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Apr
16

Understanding high quality Flash Video

Flash video gets a bad rap.

Proponents of Quicktime, Windows Media and Java based video often point out the superior quality of those systems, and many in the industry still genuinely believe that Flash video has intrinsically poor picture quality.

This simply isn't true.

The reason this myth is perpetuated is due mainly to YouTube, the site that is the poster child for Flash video and unfortunately contains some very poor picture quality videos.

This isn't actually YouTube's fault, you can upload extremely high quality video to YouTube if you know what you are doing, but the vast majority of users don't do this.

It's simply the case that most videos uploaded to YouTube have been poorly converted from other formats, and YouTube's processing and file size limitations can get in the way too.

So what is the highest quality you can get with flash video?

In theory, there is no limit, Adobe can introduce new higher quality compression codecs whenever they like, and with infinite bitrate available in theory, you can have infinite quality. In practice however you are limited by two constraining factors - Internet bandwidth and computer processor power.

Anyone who has ever encoded a video file for web delivery will be familiar with the issue of bandwidth. You can create a great looking video (with a high bitrate), but your viewers won't have enough bandwidth to watch it in real-time - it will stop and start. But what if I told you that frequently stuttering video is not always due to insufficient bandwidth?

I've written about the relevance of computer processor power to web video before, but it is worth revisiting. Decompressing web video requires a significant amount of computer processing horsepower to do its work. If the web video is high bitrate (say above 750kbps), it doesn't matter if it's Quicktime or Flash or Urdu, your computer will have its work cut out to decode and display it back to you in real-time.

Note that it is the speed of the computer your viewers are using to watch the video, and not the computer you encoded it on that is relevant here. You can take as much time as you like over the encoding, use a 50mhz 486 if you wish, but your viewer must be able to decode it in real-time, and this requires horsepower.

So the next time you see stuttering video, flash or otherwise, don't always assume it is a lack of bandwidth. It's equally likely to be processor power that is causing the problem.

(In my next article on this subject I will explore the issue of high quality Flash video further and show you how to upload very high quality clips to YouTube. The techniques can also be used for other video sharing sites.)

Examples

If you want to try out this issue of processor power, we have a super high bitrate Flash video which will push your processor to the limit. It comes with a pre-loader to ensure that no matter what speed of connection you have, the playback should still be consistent. This means that if you do get stuttering, the problem is almost certainly processor power (or lack thereof)!

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Comments

Hi, My name is Martin Ureta and I am about to open my new Video company in Switzerland, Atlantee. I wanted to upload all my video productions in flash video but I it was really dificult to find a good encoding software. Your High Definition Flash Video has a superbe quality, did you use Flash Encoder 8? I would be very greatfull if you could post or send me by email any information about the specifics of your HD FLV. Thank you,
Best Regards,
Martin

ED - Hi Martin, we used On2 Flix Pro for the encoding of that video - great software

I am attempting to rip multple video files from dvds and convert them into flash for web viewing. What is the best and most simple ripping sofware as; well as what is the best flash conversion software? I believe you said On2 Flix pro, but I wanted to make sure. Also is there a software that will rip files from multple dvds (in succession), so I don't have to stay at my computer and rip them 1 by 1?

ED - I'm not up on DVD ripping software but I can confirm that On2 Flix pro is a great Flash conversion tool and supports batch encoding which the standard version does not. You indicated some interest in doing batch jobs.

Hi Ed,
Thanks for sharing with us your knowledge on flash video. I hope you could help me out with a few more questions.
I intend on displaying high quality video in Flash, but it is not for the web. It will be created as a standalone player (flash projector file .exe). Are you familiar with the best ways to do this?
- My video may be up to 20minutes of NTSC/PAL DV AVI quality with sound.
- Should I render out from my video editing software to DV AVI (no compression) then bring this video into On2 Flix Pro to achieve the best quality?
- It will be played on a brand new PC.
- Is a progressive FLV best for me?

Thanks again, appreciate your help!

ED - Sounds to me like you have a good plan already Tony. Keep it uncompressed until the last stage which is the conversion to Flash video. Not sure about the very last bit re progressive without testing it myself but at the end of the day go with what your eyes tell you looks best. Cheers.

By speed of the computer do you mean the cpu processing power,or the RAM, or the dedicated video card speed and memeory? Can a faster GPU on a slower computer offset the flash video stutter?
I have noticed lots of stuttering causing irritable video quality in Pentium 3 pcs with flash, but have not had problems with streaming divx, qt, or wmv......

ALX - The speed of the processor is the main bottleneck with flash video

Thank you for the good quality info. I use On2 Flix pro as encoder and my goal is always to offer the best quality of video possible. I would to know the best settings and considerations while encoding on On2 Flix pro. What was the settings on the super high bitrate Flash video. Superb! Cheers

Millions of users need LOWER quality videos.
The people in charge of the youtube site are very short-sighted. Why? Because MILLIONS of people still use older computers with P3 cpu motherboards for example and they need to DOWNSIZE the video screen and DOWNSIZE the video resolution in order to watch it. You would think that the bunch of liberals at google would be the first to acknowledge such users, even if they are a minority, but no, the people at google are hypocrites and cannot take 5 minutes to provide lower video quality OPTIONS like there used to be back in 2007. The current youtube 'low bandwidth' setting has nothing to do w/ screen size and video resolution WHICH ARE NOT SELECTABLE ON YOUTUBE. IDIOTS.

I ran your test and saw some stuttering, but my cpu was not maxed out. It was only running at about 50%. It's a 3.06 ghz p4 with HT. I have 2 gb of ram. I'm wondering if I need to upgrade my video card, but you seem to focus solely on cpu for flash performance. My video card is a ATI rage 128 with 32 mb ram (old, I know). I changed my display resolution to the lowest setting and that seemed to have helped a little, but still wasn't perfect. So my question is: is it possible that my video card is the bottleneck here and not my cpu?

ALX - Not likely. Although some level of graphics hardware support was introduced in Flash 9 and extended in Flash 10 to support full GPU acceleration, very few sites are enabling their SWF files for this. And the hardware requirements are very stiff. See this post from an engineer at Adobe... In the vast majority of cases at this point in time, you are using the CPU to decode Flash video.

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