HP Tablet cannot get here fast enough

I am very impressed with HP of late. I am currently using an HP laptop (EliteBook 8730) and love it. I recently watched a video preview of the HP Slate and I have to say that it looks impressive. As with any device the proof is in the use but as a preview  it looks good. This is the first of many devices that will support the full web (Flash enabled) this year. The result of a very successful venture called the Open Screen Project.

Securing Flash Media Interactive Edition

A critical component to rich media is securing your content and resources. In this article I am going to cover how to restrict someone with the Flash Media Live Encoder or for that matter any encoder from publishing to the Flash Media Interactive Server. In the process I am going to show you how to allow someone with the appropriate permissions and the Flash Media Live Encoder to publish to the server.

There are many ways to accomplish this goal. First there are Adobe partners that have written plugins for the Flash Media Server that allow you to restrict access to the server through the use of these plugins.

There are also server side APIs that allow you to connect with other systems and data. For instance you can use the WebService class to create and access a WSDL/SOAP web service or the XML class lets you load, parse, send, build, and manipulate XML.

In this short example I am going to use a server side event “onPublish” to retrieve the querystring and respond to a request to publish a live stream from the Flash Media Live Encoder to the Flash Media Interactive Server. Now there is a reason that I am calling out the Flash Media Interactive Edition and not the Streaming Edition and that is that the Streaming Edition does not support server side scripting.

Server side scripts are written and stored in “.asc” files in an application directory inside the application folder on your Flash Media Server. As an example if I had a application called foo I would store my server side script (e.g. main.asc)  in the following location.

server side script location

There are a number of events that you can work with on the server side; for instance onAppStart, onConnect, onPublish. You can find information about these and other events, methods and properties in the documentation.

Lets take a look at the final server side script in the main.asc file.

application.onAppStart=function(){
trace(“***** on App Start”);
}

application.onConnect=function(clientObj){
trace(“**** on connect”);
this.acceptConnection(clientObj);
return true;
}

application.onPublish = function(clientObj, streamObj){
logon = extractQueryString(streamObj.publishQueryString, “logon“);
if(logon != “fmle”){
application.disconnect(clientObj);
trace(“Sorry you aint publishing”);
}

}
function extractQueryString(queryString, arg){
var returnValue = “”;
temp = arg + “=”;
i = queryString.indexOf(temp);
if (i != 0){
temp = “&” + arg + “=”;
i = queryString.indexOf(temp);
}
if (i != -1){
returnValue = queryString.substr(i+temp.length);
i = returnValue.indexOf(“&”);
returnValue = returnValue.substr(0, i);
}
return returnValue;
}

In the preceding code the events are in bold. The helper function that will extract the search term (i.e. the second parameter that we pass in to the extractQueryString function called arg)  that we tell it from the querystring is green. The bit that disconnects an in appropriate publisher is red.

First let me say that this is a very simple example that should be coupled with functionality that does more to integrate with existing systems (e.g. ldap) but after many calls from customers concerned that someone might be able to publish inappropriate content or use their bandwidth I thought I would at least get the ball rolling. The part of the script in red is a great place to look at integrating with other systems. Notice that in the if statement that I am simply looking for the string “fmle” this should really be a more robust solution but it will work for this simple example.

In the preceding code onAppStart does just that it fires when the application starts. The onConnect fires when a client connects to this application. Finally onPublish fires when someone tries to publish a stream to the server.

There are two parameters the first is the client object that represents the client publishing the stream to the server. The second is a reference to the stream that the client is attempting to publish. Even though I am not going to cover it in this article it is worth mentioning that you can use the stream reference to publish a stream from one server to another in the event that you want to propagate a stream across a number of servers.

