Introducing Adobe Flash Media Server 3.5

Today is a very exciting day for Video on the Web.  We have just announced the next update to Adobe Flash Media Server.  The new Flash Media Server 3.5 provides new innovation for delivery quality, ease of use and opportunities for Live media experiences that the world has never seen on the web.  I’ll cover the high level position and some example scenarios in this post, then direct you for detailed information at the bottom.  Over the coming weeks, watch this blog as we draw closer to release where I will dive deep into the server’s new features and provide some examples. 

We will also be doing FULL overview of the server at Adobe MAX in San Francisco this week.  At 8:30pm (after the reception) you can join the product team in the Bird of a Feather session titled, “FUTURE OF VIDEO ON THE WEB”  See my blog posting earlier this month for a full streaming schedule which ALL sessions will be focused showing off this new version.

Delivery Quality with Dynamic Streaming

Flash Media Server 3.5 combined with Flash Player 10 or AIR 1.5 (also announced today) will help improve video experiences in Flash.  As we watch video on the web over constant-changing network conditions this feature will allow video quality to improve or degrade with no interruption in video or audio flow.    

Here are some feature benefits and use cases:

If you are at home watching your favorite show in HD. Part way through your show, others within your house (or community) start consuming more bandwidth, and reduce your available bandwidth.  In this scenario with Dynamic Streaming your video quality may degrade but will not stall if versions of the video are available at your new bandwidth.

Consider a live video experience; you are watching your favorite sports team about to score the most important goal of the season.   3 seconds before that happens, your stream stalls and buffers.  This has happened to everyone.  Dynamic Streaming will help to reduce this negative experience by shifting to a lower or higher quality stream without disrupting the video or audio flow – so you will not miss those important events again.
You can see Dynamic Streaming in action right now, from Akamai’s technology preview site: http://www.streamFlashHD.com/

For the video consumer – the experience will provide a constant viewing experience that starts faster and has fewer “buffer” disruptions. 

For the video developer – A new set of ActionScript API’s will let you manage more complex playlists reacting to new stream information available in Flash player or AIR.  (Check out the new flash.net package in the ActionScript language reference)

For the video publisher – The use of standard MP4/F4V or FLV formats in multiple files are fully supported requiring no change in your publishing system.  No need to re-encode existing media to provide limited-interruption experience and simple guidelines to provide a seamless play.  You can also add or remove different levels of quality at anytime, as you learn how your audience is watching.

For the content owner – Deliver HD quality over varying network conditions with the ability to manage your delivery costs with complete control over encoding and stream shifting.

For the live broadcaster – Using the new Flash Media Live Encoder 3 or other live encoders supporting Flash, you can deliver a seamless no-buffer experience for Live broadcasts, just like VOD.

For the CDN / IT Manager – New plug-in API’s increase your ability to monitor and manage the quality of delivery and new logging fields help you track multiple file playback with no impact on your total server capacity.

Ease of Use with HTTP on board

As more and more consumers are watching video in Flash, we set out to design a feature to make it easier to deliver the complete video experience from a single server.   Customers of both versions of Flash Media Server 3.5 (Interactive and Streaming) can now leverage a built-in web server.  Here are some feature highlights and options available

  • Deliver SWF, JPEG, CSS, JS and other assets including video
  • Shared media assets to reach where RTMP can not
  • Support for RTMPT and HTTP on the same external port (80)
  • Single point server start/stop
  • Video player built-in to get started quickly
  • New Start Screen making it easy to discover and learn the possibilities
  • Shared SWF Verification assets making it easier to protect your assets and manage versions
  • Support for existing Apache installations

Live Innovation with DVR functionality

This is the feature I am most excited about because it will change the way we experience live media on the web. 

Consider the new world:
Imagine you are watching your child’s college soccer game online.  He takes the field for the first time ever, and your network suddenly fails, and the stream stops.  5 minutes later your network is back, and you’ve missed that important moment until the video becomes available 2 days later as a VOD stream.  There is nothing we can do about the quality of your network, but if this stream was DVR-enabled, when your network came back, you could continue watching the event and not miss that important moment.  In fact you could replay it over and over while the game continues. 

Imagine you are late to a company-wide announcement being broadcast by your CEO.  The CEO makes a big announcement at the beginning of the session and you just missed it.  If this stream was DVR-enabled then you could start the stream from the beginning, and only be behind a few minutes.  You could always fast forward to live, but you will have received the message.

As you can see, the benefits are enormous.   You may ask how this is different than the set-top box you have in your living room.  The fundamental difference is where the DVR video cache is.  Flash Media Interactive Server 3.5 is responsible for the DVR cache at the discretion of the content broadcaster (owner).  The solution does not require the client to store anything.   This is what will allow you to start a live stream from the beginning even if you missed it.  It will allow developers to create solutions such as “instant replay” or “catch up services” for live.

Live DVR functionality in Flash Media Interactive Server 3.5 was designed from the ground up to operate at scale.  What this means is Content Delivery Networks or large scale enterprises can deploy this feature with very little impact infrastructure.   This is because Flash Media Server 3.5 essentially changes the live stream into a VOD stream.  This allows the server to leverage the scaling and caching technology already available.   The feature also supports just-in-time scaling if your live event was more popular then you had projected – put another way, you can add servers at anytime, including part way through the live, DVR-enabled stream.  

We’ve outfitted the Flash Media Live Encoder 3.0 with functionality to enable the DVR cache.  You can choose to have DVR start as soon as you start encoding, or wait until you are ready.  Flash Media Interactive Server 3.5 will also have a new API letting you manage your DVR event if you have multiple streams (Dynamic Streaming) or multiple camera angles.
This feature will change the way we experience live streaming on the web.  I’m excited to see what developers and event broadcasters will come up with in 2009.

Learn more

We’ve posted a lot of information about this new release.  Below are ways to learn more and experience it firsthand.