• Price: 499 . 249 . 699 . 299

  • Pros: Much improved video codec. Separate import application. Blend modes and filters offer more creative possibility.

  • Cons: Timeline desperately needs updating. Video-encoding application underpowered. Reliance on power of end-user PCs.

  • Our Rating: We rate this 8 out of 10 We rate this 8 out of 10

Since its initial launch in late 1996, Flash has transformed from being a Web-animation tool into a suite for interactive Web sites and multimedia applications. And, with this release, Flash 8 Professional gives Macromedia’s multimedia tool Director a good kicking, and ramps up its video tools. Flash 8’s video tools are based around a new video codec, On2 VP6.

You can still use Sorenson Spark if you want compatibility with Flash 7 – but the new codec offers higher quality output (or lower file sizes, depending on your priorities). This is especially noticeable with larger video media and easily capable of streaming highly-watchable 640-x-480- or PAL-resolution video down a standard 1MB broadband connection.

ON2 VP6 also offers some intriguing possibilities, such as support for alpha channels. The primary use for this will be video presentations with presenters shown directly against the background of the Flash movie, but it can also be used for more creative effects.

Shoot the presenter

To achieve this, you have to first shoot your presenter against a green screen, then key out the background in an editing tool such as Final Cut Pro or a compositing suite such as After Effects. Save out with an alpha channel, and when you bring it into Flash, the channel is intact and the presenter appears as a ‘moving cutout’. Importing video into Flash can be performed in three ways. The Video Import wizard offers many options, but freezes Flash while it encodes.

 border=0 />The standalone Flash Video Encoder application offers the same options, but can run in the background or on a separate machine. You’ll use this more than the Video Import wizard, but it lacks the finesse of Apple’s Compressor or Canopus’ ProCoder. There’s no distributed encoding or watch folder support, for example.
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Lastly, Macromedia has provided plug-ins for editing applications such as Final Cut Pro and Avid Xpress Pro, as well as Discreet Cleaner. Output tools for the first two are great for smaller Web teams and multi-taskers (and editors wanting to quickly and easily stream work for client approval), but plug-ins for Compressor or ProCoder would have been better than the antiquated Cleaner.
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Creating end-user video controls for video has been made easier by the introduction of new FLV Playback and Custom UI components. ‘Plonkable’ video containers and templated buttons will appeal to those scared of scripting, and are professional-looking enough that even code-heads may be tempted to save time by using them.
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