What will happen when someone tries to publish a stream to an application that has this “main.asc” in the application folder? If they do not add “logon=fmle” to the connection they will be disconnected (see script in red above).  Most people do not want to stop all Flash Media Live Encoders from publishing to their server they just want to make sure that the right users can publish to their server. In this example the way that we do that is to make sure that who ever attempts to publish to the server includes “fmle” in the querystring. This has to happen from the Flash Media Live Encoder or for that matter any encoder that you are using to publish to the server. In this example I am going to use the Flash Media Live Encoder.  The following is a screen shot of the Flash Media Live Encoder’s output panel:

Flash Media Live Encoder Output Panel
Flash Media Live Encoder Output Panel

Substitute your server dns name or ip address for localhost in the preceding screenshot. There are two elements that you need to be aware of in the preceding. First notice that “foo” is after the last forward slash “foo” represents the  application name which is the same as the name of the directory where “main.asc” is located (see first screenshot). Second notice that after the stream name there is the following “?logon=fmle” this is the querystring. This querystring is initially extracted by using publishQueryString property of the stream object (see blue script above). This represents the entire querystring which often includes other parameters. Since we are only interested in the “logon” parameter we pass the querystring to extractQueryString(see green script above). This function parses the query string and returns the term and value of the term we pass into the extractQueryString function (the term that we are passing in is logon and is the second argument in the following script:

logon = extractQueryString(streamObj.publishQueryString, “logon“);

The value of this argument will have to be “fmle” or the attempt to publish will be denied.

That should cover it. If you have questions or comments let me know. I will most likely follow this up with short article about swf verification.

Sense and Sensibility about Flash and the iPhone

I have to say that I have seen and heard just about every kind of response possible regarding Flash support on the iPhone.  I had friends call that work for Apple and ask why Adobe could not get Flash to work on the iPhone. I have had people tell me over and over from within Adobe that it was coming any day now. The reality is that there is only one reason that there is no Flash support on the iPhone, I will give you a hint, it has nothing to do with technology.

The good news is that I am not alone and that there are number of posts and blogs that are echoing my feelings about this issue.

A Mystery Unfurls

Every now and then I will find a website or content example that lives up to my belief that the web has so much more potential than the majority of the content available today. I am constantly looking for that amazing “lean forward” experience that draws you in and makes you want to reach out to the other people interacting with the content to see if their experience even remotely matches your own. Good news, I have found it and it is called “CIRCLE OF EIGHT”. It is a multi-episode supernatural thriller that combines social media, gaming and a great plot line. The quality of this production is fantastic. Could this be a block buster series that finds all or most of its potential on the web? I think that it could be but only time will tell.

Online Searchable Video

Overview:

Imagine finding the perfect training video but it is an hour long and you need to find the specific part of the video that covers your specific interest. Or possibly you are an advertiser and you would like to have content aware advertising in some specific online videos.  You would like to have your advertising show up on a page when a specific word is mentioned in a video or maybe when a video is searched for a specific word, does that sound familiar it should as it is the google model for advertising and now it can apply to video.

The solution that I will cover in this article will allow you to transcribe the spoken word in videos into text and allow a user to search that text to find relevant areas of the video. The example that we will cover is only the beginning. I could imagine an entire searchable library of video or possibly even a web search engine that easily finds and displays video starting at the location where the search engine found a word that was spoken in the video. Before we jump in it might be helpful to see an example.

Requirements:

In order to create the transcription you will need either Premiere® Pro CS4 or Adobe® Soundbooth® CS4.  My opinion is that if you are going to do any serious video editing you should consider Adobe® Creative Suite® 4 Production Premium as it contains everything you will need to edit, composite and publish high quality video projects.

Getting Started:

I should start by telling you what I am not going to cover. I am not going to cover how to get started with Premiere Pro, Soundbooth and the Flash Media Server. There are a number of great resources for each of these products. What I am going to cover is the specific functionality in each of these products that relate to creating searchable video. Lets start with Adobe Premiere Pro.

Once your project is created and the video and sound edited to your satisfaction it is time to transcribe the video.  This is a very straight forward step. Simply open or expand the Metadata panel and you should see a button at the bottom of the panel called Transcribe. If you do not see the panel you can open it from the Window menu. The following panel allows you to transcribe as well as edit an existing transcription.

