What Is Flash And Is It Here To Stay?

flv playerFlash. It’s everywhere.

Just everywhere. You can barely peek into any corner of the Internet without bumping into it in some form or other. Either as a streaming movie, clips posted on YouTube or Facebook, a pop up banner ad, or a simple animation. Although Flash (FLV) and now F4V, an expanded version of the Flash file format specification, has become the de-facto video standard for the Internet worldwide, that reign may be coming to an end.

Apple has been the most vocal critic of Flash, claiming Flash puts excessive burden on the CPU and is responsible for the majority of crashes on its machines. In response, Apple has blocked Flash from its iOS (iPhone, iTouch and iPad) mobile devices. For its part, even Adobe has announced they are ceasing Flash development for mobile platforms, as more efficient, open source formats like HTML5 gain popularity and fit into the requirements for accessing portable media content consumers are demanding. Some of the larger content distribution providers like YouTube have switched from exclusively offering their material in FLV to include the H-264 format, which is iOS friendly. Flash may also be in jeopardy for the desktop. In particular as more High Definition content is available, which requires playback by more advanced CODECs.

So why is Flash currently so prevalent, and what is the best way for you get the most out of its capabilities? With droves of FLV players available, how do you keep from making choosing one a daunting task?

THE HISTORY OF FLASH

Flash is an Adobe® product, originally developed by another company, Macromedia, and initially, was primarily used as a simple animation platform. Because it was easy to use, it gained popularity in the professional developer community as a way to integrate motion and interactivity into multimedia products. With the addition of more sophisticated video capabilities, the ability to layer and add rich interactive features, along with Adobe’s smart move to offer the required plug-in installer for free (much as they do with Adobe Reader for PDFs) so web browsers could seamlessly playback Flash movies, it became the go-to format. This growth accelerated with the rise of social media websites, particularly YouTube and Facebook, where now anyone with a camcorder, to major corporations, to politicians could upload videos for the world to see, occasionally creating the phenomenon of viral videos.

In its basic form, the Adobe Flash player is just that, a simple container for a playback engine, designed to respond to particular file formats. This notion of a “container” is important to understand because like some other formats, Flash can actually playback compressed video files such as VP6, H.264 and H.263, along with audio formats AAC and MP3. This adds great versatility to Flash, contributing to its acceptance.

CHOOSING A FLASH PLAYER

While the basic Adobe player plug-in is freely available from Adobe and intended to be embedded in your browser, the content itself may be subject to the usage constraints put on it by the service presenting the material. Adobe has claimed 98% of the video-based content on the Internet is Flash. This is undoubtedly in decline especially as HTML5 gathers steam and variations of MPEG-4, such as H.264 are selected more and more by both producers and content providers. None the less, Flash has spawned armies of developers feeding the expanding need for internet video content, plus another separate industry providing software player variations using Adobe’s core plug-in technology for users who want to do more than just watch the video clips on the web.

There are literally hundreds of FLV players available, many free or shareware. What distinguishes them from one another are the different features layered on top of the basic Adobe playback functionality. These capabilities allow users to download FLV movies, organize them in libraries, convert to other formats for use on mobile devices, employ different skins, use built-in browsers, share the content on social networks, embed meta-data, and generally be flexible and customizable to meet your needs. Another factor is the operating system the individual player is designed to run on. Windows has by far the most offerings, but many of the best free FLV players can also run under Mac or Linux OS.

POPULAR FLV PLAYERS

Some popular and the most versatile are: RealPlayer, GOM Media Player, UMPlayer, VLC Media Player and FLV Player. Many, many others are also available, so if you are the type who wants to make direct comparisons of features, be prepared to take the time and effort to download and experiment with a several players before finding a favorite.

Several developers offer a two-tiered approach to their players, giving away a functional player with many essential features as a free FLV download, while also providing a more advanced version containing extra features and benefits, at an extra cost. Your choice depends completely on how sophisticated your requirements are stacked against the additional cost of the extra features and benefits. Some non-traditional media players can also be made to play FLV movies by requiring additional plug-in software to join with that player in order to properly play Flash. Again, it depends on your needs, but in general, you will probably be better off going with one of the top rated FLV players unless you have the sophistication to modify certain aspects of your system.

THE FUTURE OF FLASH

Like all successful products, Flash has gone through an evolutionary cycle, adding new features, fixing broken ones and looking for ways to better improve its capabilities and serve its customers. The industry is hardly standing still, and Flash may have had its time in the sun. Adobe’s own development teams are certainly working on other file formats, which will offer enhanced experiences for the ever-increasing demands of mobile devices and for the desktop. But other companies are also hard at work expanding their own offerings to keep ahead of the game. Flash isn’t going away anytime soon, so you’ll continue to be able to play, download, upload and perform many other tasks with your FLV content.

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