A new Flash Player heralds the age of high-def YouTube

Get ready for the Star Wars kid like you've never seen him before.

Published August 21, 2007 4:48PM (EDT)

Today Adobe will release a version of its Flash Player that promises to bring high-definition videos to the Web. Flash powers the vast majority of multimedia applications online -- thank Flash for the YouTube video player, slideshows in Flickr, and loads of annoying animated ads. Now, says the company, TV shows, movies, and even "user-generated" content could fly at us over the Web in HD.

The specific protocol that Adobe has added to Flash is known as H.264, which is the video-compression standard also found in the next-generation HD DVD and Blu-ray disc formats. The new Flash Player also supports High Efficiency AAC, an audio standard that squeezes more sound into smaller files than other widely adopted sound compression schemes used today.

Adobe is releasing the player in Beta form at its Labs site; the company says it'll put out the final version later this year.

Yesterday I ranted a bit about the ugly disc-format battle between HD DVD and Blu-ray; my feeling was the fight didn't matter because soon we wouldn't need discs to get our high-definition video fix. Adobe's new player doesn't mean that we'll now see a flood of HD movies on the Web; there are technical hurdles (broadband in America is slow!) and business hurdles (Hollywood, as ever). But it makes that paradise possible, at least, and the disc-format combatants ought to watch out.

(Disclosure: John Warnock, Adobe's co-founder, is chairman of Salon's board of directors.)

By Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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