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Flash Player to Support H.264 Video

News straight from the Flash Player development team:

* You can load and play .mp4,.m4v,.m4a,.mov and .3gp files using the same NetStream API you use to load FLV files now. We did not add any sort of new API in the Flash Player. All your existing video playback front ends will work as they are. As long as they do not look at the file extension that is, though renaming the files to use the .flv file extension might help your component. The Flash Player itself does not care about file extensions, you can feed it .txt files for all it matters. The Flash Player always looks inside the file to determine what type of file it is.

* A new version of FMS is upcoming and will support the new file format. This is powerful stuff. Simply drop video files you might have encoded using one of the countless tools out there onto the server and it'll stream.

Based on the rest of Tinic's post (it is a long and somewhat technical read), it looks like Adobe will be transitioning away from the FLV format due to some technical limitations. But, I'm wondering if the change will enable some sort of rights management -- even though the post says the Flash Player will not support FairPlay protected videos, there are plenty of other rights management systems out there. Rights management is a very commonly requested feature by sites like ABC.com and others who used to stream all their video in Flash.

Lastly, now that YouTube has been encoding all their video into a Quicktime-playable format (for the iPhone and AppleTV) as well as FLV, I'm wondering when/if they will switch over to only H.264 encoding with Flash Player delivery. This is a win-win for Adobe and Apple: the Flash Player will remain the delivery method of choice due to its massive install base, and H.264/Quicktime formats have just made a comeback as the encoding choice for web delivery.

Update: Ryan Stewart answers some common questions about this update, and Aral Balkan has a very detailed FAQ on his blog. I also adjusted the title to be more technically correct, as Apple didn't invent the H.264 codec, just enables Quicktime to play the specific codec format.

Lou said,

August 21, 2007 @ 4:18 pm

The FAQ has some important ‘fine print’:

When will Flash Player 9 Update 3 ship?

Flash player 9 Update 3 is expected to be available from the Adobe Flash Player Download Center later this Fall.

What parts of the H.264 license are included when I buy Adobe Products?

The end user license to the Adobe Flash Player allows users to playback H.264 content for your own non-commercial use. Commercial use of the Flash Player to decode H.264 video may require a separate license.

What are H.264’s licensing terms?

Licensing terms for H.264 are available at http://www.mpegla.com and http://www.vialicensing.com.

What is MPEG LA?

MPEG LA is in the business of offering users access under one license to essential patents for standards-based technologies owned by many patent holders. MPEG LA provides these licenses as a convenience to the market in order to save users the time and expense of negotiating individual licenses with multiple patent owners and the resulting payment of many separate royalties. The licenses offered by MPEG LA include patents that are essential to implementation of H.264.

When does MPEG LA require payment of a use fee or royalty, and do I need my own license for H.264?

MPEG-LA has a number of categories where parties may be required to obtain a license and pay a royalty. Categories include: AVC Products, Title-By-Title Video, Subscription AVC Video, and Internet Broadcast AVC video, among others. Most categories apply to commercial uses and implementations, but some apply more broadly. Whether the license applies to your use; the applicable royalty; and the threshold for application of the royalty varies for each category. You will need to contact MPEG LA or review the license terms to determine if your use falls within a particular category. MPEG LA has posted a FAQ and has a Q&A Department (email qanda@mepgla.com) for those questions not answered by the FAQ.

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