Premiere Metadata Panel
Premiere Metadata Panel

When you click the Transcribe button you will see the following dialog that allows you to choose the language, quality and whether to identify speakers.

Premiere Transcription Settings
Premiere Transcription Settings

The language choice is pretty straight forward. As for the quality I see no reason to ever choose anything other than high. When you choose identify speakers you will notice in the exported xml something like the following <Name>Speaker 1</Name>. I can see this being an interesting addition to an application but for this example I did not take advantage of this feature.

This process can take some time to complete.  Keep in mind that an accurate transcription relies on two very important criteria. First and foremost a good quality sound track is critically important. If you have background noise or a muffled speaker you will not get a very accurate transcription.  Second is the dictionary that is used to recognize words. In order to give you some context,  imagine attending a lecture where the speaker spoke in a language that you did not understand. A custom library is a library with specific word definitions that allow Premiere to more accurately identify and transcribe the spoken word. This is an area that you will see expanded on in future versions of the Production Premium Creative Suite.

When the transcription process is complete the xml that represents that transcription is stored as XMP Metadata as part of the video file.  It is possible to access and use XMP Metadata that is stored in a swf, flv and f4v via Actionscript but this should be carefully considered.  If you create a long format video that contains a great deal of speech to be transcribed that finished transcription can represent a fairly large increase in file size. As an example the following represents two files encoded with the same settings and length the larger file has metadata and the smaller does not.

file size with and with out metadata
file size with and with out metadata

Storing and accessing the transcription metadata stored in the final video file can also cause problems for streamed video from the Flash Media Server because of the way that text is stored in the video file.  I found the best way to use this transcription to create online searchable video was to export the xml file so that it did not remain part of the video file. This may be addressed in the future but for now if your video is longer than say 15 minutes and you plan to stream that video it would be best to export the xml that represents transcription to an xml file that is stored outside the video file.

I would suggest that you exclude the metadata for the final video that will be displayed online. In order to exclude metadata during export from Premiere Pro CS4 click the panel menu button panel_menu_button on the right hand side of the options panel in the export dialog box. In the popup deselect Include Source XMP Metadata.

Exclude Metadata
Exclude Metadata

One more slight wrinkle in the process is that you cannot export the transcription as xml from Premiere. The only way to export the transcription is from Soundbooth.

Editing The Transcription:

Anyone familiar with speech to text knows that it is not possible to get one hundred percent accuracy. With that said it is possible to get a high degree of accuracy given the criteria mentioned earlier in this article. There are a number of tools that can help you clean up the transcription in both Soundbooth and Premiere. Once the transcription process is complete and you see the text in Metadata panel you should see the play, loop and transcribe buttons. You should also see a search field at the to of the Metadata panel in both Soundbooth and Premiere. The search field allows you to search for words that are in the transcription. This functionality can prove very useful when you find a word that was not transcribed properly and may show up in multiple locations through out the transcription.  Once you find a word that needs to be corrected simply double click the word and you will be able to edit that word. Depending on how the word was recognized during the transcription process you may that you need additional functionality. If you right click on a word in the Metadata panel you will see the additional features.

Editing Transcription
Editing Transcription

Exporting The XML:

As I mentioned previously you cannot export the XML file required for this example from Premiere that must be done in Soundbooth.  Soundbooth has many fantastic features including volume correction and my favorite visual audio healing. You might wonder why I am mentioning Soundbooth features under the Exporting The XML heading; to refresh your memory it is because you cannot export the XML transcription from Premiere. If you have any last minute touch-ups for your audio track it might be a good idea to leave them to just before you export the transcription as xml. Then it is a simple matter to right click the audio track in Premiere and select Edit in Adobe Soundbooth and then Render and Replace.

