Adobe courts IPTV with media player

I've been playing around with the new Adobe Media Player (AMP), which made its way out of Adobe Labs to receive a formal 1.0 release Wednesday. It's an interesting entry into the fast-moving market for streaming digital media, and definitely something to watch (no pun intended).

My initial reaction was: Why do we need another media player now? We already have Windows Media Player, QuickTime Player, Real Player, and a host of freeware alternatives. What could Adobe possibly add to the mix that we don't have already? But AMP is different from any of these. To call it simply a media player belies the true nature of the product; rather, AMP is a full-fledged attempt to offer a kiosk-style interface for browsing and streaming digital TV to your PC desktop. With this product, Adobe is definitely thinking outside the cable box.

Our colleagues over at MacWorld took AMP through its paces on Wednesday, so I'll spare you the nitty-gritty details. Suffice it to say that AMP lets you browse through various "channels" of content and stream professional-looking video from a number of providers, from MTV, to the Food Network, to PBS. As others have noted, the selection is pretty slim so far, but you can expect Adobe to actively recruit new content partners as the product matures.

One interesting thing about AMP is that it's an Adobe AIR application. AIR is Adobe's runtime system that lets developers build slick-looking desktop applications using the same technologies they use to build Web applications – HTML, JavaScript, and Flash.

As a showcase for AIR, the AMP application is impressive. It definitely feels like desktop software, not a cobbled-together Flash gizmo. At the same time, this may be AMP's biggest weakness. Being Flash-based means AMP can only access video formats that are supported by Flash. You can add your own videos to the AMP catalogue, but only if they're FLV, MP4, or QuickTime format – your existing AVIs and XviD files won't work.

This could be a problem for Adobe, because more flexible alternatives already exist. Miro, for example, is a similar Internet TV application that is somewhat more flexible. It's open source, supports a wider range of video codecs than AMP, and allows you to browse video "channels" based on RSS feeds. What's more, because it's based on user interface code from Mozilla, Miro is actually more cross-platform than AMP. (Although an Alpha version of Adobe AIR is available for Linux, Adobe isn't letting Linux users download AMP at this time; presumably it wouldn't work if they did.)

The way I see it, AMP's success ultimately depends on two things. First, Adobe has to secure enough content to make downloading and using its Media Player worthwhile. That puts it in competition with Google, which arguably has the leading online video property right now in YouTube.

Second, Adobe is gambling that your average TV viewers will warm up to the idea of watching their favourite shows on their PCs. That's the part I'm not so sure about. In this age of giant-screen LCD TVs and high-definition video on the one hand, and video iPods on the other, I have a feeling that Adobe might be a little too late to the party. Most folks want to veg out on their couches, not at their desks. Convincing them otherwise may be Adobe's biggest challenge.

But who knows? I could be wrong.

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Neil McAllister

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