What is Flash Video Streaming?

Mike Howells

Flash® video streaming is a type of online video streaming technology that uses Adobe® Flash Player™ to deliver media over the Internet. Flash® has become one of the most popular video streaming formats in use today. Much of this popularity stems from its relatively high quality for given bandwidth, as well as a user's ability to receive Flash® video streaming in a variety of ways, either through third-party video players or a number of web browser plug-ins.

Tablet computers might be used for Flash® video streaming.
Tablet computers might be used for Flash® video streaming.

Flash® video technology was pioneered by software developer Macromedia® in the 1990s. Despite the success of its Flash® products, they, along with the rest of the Macromedia® product portfolio, were acquired by Adobe® in 2005, following the company's buyout. Since that time, increasing availability of broadband worldwide has made streaming media, and Flash® video streaming in particular, ever more popular.

In its current state, Flash® video streaming works by encoding a video into a particular bitstream format and placing it into what is known as a container file. In the case of Flash®, these containers are known as FLV files. Once hosted and made available for consumption on the Internet, these files can be accessed by an end-user who has a Flash Player™ installed. A Flash Player™ can be a standalone client program, or a plug-in for any of the major web browsers. Most new smartphones and other Internet-ready mobile devices are now also capable of streaming Flash®.

Whatever setup a user has, the Flash Player™ typically buffers a small part of the video, and begins playing what is available while simultaneously downloading and decoding the remainder. Depending on the method used to generate the Flash® video, it is possible to stream some Flash® broadcasts live, in addition to those available on-demand. The latest version of the technology allows users to browse to any point of a given video while it is still buffering, and begin playback at that point.

Despite its ubiquity in 2010, the end may yet be in sight for Flash® video streaming. The next major version of HyperText Markup Language, known as HTML5, is intended to significantly reduce the need for plug-in-based technologies such as Java®, Siverlight®, and Flash®. HTML5 is capable of displaying streaming audio, video, and interactive media directly within a browser page. HTML5 is expected to be ready for mass consumption beginning in late 2010, but the major browsers, including Microsoft Internet Explorer®, Mozilla Firefox®, and Apple Safari® are anticipated to begin supporting many of its elements, including embedded video, within their next few versions.

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