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What is a Flash Player? Why Do I Need One?

You may be asking yourself, what is a Flash Player?  or Why do I need one?  I have my Flash videos, won’t Internet Explorer or Firefox play them?  Have you ever tried to play a .FLV file on your computer?  You probably weren’t too successful in doing so.  .FLV is not a format that Windows Media Player or QuickTime player supports.  You can’t just link to a FLV file on your web page and expect the video to play like you would if it were a WMV or MOV file.  So how is it, that all these web sites have a Flash videos on them?

Whats unique about Flash is that you can create a customized player that embeds in a web site and plays the .FLV (and some other formats) on the web site.  There are stand along FLV players you can get for your desktop, but most people don’t have those installed because FLV isn’t the type of video file that gets downloaded to a computer.  It’s main purpose in life is play through a web browser.

In the old days (about 5 years ago), the idea of Flash and Video together was silly.  There was no FLV format and you had to embed the video file into a SWF, making the SWF a huge file.  The video wouldn’t play until the whole SWF loaded.  A lot of that changed as the FLV format became widely used.  The FLV would play through a Flash Player and supported progressive downloads (meaning you can watch the video as it downloaded).  Then along came Flash Media server and streaming and now the fun really started!  To read more about the differences between streaming and downloading, click here.

What exactly is a Flash Player?

Using an application like Adobe Flash, you create a small application and compile it into a Shockwave File (SWF),  when the SWF is embedded on the web page, it can accept commands to play media files and FLV is one of those media files.  SWF players are usually very small and download quickly while the web page is loading.  What’s so great about creating SWF players is that they can look and feel how you want.  You can add buttons and functionality.  You can add features like chat, or interactivity, advertising, social media aspects, and easily track video usage.  Think about a little bowling game built into the player, as you are watching a bowling video you can play the game.  All those nifty little animated advertisements you see on web sites, those are mostly Flash SWF files.

How easy is it to make a Flash Player?

Not too easy if you don’t know what you’re doing.  But there are some simple, and cost effective ways to add Flash Video to your site.  One of my favorites is the JW Player by LongTail Video.  This player is OpenSource and free to download (for non-commercial uses).  It’s one of the most popular players out there now and rightfully so.  Besides being a fairly easy to use player, it supports all kinds of plug-ins and since it’s OpenSource you can create your plug-ins or skins.

Here are some of my favorite add-on’s to the JW Player:

* Easy Advertising (they bring quality ads right into your video and you get paid)

* Viral Marketing (add embed, link and comments to your videos)

* Related videos (add a list of related videos for the viewer to see)

* Built in Google Analytics (track the behaviour of each video file)

* HD Button (click a button to swtich between HD and SD versions of the the video)

* Accessibility (Add closed captions to your videos)

* Play Lists (Create play lists displaying multiple videos)

* Player Analytics (Track player movements like, start, stop, pause, etc)

* YouSearch (Search for YouTube videos and plays them inside the JW Player)

* Dozens of pre-made skins to change the look and feel of the player

You can see that the JW Player is very flexible.  They have a great support community and will even provide tech support via email for free!

If you’re looking to add Flash Videos to your web site, there is no real reason to make a custom Flash Player.  A good developer would charge you several hundred to thousands of dollars to develop a player.  Instead use a pre-made one.  Of course there will be times when creating your own custom and branded player is essential.  When that time comes, expect to spend some money and time developing it.

In the mean time, try out JW Player or Flow Player as an inexpensive and easy to use alternative.

If you have any questions about this topic, please post them here.

Thanks,

Mike Colburn (DigitalMediaGuy) http://www.ezsite.us

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