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Flash 8 Professional

Everyone can join the party

About a year ago, I had a long chat with Mike Downey, the Flash Product Manager, regarding the launch of Flash MX Professional 2004. Mike was still stinging from much of the criticism related to the that launch, and the gist of the conversation was "never again." He was adamant that if Flash gets shipped, it will ship when it is ready and only then.

This conversation took place in the midst of a very quiet tour that had landed Mike in Toronto after a couple of weeks in Japan. Another couple of weeks in Europe were in front him. He wasn't out apologizing. That's not Mike's nature. He was out listening closely and intently, to what the Flash designers wanted, and to show them a version of Flash that was more a "concept" than anything else. In the midst of the conversation he added, "We are going to do some serious work with video". Macromedia has delivered on that one, big-time, with Flash 8 Professional.

Two Flash 8 Jewels
If there are two jewels in Flash 8 Professional, they are the new Flash 8 Video Encoder and the new Video Components. If they do not spark a video revolution on the web, there is something fundamentally wrong with this business, in my opinion. They are that good and, more important, are dead simple to use.

The Flash 8 Video Encoder has been reworked from the ground up, and is designed with those new to video and the hard core Flash video creators in mind. The addition of the ON2VP6 codec and the ability to encode video containing an Alpha Mask--green screen--are master strokes that raise the web video bar, in one release, from "hurdles" height to pole-vault height.

One would think this kind of jump would make things more complicated. But it hasn't, not by a long shot. In fact, the product is even easier to use, an amazing feat considering how fundamentally the creation of Flash Video and its use in Flash has changed.

When you open the Flash 8 Video Encoder you get your first clue that something new is in place. All you have to do is to either import a QuickTime video (or videos) or simply drag them from the desktop into the Encoder window. At this stage you have a couple of choices: You can click the "Start Queue" button and the encoding process starts, or click the Settings button to apply your own settings to the encoding process.

(See Image1)

If you click the Settings button, the Flash Video Encoder dialog box opens. Again, you can choose to make the process a simple one or get a bit deeper into the process by clicking the Advanced Settings button. If you choose to keep things relatively uncomplicated, choose one of the seven presets and do some rudimentary editing by setting the "In" and the "Out" points. Click the "OK" button and the encoder creates the FLV and places it in the same location as the original file. Keep in mind, though, the ON2VP6 codec is only available in the Flash 8 presets and Sorenson Spark is used in the Flash 7 presets.

(See Image 2)

The Advanced Settings are where the pros are going to have a field day. You get to choose your codec, frame rate, data rate and key frame placement or add your own values. You can add Cue Points to your video and have those cue points react to events in the Flash movie, or be used for navigation purposes, such as seeking a particular spot in the video. Event cue points are used to trigger ActionScript methods when the cue point is reached. They let you synchronize the video playback to other events, to load a movie clip for example, within the Flash presentation.

(See Image 3)

(See Image 4)

But the most important feature is one you might miss. If you select Encode Alpha Channel, you now have the ability to create an FLV that uses an Alpha channel added in AfterEffects 6.5 or other video editing software. This means the ability to add Green Screen video with an alpha channel involves nothing more than a mouse click. If you have seen the Macromedia videos where people talk while Flash plays, you have seen this effect in action. There is going to be a real explosion in talking-head videos thanks to the simplicity of this feature.

Beyond Creation
Creating the FLV is only half of the equation. Actually getting it into Flash and playing is the other half. Again, Macromedia paid very careful to attention to its users. Though the Media Playback Component in Flash MX 2004 Professional was rather easy to use, wait until you see what they have done in Flash 8 Professional!

First off, there are two sets of Media Components. The first set are the ones from MX 2004 used for the Flash Player 6/7. The second set is a selection of UI components designed solely for use in the Flash Player 8. They are "slick".

(See Image 5)

The FLV Playback component is the slickest of the lot. Drag this component onto the stage, click the Parameters tab and enter the name of the FLV to appear in the component, compile the .SWF, and you are in the video game.

Then it gets better. If you select Skin and click the little magnifying glass in the Skin area of the Parameters, you will open the Select Skin dialog box. The pop down Skin menu lets you choose from 27 different styles and, if you are so inclined, the opportunity to add a custom skin that you have created. No longer are users "stuck" with the common Halo skin, but rather, can now add their own. This could include the client's branding, for example. Once you finish, the Player--with the Skin--is visible on the stage.

(See Image 6)

(See Image 7)

There are occasions when users can be given limited control over video playback. This could include, for example, the use of a video in an eLearning situation, where the student simply has to watch a video. In this scenario, the only two controls needed would be a play button to start the video, and a pause button to stop it from playing. This is the purpose of the FLV Custom UI components.

More Stories By Tom Green

Tom Green describes himself as 'teacher, author, chief cook and bottle washer.' He is an instructor at Humber College's School of Media Studies in Toronto, and is also the author of 'Building Web Sites with Macromedia Studio MX' and 'Building Dynamic Web Sites with Macromedia Studio MX 2004,' both published by New Riders.

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