Round Trip Editing From Premiere to Soundbooth
Round Trip Editing From Premiere to Soundbooth

From Soundbooth you will be able to clean up your audio, if required, and export the transcription as xml.  The changes that you make in Soundbooth will show up in Premiere as soon as you save thanks to Dynamic Link.  Once you are in Soundbooth you should see that the transcription has come over with the audio track. To export the xml file simply go to the File menu and then down to Export then select Speech Transcription.

Soundbooth Transcription Export
Soundbooth Transcription Export

Once the xml file is exported it is time to finish encoding your video into either an FLV or an F4V. If you have made changes to the audio in Soundbooth save and return to Premiere to finish encoding your video.  When considering the functionality required to create searchable video streaming vs progressive is an important consideration. Progressive video is video that is accessed by using the http protocol. Streaming video is accessed by using RTMP. For searchable video there are a couple of key differences that should help you choose the right technology. First navigation with in the video is key to the idea of searchable video. With progressive you would have to download all of the video from the start of the video to the place a user is navigating to in the video. If the video is fairly long this can be very frustrating for a user. You can imagine doing a search and finding the word you are looking for close to the end of say a forty minute video and having to wait for that amount of video to download before being able to jump to that portion of the video. Streaming on the other hand simply starts sending the video from the part of the video requested. Streaming makes searchable video usable for even long format video.  Another key feature of the Flash Media Server that assists in making searchable video a reality is something called enhanced seek.  The following is a definition from the online documentation:

Enhanced seeking is a Boolean flag in the Application.xml file. By default, this flag is set to false. When a play occurs, the server seeks to the closest video keyframe possible and starts from that keyframe. For example, if you want to play at time 15, and there are keyframes only at time 11 and time 17, seeking will start from time 17 instead of time 15. This is an approximate seeking method that works well with compressed streams.

If the flag is set to true, some compression is invoked on the server. Using the previous example, if the flag is set to true, the server creates a keyframe–based on the preexisting keyframe at time 11–for each keyframe from 11 through 15. Even though a keyframe does not exist at the seek time, the server generates a keyframe, which involves some processing time on the server.

The preceding should be fairly easy to understand how searchable video would benefit from this functionality but to make sure I will put this functionality in the context of this example. Imagine doing a number of searches on a long video. If the keyframes were not placed on every frame what you would notice is that some percentage of searches would take you past the point where the word was spoken in the video leaving you to wonder if the word was found at all.

The Final Step:

At this point you should have a video encoded as either an FLV or an F4V and an xml file that represents the transcription from the video file. In the second paragraph of this article there is a link to an example, the sample provided with this article has very close to the same functionality as that example. You can download the sample with the link provided at the bottom this article. Once you have downloaded those files and unpacked you should have the following files:

searchableVideo.html
searchableVideo.swf
searchableVideoPrefs.xml

You should also have a skins folder. All of the files and the skins folder should be in the same directory on a web server or in the webroot in the Flash Media Server installation directory. The following is the typical path for the webroot folder when installed on Windows XP.

C:\Program Files\Adobe\Flash Media Server 3.5\webroot

This is of course required so that you can access the content from a web browser. The searchableVideo.html file is the html wrapper that hosts the swf. This is not required you can use your own html page to host the searchableVideo.swf. It is easy to add the searchableVideo.swf to your own html page from within Dreamweaver. Just add these files and the skins folder to your Dreamweaver site files and create a new page or open an existing page and simply drag the swf file (searchableVideo.swf) onto that page. Dreamweaver will create the object and embed code for you. Keep in mind that the searchableVideoPrefs.xml file needs to be in the same directory as the searchableVideo.swf on the web server. Organizing files for access over the web is much easier now with the Flash Media Server 3.5 because it has an embedded web server. You can simply drop the html and swf files that you would like someone to access using a web browser in to the webroot folder in the installation folder of the Flash Media Server. Once you have the files setup it is time to edit the searchableVideoPrefs.xml which allows you to specify the location of the transcription xml file and video. In addition you can also make changes to some of the player functionality and appearance from this same searchableVideoPrefs.xml file.

