January 12, 2007
Coming to a (full)Screen Near You
An entry on Flash Player 9 is regrettably overdue; version 188.8.131.52 was released in June of last year, a Universal Binary for MacIntel users followed in August (184.108.40.206), and November brought both a public beta of the Linux Player (220.127.116.11) and a Flash Player Update providing Vista compatibility and full-screen chrome-less playback (18.104.22.168).
This latter feature is what I want to focus on today, but I have to at least briefly mention some of what became available in the June release: A re-engineered virtual machine and ActionScript 3.0 offer new capabilities with up to a 10x performance boost (when using AS 3.0). Applications that can now be built in Flash include crazy cool stuff like real-time audio visualization, a remote desktop VNC viewer and even a Commodore 64 emulator(!). Emerging 3D libraries are being ported to AS 3.0 to take advantage of the performance boost.
However, I predict that the early sell is going to be that full-screen, chromeless, immersive playback from your client's web pages.
The immediate and obvious candidate for full-screen content is video, but panoramas are quite impressive when filling your entire display. I'm sure we'll see games, presentation applications and much more as Player 22.214.171.124 penetration approaches critical mass [more on this below].
Security concerns impose a few constraints: Entering full-screen mode requires an explicit user choice to do so via a mouse click or key press; a standard message on how to exit full-screen mode is displayed for all in a tasteful, OS X-like transparent overlay that fades out after a few seconds; all keys are disabled in full-screen mode except for the ESC key, used to return to normal display mode if you don't provide a button yourself. More on this and implementation details can be found in the Adobe Developer Center Exploring full-screen mode in Flash Player 9 article.
Example screen-grab taken from Papervision 3D's AS3 Cubic Panorama demo:
Full-screen video quality, as always, is dependent upon the source material but scales well. If you already have content hosted on YouTube or Google Video, you can test how things hold up full-screen using Wilbert Baan's Flash 9 Update demo. Simply supply the YouTube or Google video codes and Baan's swf will trigger a full-screen preview of your content.
If your existing footage doesn't cut it at larger sizes and you have the support of broadband users, you can always provide a higher-quality encoding. Some good examples to check are a BBC Motion Gallery from FlashGuru and some HD clips from HDV Underwater, via the Adobe Labs Flash 9 Update wiki page.
Full-screen panoramic examples can also be found at the Adobe Labs wiki. Flashpanorama.com site offers two samples (click and drag to pan, allows zoom-in and out) and Papervision3D.org has a nice cubic panorama example (takes a while to load, pan follows mouse). Neat stuff, this.
So when can we use this stuff?
Adobe's June 2006 Flash 9 press release offered an expected 80% adoption rate in 12 months. Aral Balkan reports from the FlashForward keynote at MacWorld that Flash Player 9 is projected to reach over 70% penetration in its first six months, a continuing acceleration over past player version adoption rates.
How are we doing?
For the month of January, AWStats and Google Analytics show this site currently serving around 91% Flash Player capable traffic, of which 70% are using Flash 9. Of that 70%, @ 22% can view full-screen content.
At the office, I find that Flash Player capable January visits to Threespot Media's home page show 84.5% Flash 9, out of which 24% can already handle full-screen content.
This is an admittedly small sample and YMMV, but does suggest that Adobe's new projections are reasonable and that the time is right to take a close look at what Flash Player 9 can bring our clients. In the case of full-screen content, it is easy enough to detect which player version our visitor is using and present a full-screen option if we're sure it can be taken advantage of.
One last note: As Flash 9 authoring isn't out yet, to create AS 3.0 content you must be a Flex 2 developer or, if you are a registered Flash 8 Pro user, you can download the Flash Professional 9 ActionScript 3.0 Preview; essentially Flash 8 Pro with AS 3.0 compiling.Posted by Lewis Francis at January 12, 2007 8:08 PM