February 06, 2008

Please Adobe, drop ASAO

We’re currently developing solutions that enable people to record video and audio using Flash Player and a webcam. As far as it goes this provides a great way to allow end-users to record without complication, and the technology works very well. However, Adobe’s continued use of the closed Nellymoser ASAO audio codec for streaming from the Flash Player to the server is extremely limiting. Despite pressure from the development community and the obvious benefits of switching to MP3 it has continued to use ASAO.

Flash Player, Flash Media Server 3, Wowza/Red5 (soon) have the capability to stream H.264 video and AAC audio, both of which could be easily converted (and in some cases used as-is) to formats suitable for podcasting/vodcasting via a simple server transcode, but because ASAO is proprietary and closed the only viable solutions available for conversion are Nellymoser’s own CRISPA converter costing several thousand pounds (which only converts to WAV/RAW, so a further transcode would be required) or one of only two other converters I know of that are capable of extracting ASAO, neither of which are viable mainly because no-one seems to be able to say if they are actually legal to use, or are Windows-only solutions.

You can stream right now to an FMS-compatible server using On2VP6 and MP3-encoded audio but only using the Windows-only Adobe Flash Media Encoder. H.264 streaming is in the works with a coming version of FME but Adobe is likely to limit its use to FMS3, with a change in the EULA that will prohibit using it with Wowza and other 3rd-party solutions. I’m amazed how short-sighted this is on Adobe’s part, especially given the potential for using Flash as a platform for podcasting applications. There are valid reasons other than cost for using alternatives to FMS3; it is only available for RedHat or Windows, whereas Wowza and Red5 are Java-based. We have other use-cases beyond podcasting too – users being able to get their recordings into an editing package or mastering a DVD for instance. Few standalone converters can currently cope with ASAO.

I wish Adobe would just drop ASAO and use MP3 instead, but I’m not holding my breath given that we’ve just seen a major revision of FMS and the previews at MAX of Flash Player 10 (‘Astro’) suggested a concentration on text and 3D support. Opportunities are being missed here, so please Adobe, why can’t we just have MP3 instead of ASAO in the Flash Player? Is there some technical reason (e.g. encoding latency)? I know ASAO is a voice-optimised codec (and it has to be said does a great job, even at lowish bitrates) but MP3 would be almost as good and would remove the limitations completely. Or am I missing something else?

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