I would suggest that you open the searchableVideoPrefs.xml file in either Dreamweaver or an xml editor do not use a word processor. Once the file is open you should see the <sourceURI> tag. It is important that you do not edit any of the tags only the content between them. For instance make sure that when you are editing the <sourceURI> which represents the location of the video you do not change either <sourceURI> or </sourceURI> in anyway only the text between those tags. This is true for any tags in this file. If you wanted to play a video on a server with a dns name of foo.com and the video was in a Flash Media Server application called lectureVideos and the name of the video was chem101.flv the <sourceURI> tag should look like the following:

<sourceURI>rtmp://foo.com/lectureVideo/chem101.flv</sourceURI>

This may seem complex but it is really fairly simple. When you install the Flash Media Server on windows it has two pre-installed applications vod and live. These applications are represented as folders in the following location C:\Program Files\Adobe\Flash Media Server 3.5\applications. The name of the application is the name of the folder in that location. In the example that we mentioned you would have a folder called lectureVideo in the application directory mentioned above (e.g. C:\Program Files\Adobe\Flash Media Server 3.5\applications\lectureVideo). In side of that folder you will have a folder called streams and inside of that you will have a folder called _defInst_ and inside of that folder you will have your video file. So the entire path to your video file on the Flash Media Server would be C:\Program Files\Adobe\Flash Media Server 3.5\applications\lectureVideo\streams\_defInst_\chem101.flv. Remember that if you are using an f4v file that you must prefix the file name with mp4:. For instance if the previous example was an f4v not an flv the sourceURI tag would be the following:

<sourceURI>rtmp://foo.com/lectureVideo/mp4:chem101.f4v</sourceURI>

As I mentioned previously there are many resources for learning about the different tools and servers used in this example.

Now you should have the hang of editing the searchableVideoPrefs.xml file. Next we are going to edit the location of the transcription xml file that was generated in Premiere and exported from Soundbooth. The same precaution holds true for editing this tag, do not change the tags in anyway only the contents. This location can either be relative to the swf or a complete http uri. For instance both of the following are correct:

<transcriptLocation>assets/RedWorkflow.xml
</transcriptLocation>

and

<transcriptLocation>http://foo.com/searchableVideo/assets/RedWorkflow.xml
</transcriptLocation>

In the first example it would mean that the RedWorkflow.xml (i.e. transcription xml file) would be in an assets folder which would be in the same folder as the searchableVideo.swf and searchableVideoPrefs.xml files. In the second example the RedWorkflow.xml file could be stored on the same or a different server and access by using the http protocol.

Lets take a look at how the finished example should look and label some of the areas of the example so that it is easier to follow along.

Seachable Video Player
Seachable Video Player

In the following image I have highlighted and labeled the important areas of the player so that it will be easier to understand my references:

Example with color overlay
Example with color overlay

The Text Cloud section represents the highest occurring words in the transcription. This allows the viewer to get an idea of the kind of content in the video. The viewer can click on any of the keywords in the Text Cloud in order to display those results in the Found Items section. The Relevant Text section is displayed when a viewer clicks an item in the Found Items section, it displays the text surrounding the found text. The Video Display shows the video as well as markers representing the found text. A viewer can rollover the marker to display the surrounding text as well as seek to that portion of the video. The Search Field allows a user to enter and search on one or more words and the Found Items section displays the result. It is also possible to sort the columns in the Found Items section by clicking the column headings.

There are a number of other settings in the searchableVideoPrefs.xml that you can use to change the functionality and appearance of the searchable video player. First minwordLength, use this to set the minimum word length for the text cloud at the bottom of the example. A setting of 5 will mean that no words shorter than 5 letters will show up in the word cloud. Next there is videoInitStartSeconds which determines the initial start time of the video when the player is first launched. There are a few other settings that will affect the appearance of the player and they are as follows:

globalTextColor : sets the color for ALL text on screen

swfBackgroundColor : sets the background color of the player

foundTextHighLightColor : changes the color of the text in the relevant text display

textBackGroundColor changes the background color for the text cloud and the relevant text area

Well that should get you started. If you have problems, interests or comments please leave them on this site so that I can respond.  There are many possible additions and changes that I can think of for this example. I am eagerly waiting to see and hear how people have used this example so please leave me a comment.

