January 19, 2005 | Category:

Web Audio, Part 2: Flash

Yesterday, we had a look at Real Player as a way of utilising web audio. Today we look at the main contender (in my eyes): Flash.

This is a very different beast. First, Flash player is everywhere. I have no figures giving the proportion of web users who have the player installed, but I imagine it’s a damn sight higher than Real player. While it is highly unlikely to be for the purpose of enjoying web audio, the possibility is still there. Leading on from this, it is apparent that Macromedia do not suffer from the same trust issues as Real. People are happy to install the Flash plug-in into any browser they happen to be using. From the point of view of content producers this should speak volumes: people have Flash installed and are willing to install it if they don’t. The same cannot be said of Real.

Flash is also incredibly easy to integrate with websites, even if that integration is often abused (but the horrors of unskippable flash splash pages are for elsewhere). Your radio/stream controller will look like whatever you want it to. This has the advantage of seamless embedding, but has the obvious downside of lack of consistency (having to learn a new interface for each and every site you visit). Effort has gone into fixing this with standard and relatively feature-rich players recently, such as Soundblox, but it’ll be a while before they become conventional.

Of course, Real are in the business of streaming media so it should come as no surprise that the failure mechanisms in Flash player are far weaker. It hasn’t had millions of dollars spend on engineering relatively sophisticated buffering and pre-fetch technology. Thus, your mileage may vary on sound quality; an important measure in any audio test.

Pros and cons for both, obviously, but which is best? I’m a lazy person. I don’t need the hassle of configuring Real player to my liking. Windows is bad enough, but Linux is a royal pain. My recommendation has to be for Flash. Once more Flash players appear (such as the marvellous Captains Of Industry Radio), I can see a bright future for Macromedia’s entertainment plug-in. Hassle-free, high installation base, a market waiting to be cornered.