New TVs may make Flash the MP3 of digital video

Flash to hit lounge rooms with Flash-enabled televisions

Flash, the technology used by YouTube to stream video clips into your browser window, is now installed on 98 percent of all computers, according to Adobe Systems, which acquired the technology in 2005. The company also says that about 80 percent of Web videos are viewed using Flash. If those stats are accurate, they make a solid case for building Flash into living-room televisions. A New York Times report said Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen was to announce the details on upcoming Flash-enabled televisions Monday at the high-profile National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas.

A few years ago, it would have been hard to find a Web technologist who would predict that Flash would still be around in 2010. Flash was best known for its use in gratuitous website splash pages that flattered site owners' egos but made exasperated Web surfers reach for their back buttons. A Flash parody site, Skip Intro, captured the moment in time.

But when YouTube launched in early 2005, Flash browser add-ons suddenly went from an unwanted annoyance to a must-have accessory. The only way to watch YouTube was to install Flash. YouTube drove Flash adoption, which drove other online video creators to deliver their clips via Flash. Adobe makes its money selling software to create and serve Flash content.

Narayen told the Times that Adobe has set up partnerships with Intel, Comcast, Netflix and set-top box maker Broadcom to build and deliver Flash capability for home TV watchers. That lineup sounds impressive, but it doesn't include Sony and Samsung, two top TV makers.

Besides Flash TV sets, Narayen talked up Flash-enabled cellphones to the Times. Those would make it easy for video makers to serve the same content to computers, phones and living-room screens. Apple and other smartphone makers have balked at supporting Flash, in part because handsets still lack the processing power and battery life to handle it.

Still, it seems inevitable that Internet video will be watchable on any device with a screen. Companies that sell or deliver video won't want to support multiple formats. Competing technologies to Flash, such as Microsoft's Silverlight and Apple's QuickTime, claim better video quality and other advantages. But Flash's ubiquity may make it the MP3 of Internet video -- it's less than perfect, but it plays.

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Paul Boutin

The Industry Standard

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