Download Searchable Video Player

Using the Flash Media Server Sample Video Play

For years the only way to play Streaming Video in Flash was to create your own video player in the Flash or Flex authoring software.  It was and is still not difficult if you were familiar with either of these applications as there are components for both environments that make it a fairly trivial task. With that said there are many people that are not familiar and do not have the time to get familiar with either of those applications but would still like to stream Flash video. Good news, there is a fully functional player that is installed with Flash Media Server 3.5 that is easy to configure and includes multi-bitrate support.

Inside the installation directory for the Flash Media Server you will find a “samples” directory and in that directory you will find a directory called “videoPlayer”. When you installed the Flash Media Server 3.5 you had an option to install Apache. You can confirm that your Flash Media Server installation is working simply by opening a browser on the same PC that has the Flash Media Server installation and browsing to http://localhost. When the page loads you should see the following image.

start screen
start screen

If the preceding page does not load it is most likely do to a conflict with another http server installed on the same PC. De install or turn off the other http server and browse to localhost, that should fix the problem. You may need to restart the PC for the changes to take effect. Once you know that the Flash Media Server installation is working correctly copy the “videoPlayer” directory to the webroot of the Flash Media Server installation directory which should resemble something like the following:

C:\Program Files\Adobe\Flash Media Server 3.5\webroot

Open the “videoplayer.html” file in a browser, scroll to the bottom of the page and select and copy the object and embed code in the white text box. Create a new blank html page and paste the object and embed code between the body tags of the new blank html page. The html with the object and embed tag (in blue) should look like the following:

<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC “-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN” “http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-transitional.dtd”&gt;
<html xmlns=”http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml”&gt;
<head>
<meta http-equiv=”Content-Type” content=”text/html; charset=utf-8″ />
<title>Untitled Document</title>
</head>
<body>
<object width=’640′ height=’377′ id=’videoPlayer’ name=’videoPlayer’ type=’application/x-shockwave-flash’ classid=’clsid:d27cdb6e-ae6d-11cf-96b8-444553540000′ >
<param name=’movie’ value=’swfs/videoPlayer.swf’ />
<param name=’quality’ value=’high’ />
<param name=’bgcolor’ value=’#000000′ />
<param name=’allowfullscreen’ value=’true’ />
<param name=’flashvars’ value= ‘&videoWidth=0&videoHeight=0&
dsControl=manual&dsSensitivity=100&serverURL=rtmp:/vod/mp4:sample1_700kbps.f4v&DS_Status=true&streamType=vod&autoStart=true’/>
<embed src=’swfs/videoPlayer.swf’ width=’640′ height=’377′ id=’videoPlayer’ quality=’high’ bgcolor=’#000000′ name=’videoPlayer’ allowfullscreen=’true’ pluginspage=’http://www.adobe.com/go/getflashplayer&#8217; flashvars=’&videoWidth=0&videoHeight=0&dsControl=manual&dsSensitivity=100&serverURL=rtmp:/vod/mp4:sample1_700kbps.f4v&DS_Status=true&streamType=vod&autoStart=true’ type=’application/x-shockwave-flash’> </embed>
</object>

</body>
</html>

Save the new html page in the same directory as the “videoplayer.html”.

