Macromedia makes streaming media push

Macromedia will raise the stakes in streaming media software Thursday with a product that eliminates the need for a supplemental application server for tracking content.

Best known for its pervasive Flash technology for graphical Web presentations, the company will introduce Flash Media Server 2, which in its previous incarnation was known as Flash Communication Server. Experiences produced on the server are played back via Flash Player 8.

"We have changed the name to align more with our positioning toward rich media experiences and also, we have re-engineered the server," said Chris Hock, Macromedia director of product management for Flash Video. Macromedia cites its ability to integrate data elements -- including video, audio, animation, graphics, and text -- as a competitive advantage.

Expected to ship in late October, Flash Media Server 2 combines traditional streaming media capabilities with a development environment for building interactive media applications such as video-on-demand, live video streaming, and MP3 streaming. It also supports applications such as video-based blogging, messaging, audio, and chat.

A File Object API in the release enables querying of the file system directly to find all media assets without the need to deploy an application server. Media servers in the past have not been aware of content, so developers would have to list content available and store that information in a database, with an application server also part of the equation. Macromedia's latest offering combines all this functionality into one system, Hock said.

This API lets developers write applications that use local files on the server directly, said Hock.

Also in the product is a new high-quality video codec that enables video to be produced and shown in smaller file sizes, thus reducing user bandwidth requirements and cutting costs of video storage. Stream logging, which also is in the new release, allows publishers to gauge which streams were played and how often.

"This is very important for monetizing content and reporting back to advertisers on how much their ad was showing," Hock said.

"The thing behind it is it's much more than a streaming server," said Flash Media Server user Tim O'Hare, who is Flash developer at Scripps Networks, the parent company of broadcast operations such as Home and Garden Television. Multiuser communications for games and other Web interactions are a real benefit of the product, according to O'Hare.

A specialized version of Flash Media Server 2 for "origin and edge server deployment" enables deployment of video over multiple servers. Customers can have one server of origin for video, where all content resides, and then have edge servers that pull down content as needed from the origin server. Users no longer have to replicate content to all servers.

This functionality also provides for failover, load balancing, and simplified clustering.

A Server Access Control API in Version 2 prevents "deep linking" to content for unauthorized use on another site. It also provides for pay-per-view capabilities for streaming video.

An XML Object API assists users who do not have all media assets on one machine but need to store them in a database. Intended for large deployments, this API pulls in metadata about video content, including location, to enable access.

A public beta release of Flash Media Server 2 is anticipated in the middle of this month. Pricing is expected to start at US$4,500 for a two-CPU configuration of Professional Edition. An Edge-Origin edition also is planned.

Macromedia's Flash authoring tool and Flex technology can be used to build applications.

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