Macromedia's technology agenda is focused on boosting Web-based video experiences, company officials said during the Flashforward2005 conference on Thursday.

Executives provided glimpses of upcoming technologies such as Maelstrom, the code name for the planned Flash Player 8 release; 8ball, which is the next version of the Flash authoring tool; and Flash Cast, the content delivery technology for mobile phones. Company officials would not comment on specific release dates for the planned technologies.

"Video is a huge new trend for the Flash Player," said Kevin Lynch, Macromedia executive vice president and chief software architect. Although video support has been available since Flash 6, wide adoption is just starting right now, he said. Flash 6 was released in 2001.

Use of Flash Player for presenting video is preferred because it is ubiquitous on users' desktops, according to Macromedia. "Video should be treated like any other element on the Web," said Mike Downey, Marcomedia technical product manager for Flash authoring. Downey showed video demos based on Flash being run by organizations such as the state of Pennsylvania and Adidas.

"It [video] really improves the overall experience because you're not just looking at an image but you're seeing people moving around," Downey said.

Maelstrom, the next-generation Flash Player, identified as Flash Player 8 on screen during a demo, offers improved rendering performance, allowing for effects such as blurring of a live video or applying "grayscale" to add gray tint to an image.

A video demo of a candle that was shown supported effects such as making the flame taller. "It looks like a piece of a video but it's not. It's all created with a static image of a candle," Lynch said. Additionally, video can be combined with other graphics. Also, the video codec in Flash Player 8 offers higher quality at the same bit rate.

Text is boosted as well in Flash Player 8, with improved font rendering that is "way better than it is today," Lynch said.

The upcoming 8ball version of the Flash authoring tool is focused on making it easier to work with video and improving the authoring experience for mobile devices. ActionScript usage is boosted and the release offers a better user interface and improvements in documentation and workflow, said Doug Benson, senior director for product development at Macromedia.

The interface for Flash is being tightly coupled with the interface of the Macromedia Studio MX Professional 2004 Web development tool. Interface customization also is a highlight of 8ball. 

A demo was shown of an animated dog, in which shadows could be shown behind the dog.

"This release of Flash is all about enabling creativity," Benson said.

An attendee at the event was pleased with 8ball, noting features such as shadowing. "I can see where you can start creating different kinds of content," as opposed to simply developing flat graphics, said Steve Wood, a multimedia developer at State Farm Insurance.

According to a demo the company presented, Flash Cast technology makes a cell phone screen appear similar to a TV set. A CNN video feed was shown being delivered to a cell phone. "It uses all the functions of the phone to display great Flash content," said Gary Kovacs, vice president of marketing for mobile and devices at Macromedia.