Adobe Flash will include support for H.264 standards-based video compression in a forthcoming update release, together with support for hardware acceleration for full-screen playback and High Efficiency AAC audio. The development will further establish the dominance of Flash for online video.

The announcement is significant because H.264, also known as MPEG-4 Part 10 AVC, is an open standard that is vendor independent. Flash is not only cross-platform, it is also very widely deployed software. Including support for H.264 in Flash will therefore provide a broad base of support for the standard. Mark Randall, chief strategist for Adobe’s Dynamic Media Organization, said it could create “a tipping point for bringing H.264 to the Web.”

Although apparently planned for some time, the move by Adobe is clearly a pre-emptive strike against Microsoft Silverlight, which aims to compete with Flash in the field of rich applications, and includes cross-platform support for the VC-1 video standard developed by Microsoft. It will inevitably put pressure on Microsoft to add support for H.264 in Silverlight.

The support for H.264 will be included in an update release of Flash 9 in the autumn. A beta version known as Adobe Moviestar will be available for download from the Adobe Labs site.

The H.264 video codec will support Base, Mainline and High profiles. Many graphics cards are likely to include hardware support for H.264 in the future. The AAC audio codec will support AAC Main, AAC LC and SBR, also known as HE-AAC. There will also be support for .3gp timed text tracks to provide subtitles, potentially in multiple languages.

The H.264 and AAC codecs are licenced from MainConcept, based in Germany. “The H.264 and AAC formats are key strategic additions to Adobe Flash Player,” said Emmy Huang, group product manager at Adobe. “MainConcept provides high-quality decoders with small footprints, and their codecs were quick to integrate and easy to port to the multiple platforms supported by Adobe Flash Player.”

Essentially, it means that media in .mp4, .mov and .3gp containers will be playable in Flash using the same application programming interface as existing flash video files.

H.264 playback will be supported by the forthcoming Adobe Integrated Runtime and applications developed with AIR, including the previously announced Adobe Media Player, which is now expected to ship in the first quarter of 2008.

It should be observed that the use of H.264 or MPEG-4 part 10 AVC may be subject to patent licensing feeds and publishers and broadcasters should be aware of the license terms operated by the MPEG LA licensing body.