Flash May Come To The TV, But It Won’t Have Many Eyeballs

This morning, Adobe announced that they are working to bring the Flash Platform to the living room via broadband enabled TVs, set-top boxes and other devices and are already working with multiple content, OEM and System on Chips (SoC) vendors to make this happen. While I don't blame Adobe for wanting to get Flash on as many devices and platforms as possible, the reality is that this won't be a game changer or have much impact.

This isn't a knock on Adobe, they are being smart and trying to extend the Flash Platform to as many places as possible. But Flash was never built for video, let alone for operating outside the PC environment. That's not to say that it can't work on other devices, but I see quite a few hurdles in their way keeping this from being successful.

Lets start with the broadband enabled TV route. The average consumer holds on to their TV for twelve years, a stat Netflix recently provided on one of their IR calls. I don't know if that is true or not, but even Adobe's blog says the average is at least six years. While there are over fifty broadband enabled TVs models that will be coming out in the second half of this year, realistically how many are going to be sold in the first three years? The numbers won't be big. Even set-top boxes don't get replaced every few years and the cable company never goes door to door replacing equipment. Until I got TiVo with cable cards and dumped my cable box, my set-top box had not been replaced in six years.

Putting all that aside, how well will Flash work on the TV in terms of performance? For starters, when it specifically comes to HD video quality, Flash is not exactly leading in that department. Trying to get HD videos to play on my MacBook from their showcase website is a poor experience, with my six month old MacBook not being able to handle the processing power that's needed. Yes, it works for 480p content, but only Adobe classifies 480p as "HD" on the web, no one else does. How much processing power will the TV or set-top box need to have even with the "optimized implementation of Flash technology" that Adobe is working on? Flash video is a resource intensive beast and unless Flash Lite is much better, I think the performance is going to be a big issue. I want to see this working at 1080p on a 50" TV set without someone needing to have a 10MB connection.

While Adobe did announce this with the support of a bunch of major content owners, none of them said exactly what they are supporting. Will it be text and widgets, or specific video apps? If we're talking widgets, like the kind that Yahoo! has been working on, great, but that's not video. I remember when Adobe announced the Adobe Media Player for the desktop with a bunch of content partners, which sounded great, but has gotten almost no traction. Having content owners mentioned in the release does not guarantee adoption or success.

Many in the industry point to a recently released Parks Associates white paper as proof that broadband households want widgets and web video on their TV. The report says that "almost 50% of [broadband households] are interested in premium Web content, including TV shows and movies, through a connected set-top box."
Great. But simply being "interested" does not mean they are willing to
replace their TV, spend money or actually go out of their way to buy a
device that enables them to do this. I'm "interested" in having a
blu-ray player, but to date, I have not spent the money to replace my
DVD player. Being interested is not enough and is not a sign that
adoption will take place.

I don't think anyone would debate that the Flash Platform is not going to come to the living room by way of the TV set or set-top box, in any large quantity, anytime soon. And Adobe could be laying the groundwork and going after this market today for what may happen five or ten years down the road and looking to the future instead of the present. But unlike Flash on the PC, Adobe has to rely directly on the TV and set-top box manufactures in order to make this work. And considering who Adobe has to deal with and the host of problems those companies have, I would not want to have to rely on them in order to have a successful platform.

  • Extremely well put Dan.
    Its a good sign that Adobe are beginning to open up to developers a little more – particularly if they are really opening thier RTMP transport out to devices.
    It would make so much more sense if they adopted RTSP as a standard and fell in line with the Broadcast industry that way, rather than simply trying to use thier brand to drive adoption since that traditionally proves to be a short lived, trend driven approach: And it is in this standards area that thier main competition, Microsoft, for once have thier ducks perfectly in a row.

