Adobe is extending the reach of its Flash platform from personal computers and mobile phones to network connected televisions, set-top boxes and other media devices. At the NAB Show in Las Vegas, Adobe announced support from major chip suppliers to incorporate an optimised version of Flash in a range of consumer electronics devices, expected to ship in the second half of 2009. Adobe also announced a framework for building media players, known as Strobe.
Adobe is demonstrating a reference implementation that shows how Flash could enable the delivery of high definition online video to various digital devices and provide powerful user interfaces to enable immersive interactive experiences. The prototype demonstrated 1280×720 video delivered over the internet and accessed through a cursor-based navigation bar. The initiative is based on the Open Screen Project announced by Adobe a year ago.
“Adobe Flash Platform for the Digital Home will dramatically change the way we view content on televisions,” said David Wadhwani, the general manager of the platform business unit at Adobe. “We are looking forward to working with partners to create these new experiences and deliver content consistently across devices whether consumers view it on their desktop, mobile phone or television.”
Intel has worked with Adobe to optimise Flash for its Media Processor, the first in a new family of system on chip processors for consumer electronics devices, such as advanced set-top boxes, high-definition digital televisions, Blu-ray disc players and other connected audio visual devices.
Sigma Designs, which specialises in chips for devices like set-top boxes and media players, also announced its support. “Consumers clearly want to access Flash based HD videos and other rich Web content on their televisions,” said Ken Lowe, who is in charge of business development and strategic marketing at Sigma Designs. “We are working closely with Adobe to integrate the optimized Flash runtime into our SoC solutions to enable a better, more interactive user experience on connected digital home devices.”
Broadcom, NXPSemiconductors and STMicroelectronics also announced support for Flash, together accounting for much of the market for system on chip processors for consumer electronics video devices.
Cable operator Comcast says that it is working with Adobe to integrate the optimized Flash runtime with tru2way technology, which is based on Java.
Disney is also looking to use Flash to deliver engaging user experiences across multiple screens. “We are excited about the opportunities of Flash based applications and services coming to televisions,” said Bud Albers, the chief technology officer at Disney Interactive Media Group.
The BBC is also understood to want to use Adobe Flash for its proposed Canvas platform, building on the success of the BBC iPlayer, which is also built on Flash technology.
While Flash has come to dominate the delivery of online video in web browsers, responisible for the presentation of 80% of videos viewed online, it has yet to be established in the embedded consumer electronics domain, where systems have typically lacked the processing power and memory to support the Flash runtime environment.
Although the potential to use a common platform to deliver programming and user interfaces across different devices is clearly attractive, the Flash platform remains proprietary rather than a genuine open standard.
The most credible alternative is perhaps Java, which was originally desinged for such applications, but which is also proprietary to Sun Microsystems, now subject to acquistion by Oracle.
Supporting the Flash runtime on chipsets is one thing, defining the environment in which applications will run is another, which could prove more challenging, not least because of the business issues involved.
Control of the user interface and user experience will be critical, with questions remaining around how applications, programming and services will be accessed, navigated and controlled, and who, if anyone will manage the resulting platform.
The issue does not really arise on the web, because browsing behaviour is such that applications are generally discrete and not persistent.
Apple has shown the potential of providing a managed environment for third-party applications on its iPhone, but the communications and consumer electronics industry may be unwilling to allow a company like Adobe to exert similar control over a much wider range of devices.
Yahoo! has developed a separate widget framework in association with Intel that aims to offer a range of online services to compatible network connected displays.
The potential for Flash applications is perhaps greater, with integrated support for interactive audiovisual services, drawing on a broader base of developers and media providers.
Adobe also announced a new software framework for building media players. Code-named Strobe, the framework aims to establish a de facto industry standard for media players, enabling developers to develop customised and branded media player applications with support for features including advertising and measurement.
“With Strobe, we’re delivering an open framework that enables media companies to focus on their core competency, creating great content that people want to see, instead of developing their own video players from scratch,” said Jim Guerard, vice president and general manager of Dynamic Media at Adobe.
The open, extensible framework, will be incorporated into Adobe’s standard set of development tools. It is expected to be available, without charge, in the second half of 2009.
Strobe complements the Open Screen Project and builds on the player components already provided by Adobe, as well as initiatives such as the Open Video Player from content distribution network provider Akamai.
Adobe has expanded a strategic alliance with Brightcove, the online video distribution platform founded by the former Adobe chief technology officer Jeremy Allaire. This will extend support for Strobe in the Brightcove platform.
Adobe has demonstrated an impressive commitment to extending its Flash runtime platform into a very capable environment that has so far left Microsoft struggling to emulate such success with its Silverlight alternative.
Adobe has also maintained a careful balance between licensing proprietary technologies and opening them up to developers and exploiting open standards.
It helps that Adobe has the market leading suite of creative software, with increasingly capable audio and video applications. In a preview of technologies in development, demonstrated a new script production tool, enhanced voice recognition and the ability to integrate transcripts in published videos, enabling applications such as navigation by keywords. This end to end, script to screen, capability marks out Adobe as a leader in digital media.