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Best format for Playing Video Online


Flash Video (FLV) is the best method available to present video online, as long as you don’t want people to download, edit or transcode your video. You can create FLV files for free with Riva FLV Encoder. Other, more expensive encoders make a bit better quality, smaller file size videos, but they cost more and require Flash Player 8, so won’t immediately work on as many computers. You can put the FLVs into a webpage on your site using the free template below. Other useful tools are also discussed.

Flash Video (FLV) Advantages and Disadvantages

In my personal opinion, the FLV video format is the best available for presenting video clips on an internet website, as long as you don’t want the user to download and archive the video. It offers:

  • Good compression (as good as MPEG4 H263 in Flash 7 (aka MX 2004), but as good as MPEG4 AVC / H264 in Flash 8). MPEG1 has most of the following advantages, but has terrible compression – it looks bad and can make files that are 2-3 times larger.
  • Progressive download – can start playing before download is complete, and can intelligently start playing once it should be able to play through seamlessly.
  • Player is widely available – Flash Player is already installed on far more computers that other media players, and even if the end user does not have the latest player installed, it is only about 0.6mb and installs very easily. Other players are like 10mb and have a lengthy install process.
  • Operating system independent. It plays on Mac, PC and Linux (with Flash Player Installed). Windows media (wmv, asf etc) won’t play on an Mac.
  • Skin-able – you can customize the look of the player, and build custom user interfaces around it. You can even offer a teaser clip or teaser frame and wait for the user to click it before you start downloading the video.
  • The format is secure – it is not able to be downloaded, edited or transcoded. While this is not wanted for some situations (releasing content for public archiving and remixing - see below), it is great for online use.
  • It is most common for FLV to be used as ‘Progressive Download’, however, it can also be streamed, and there is now a hybrid approach called PHP FLV. More details on the advantages and disadvantages of these techniques are available here.

The only (possible) disadvantages are:

  • It not as easy to download and play FLVs on your computer – they are designed to play through an internet browser. You can install FLVPlayer to play FLVs on your computer, which is not a big download, but most users will not have it or want it. For videos you want to offer as downloads, I would recommend MPEG4 (if you expect you audience will install QuickTime 7) or MPEG1 (works with almost any player but is low quality and file sizes are 2-3 times larger).
  • You cannot edit or transcode the videos. This relates to them not being designed for download (see above) and has the same solution: if you need users to be able to download, edit and transcode, use MPEG4 or MPEG1.

And the great thing is that there free tools for you at every step of they way. Below I give some examples of FLV in use, info on FLV Encoders, FLV Players and other useful FLV Tools.


You can see some simple examples of progressive FLV videos on my MindSpace site here (list of projects I've done) - look for video links.

FLV Encoders:

First, you will need to encode some video into the FLV format. There are a few different codecs used inside the FLV file format, but at it simplest, you can now, for free, create good quality FLVs (they use variants of the MPEG4 codec, e.g. Sorenson Spark) that play in Flash Player 7 or greater, but you will have to buy software to create the best quality FLVs (they use variants of the MPEG4 Advanced Video Codec (AVC), e.g. ON2 VP6) that only work in Flash Player 8. Personally, I think the free codecs are perfectly good quality, and have the advantage of working on more computers.

Free Encoders that Create FLVs for Flash Player 7 or greater:
There is free software available - the best is probably
Riva FLV Encoder, but the open source FFmpeg project is also available, which can encode FLVs (even in realtime I believe), but I have not tried it.

Encoders that Create FLVs for Flash Player 8 or greater:
Flash Video MX is US$50 and supports cuepoints.
ON2 Flix Encoder starts from US$69 but does not support cuepoints.
Sorenson Squeeze for Flash is US$249. Supports cuepoints.
If want to do this on a professional basis, you will want
Macromedia Flash Professional. It does a lot more than just encode FLVs, but it costs US$699 (use can try a trial fro one month for free). Flash 8 is now available, but I am still using Flash 7 (MX 2004), which is fine for me because it creates clips that play on more computers (more computers already have Flash 7 player installed).

FLV Player Templates:

I have made two templates for playing FLV videos, the results of which look like the above examples. Right-click on the links below and select ‘save as’.

My next step will be to create a template that shows an image on frame 1, and waits for the user to click before getting video. It will also be a completely generic player that plays whatever flv filename is passed into it by the html code that embedded it. So you only need one copy of the player swf on your website! It will also use some very nice html embedding code - better than what comes with flash.

This template can be used by anyone with flv files. This template includes:

  • Instruction.txt - how to use the template (same as described here).
  • video.flv - a small sample flv video.
  • Template Flash Video FLV Player (360x288) (MX2004).swf - the compiled flash ‘movie’ that plays ‘video.flv’. If you do not have Macromedia Flash 7 (MX 2004) (or greater) then good news - you can still use this file. Create your flv (using the tools below, rename your flv to ‘video.flv’ and put it in the same folder as this file, and this file will play it. If you don’t want the video to be resized, make it 360x288 or smaller. To play this swf file, drag and drop into an Internet Browser that has Flash Player (7 or greater) installed, or double-click the html file below.
  • Template Flash Video FLV Player (360x288) (MX2004).html - a very simple html file that has the above swf embedded in it. If you change the name of the swf file, you can edit this html and change the two places where it refers to the swf. You can also rename this html.

This template is designed to be opened in Macromedia Flash 7 (MX 2004) or greater (not Flash Player). If you do not have this application, don’t worry - use the other template. This template includes:

  • Instruction.txt - how to use the template (same as described here).
  • video.flv - a small sample flv video.
  • Template Flash Video FLV Player (360x288) (MX2004).fla - the flash template master file - you open this in Macromedia Flash 7 (MX 2004) or greater, edit it and publish it to create the files in the second template. All you need to do is open it in Flash 7 (MX 2004), resize it to fit your video clip, click on the video component and change the filename, publish the swf and out it with the flv - done! Its best to resize it accurately - you don't want it rescaling the video - it will lower the quality. My template is set for 360x288 (half PAL), so if your video is e.g. 460x388, then increase the component and stage by 100x100. If you have your component settings right, you can make the component bigger, and the movie will remain at its native size.

Useful FLV Tools:

There is a great FLV resource page here. If you intend to use Macromedia Flash, then the Flash Developer Center - Video Learning Guide is a great, comprehensive resource.

If you are using Flash 7 (MX 2004), be sure to go here to download the extra flash tools for Flash 7 (MX 2004) (Video Update 1.2 for Flash MX Professional 2004 and Updated Video Behaviors for Flash MX 2004).

If you are using Flash Video Exporter 1.0 or Sorenson Squeeze 4.1 or earlier, you should run FLV MetaData Injector (free) on your flvs to add meta-data like the length of the clip - if you don't do this, it the timeline will go screwy.

As mentioned, FLVPlayer is really handy - it lets you just double-click on FLVs to play them, which is amazingly not provided with Flash.

And lastly, on a related topic, if you also want to create Flash animations (not videos), then try Powerbullet - freeware Flash business presentation software.


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