction to television for news, sports, entertainment, and even "reality" programming. Obviously we'd see much more video online if there weren't some serious stumbling blocks.

  • Video files are large and therefore slow to download. This usually requires some sort of compromise — keeping the movie short, reducing the movie's dimensions, and/or cutting back on the quality of the video and audio.
  • Video files come in a variety of formats and not everyone has the required plugin or application (e.g. Quicktime, Real Player, Windows Media Video). Or perhaps you have the plugins, but they don't work in your browser of choice.
  • More often than not, videos cannot play seamlessly in the Web page that is providing them. Quicktime movies can play in the Web page, but of the big three, it has the lowest adoption rate. More often, clicking on a hyperlink to play a video will require that a new window be opened for Real Player, Windows Media Player, or whatever.

However, video in Flash opens up new possibilities. While it doesn't solve all the problems, it definitely can even out some of the bumps in the road.

As a simple example of a video playing in Flash, click "Play Video" in the Flash image on the right. (Note: this experimental piece uses a brief video sequence from a Macromedia tutorial that we've combined with an audio clip downloaded from FlashKit. Ensure your sound is turned on.)

The advantages of video in Flash

  1. Flash movies can easily play in the current Web page, as illustrated by the example above. The video is thus an integral part of the message rather than an "extra". When you elect to play the video, you don't have to wait for another application to load or for another window to open. Then, when the movie is done, there's no extra window to close so that you can return to the original page — in other words, it's a no-fuss experience with no "cleaning up" afterward.
  2. The Flash plugin is almost everywhere. While plugins for other video players may have an adoption rate of 40–60%, the required version of the Flash plugin is on more than 90% of computers already. (See comparison statistics.) It comes preinstalled on most machines, and for those who don't already have it or who may need to upgrade, the download is significantly smaller, faster, and easier than for the other players.
  3. Flash videos can be designed with an interface that best suits the video and the webpage. In some cases, the movie is really just a moving image and requires no visible controls, but other Flash movies will work better with play, pause, volume and other controls. And, of course, the color, style, and placement of the controls is easily configured to fit the requirements. Videos don't even have to be presented as rectangles — and maybe once in a while a circle, hexagon, or whatever will work better for you.
  4. Videos in Flash can include interactivity and can be combined with other elements — graphics, text, animations, even other videos — making them even more effective.

But what about the file size problem? Unfortunately, whatever the method of presentation, videos consume bandwidth. This is one problem that Flash hasn't solved, though it certainly has tools to optimize the download. While anything more than the shortest videos are impractical for dialup users, if the videos are streamed, users with fast connections will normally find that even larger movies can start with only a few seconds wait.

In many ways Flash makes videos more usable on the Web. Flash can make them fit more seamlessly with the rest of the page or use them as part of a larger animated or interactive experience. Ultimately there are times when video simply communicates better than any of the other choices. It's a potential that most sites have yet to take advantage of and definitely worth more consideration now that Flash has raised the bar.

Take a moment and think about how the addition of video might add value to your site, or perhaps to a CD or DVD you're planning (where, of course, the file size/bandwidth problem is much less of a concern). It could be as simple as an animated image with no sound, or maybe a client testimonial, an illustration of a product or process, a facilities tour, staff comments, an event, etc., etc. The opportunities are really only limited by your imagination.

For more information and more samples of Flash video, you may also want to check out our Online Video section. If you're interested in the possibilities, contact Designshift. We're here to make your site and your business more effective, and we definitely think videos in Flash can help get the job done.

See more on point articles in the archive.


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