Thursday, November 02, 2006

Why Flash video stinks

Some folks take issue with Flash video, and they do have a point. There is a lot out there that makes watching Flash video a painful experience. They talk about pixelated and jerky video, and point to poorly re-compressed YouTube content as evidence that Flash video sucks. These shrill claims are misguided, but many people hear them and blindly agree that Flash video stinks.

These naysayers, however, rarely point to the New York Times, the Washington Post (shown below), or Vodafone. These sites make exceptional use of Flash, so the real question should be this this: If it can be this good, why isn’t everybody doing it?

Get clear on this: It isn’t the technology. It is the person that encoded the video in the first place who made the mistake. The thing that sets these notable Flash video providers apart from the teen-aged head-banger on YouTube, GoogleVideo, or MySpace is incredibly simple: These video providers care about quality, intimately understand the technology, and, most important of all, they keep an eye on the pipe (the data pipe, that is).

The FLV technology, when you get right down to fundamentals, is no different from its QuickTime and Windows Media web brethren. The sole purpose of those formats is to move audio and video data from one place to another. That data is contained in a stream, and all three formats will ask me how fast the current in that stream is flowing. That is the data rate for the stream.

The best way of wrapping your mind around the concept of data rate is to think of a dam in a river. A lake upstream drains into a river, and the town that lies downstream, frustrated with constantly being flooded, decides to control the river. The dam is built, the floods stop, and the residents discover they have a second lake behind the dam.