Adobe Adding H.264 Support to Flash

In a move that reflects a growing desire for higher-quality Web video, the newest version of Adobe’s (ADBE) widely used Flash Player is going to support the H.264 video compression standard. It will also support HE-AAC audio as well as hardware acceleration for full-screen playback.

A beta version of Adobe Moviestar, as it’s being called, will be available for download from the Adobe Labs site on Tuesday. The new features will be fully released this fall; they are being pegged as a Flash 9 update rather than a full new version.

Mark Randall, chief strategist for Adobe’s Dynamic Media Organization, called the announcement especially significant because H.264 — in addition to being associated with higher quality — is an open-standard codec. The ubiquity of Flash, he said, should cause “a tipping point for bringing H.264 for the Web.”

Such ubiquity across Web sites also means that each latest and greatest version of Flash gets spread quickly by way of visitors who want to view those sites’ content. For example, it took about 12 months for 90 percent of Flash users to upgrade to Flash 9 from Flash 8, Randall said in an interview Monday.

But while Flash has ubiquity on its side, it’s often associated with poor-quality streaming video. With no support for Flash on the iPhone and an interest in better quality video on its AppleTV, Apple recently persuaded YouTube to reencode its Flash videos in H.264.

H.264 playback will be supported by Adobe’s AIR and applications developed with AIR, which include the company’s forthcoming Adobe Media Player. That product is being delayed until the first quarter of next year, according to Randall, confirming a report today on Beet.TV.