  • “Flash video is a resource intensive beast and unless Flash Lite is much better, I think the performance is going to be a big issue.”
    I think you’re oversimplifying here, Dan.
    First, remember that Flash Player supports three codecs–Sorenson Spark, On2 VP6 and H.264. All the clips in the Adobe HD gallery are H.264, not VP6 or Spark. My Macbook also has trouble playing them. That might not be the case if they were in VP6 (especially VP6-S). VP6 is computationally simpler to decode than H.264, particularly 264 Main and High profiles. Spark is even easier to decode than 264 or VP6, but to get decent quality in Spark at large frame sizes requires very high datarates.
    We have some HD samples of VP6 at our site. I’d be interested to hear how well they play on your & other people’s machines: http://www.on2.com/index.php?591 .
    The individual frames in our samples aren’t quite as stunning as Adobe’s b/c ours are encoded at far (far) lower datarates to show the market that good-quality HD is possible over today’s cable & DSL connections.
    Actually, that might be the biggest problem with the Adobe gallery, that the very high datarates require the player to pause constantly while buffering more data. Even though the videos are progressive http, if the player Adobe’s using isn’t configured to keep a large data buffer, a 27Mbps clip (such as some of their 1080p samples) can easily starve the player for data even on a fast connection. Even their “low” bandwidth 480p clips are at 1,300Kbps to as high as 4Mbps, whereas our VP6-S 720p clips are at 1,250-1,750Kbps & our 1080p clips are at ~3Mbps.
    Also, as many people are seeing, the VP6 Flash video on Hulu looks great at all resolutions & plays very well on most PCs in the market today (see http://www.hulu.com/about/media_faq for more info).
    And I wouldn’t underestimate the capabilities of special-purpose hardware decoders, which is what many CE devices use. These parts (whether standalone chips or components of larger chip designs such as GPUs) are designed to do one thing–decode specific video formats–and can be very powerful, not to mention cheaper than general-purpose processors.

  • Hi John, I think we’re saying the same thing. Adobe has said the optimized Flash platform for devices will be using H.264, not VP6. So while I agree that I can get the Flash HD videos fine on my laptop with VP6, I can’t with H.264
    If H.264 is what they are going to be using, one would have to ask what the performance will be like on these other devices. Adobe does not yet have details or data to share that shows performance measurements or what kind of bandwidth is going to be needed, but have assured me that as soon as the chip makes have that performance data, they will share it.

  • Hi Dan, Hi John. You can have many versions of a 1080p h264 movie which differ by their bitrate. Perhaps the main AVC profile can’t be served well by flash, but the base profile can (Take a look at a 720p footage encoded by Fabio Sonnati http://www.flashvideofactory.com/test/DEMO720_Heima_H264_500K.html at only 500kbps!)
    Moreover, I read some time ago that Adobe are planning to utilize the GPU power to decode h264/AVC content in future versions of flash. Can’t say if it was official though.
    Nevertheless, you’re right about people not willing to change their STBs at once. But Adobe are expanding their bussiness, and want to provide all means of presenting multimedia. Even if they are weak with it at the moment, when it catches on, they will improve their product the same way they did with the Flash Player which wasn’t ment to display video at first.
    Makes sense to me. Cheers!

  • Let’s skip Adobe for a minute…
    Internet Television is the next Boom. Google see’s the benifits, as I do. Way more detailed statistics and connectivity among communities. BOOM. On demand, youtube, etc… Not just video but a whole new form of interactivity.
    Television commercials that Interact with Maps, and community accounts and locations…. as a web designer my self, I go crazy with ideas when thinking about this.
    THIS IS WHY, THIS WILL HAPPEN. TV is on it’s way out.
    Now back to Adobe:
    Abobe is the closest thing to the solution. I actually think that Adobe is holding the market at a Halt.
    I was watching Youtube on my old TV on my WII yesterday.
    My “Wii” has an Opera 9 browser that supports Flash 7 only. Youtube works. But none of the other flash movie sites work. Why ? Because Abobe has not created a SDK for version 9+ I would say this is them holding the market for something big….