Adobe plans to announce Monday that the Flash platform will include HTTP streaming. The move brings the online video leader up to speed with the rest of the video market, including Microsoft and Apple. However, the new Flash Player 10.1 release is not due until “the first half of 2010,” according to the company.
HTTP streaming has come into fashion because it is especially good at dealing with fluctuations in bandwidth conditions and demand. Using standard web servers, an HTTP video stream can change between different quality chunks of the same content, adapting to deliver the best video that can be received at the time. However, Adobe isn’t fully switching to HTTP; it will continue to support its traditional proprietary RTMP streaming protocol via Flash Media Servers. Content owners won’t have to re-encode their videos to use the HTTP protocols (though they will have to go through the additional step of chunking files into versions at different bitrates).
Adobe’s HTTP streaming will have many of the features we’ve come to expect in online video, including Adobe’s content protection Flash Access, support for live and on-demand video, multi-bitrate streaming (as described above) and DVR capability.
Adobe product manager Ashley Still said that RTMP still will deliver a better experience for two-way video, with its low latency and time delay. So it may be preferable for interactive and social media products. Since HTTP uses caching and has high latency, it is better for one-way broadcasts, like a live event, she contended. RTMP will also have added features like slo-mo and fast-forward without buffering.
Today some companies such as Akamai and Ankeena Networks have found a way to work around Adobe’s lack of HTTP streaming support by using the Flash Player’s progressive download API. But Adobe’s support will make Flash HTTP better for content owners because it will enable file encryption and dynamic ad insertion.
Adobe lags far enough behind the HTTP streaming competition that this move can only be viewed as a first step. However, one advantage of the 10.1 upgrade is that runtime will be the same across PCs and smartphones, including the Android and Symbian platforms (no iPhone, of course). Adobe will also make this an open format available through its open-source media framework so that various developers can include HTTP streaming in their own players.