C:\Program Files\Adobe\Flash Media Server 3.5\webroot\videoPlayer

Now we are going to edit the parameters that will allow you to use this player to play your own videos. The simplest way to play your own video using this player is to simply change the “serverURL” to reflect the location of the video you would like to stream. For instance the following example:

serverURL=rtmp://localhost/vod/mp4:sample1_700kbps.f4v

is referencing a video with the name “sample1_700kbps.f4v” in the following directory:

C:\Program Files\Adobe\Flash Media Server 3.5\applications\vod\media

When you stream MP4 or F4V files you need to add the prefix “mp4:” to the front of the file name. That is not the case with VP6. Do not forget that there are two “serverURL” parameters that you will need to change in the object and embed code (i.e. one for the object and one for the embed) so that the intended video plays in all browsers. Change the “serverURL” parameter to reflect the video that you would like to play. Just copy the video that you would like to play to the following directory:

C:\Program Files\Adobe\Flash Media Server 3.5\applications\vod\media

The name of the video that I am going to use for this example is “Redworkflow.f4v”. With that in mind the edited “serverURL” parameter should look like the following:

serverURL=rtmp://localhost/vod/mp4:Redworkflow.f4v

Since I am running everything off of the same PC I am using “localhost” for the server address. In a real environment you would substitute either the real server ip address or the dns name of the server for “localhost”. There is one additional change that you are going to want to make to the object and embed code and that is to change “dsControl” parameter from “manual” to “auto”. This setting allows the switching between streams to happen automatically.

When you run the html page in the browser the video should play. This example is simple and straight forward but will not provide for the best experience. Choosing a single video to stream ignores the fact that the internet and most networks will not provide a constant amount of bandwidth to most users. In other words you may start out playing video with out a problem only to find it skipping frames because someone on your network decided to download a large file at the same time that you were watching the video. The solution to this problem is “Dynamic Streaming“. Dyanamic Streaming adjusts to serve different quality streams based on the current capability of the viewer. The player that we have been using for this example supports “Dynamic Streaming” through the use of a smil file. You will notice that there is a file with the name “dynamicStream.smil” in the following directory.

C:\Program Files\Adobe\Flash Media Server 3.5\webroot\videoPlayer

That is the same directory where you saved the html page with the edited object and embed tag. Open the “dynamicStream.smil” in a text editor and you should see the following:

<smil>
<head>
<meta base=”rtmp://localhost/vod/” />
</head>
<body>
<switch>
<video src=”mp4:sample1_150kbps.f4v” system-bitrate=”150000″/>
<video src=”mp4:sample1_500kbps.f4v” system-bitrate=”500000″/>
<video src=”mp4:sample1_700kbps.f4v” system-bitrate=”700000″/>
<video src=”mp4:sample1_1000kbps.f4v” system-bitrate=”1000000″/>
<video src=”mp4:sample1_1500kbps.f4v” system-bitrate=”1500000″/>
</switch>
</body>
</smil>

In the preceding there are five files and bandwidth triggers (e.g.  bitrate=”xxxxxx”). For this example I am going to use only three to keep things simple. The files that I am going to use were encoded with the Adobe Media Encoder that is included with Creative Suite 4. They were encoded using On2 VP6 using a constant bitrate. The names of the files are:

Redworkflow_300kbps.flv
Redworkflow_400kbps.flv
Redworkflow_500kbps.flv

Since these files are not F4V or MP4 files I will not need the “mp4:” prefix. The following is the edited version of the “dynamicStream.smil” file.

<smil>
<head>
<meta base=”rtmp://localhost/vod/” />
</head>
<body>
<switch>
<video src=”Redworkflow_300kbps.flv” system-bitrate=”300000″/>
<video src=”Redworkflow_400kbps.flv” system-bitrate=”400000″/>
<video src=”Redworkflow_500kbps.flv” system-bitrate=”500000″/>
</switch>
</body>
</smil>

You might have noticed that bitrate is in bits not kilobits. In other words 300000 is 300kbps (kilobits per second). Notice that I changed the bitrate attribute to reflect the data rate that the video file was encoded to using the “Adobe Media Encoder“.

The following is an example of what your finished project could look like using the sample Flash video player included with the installation of the Flash Media Server.

Example Using Sample Video Player
Example Using Sample Video Player

Well that should get you started. Drop me a line if you have success or problems.

<object width=’640′ height=’377′ id=’videoPlayer’ name=’videoPlayer’ type=’application/x-shockwave-flash’ classid=’clsid:d27cdb6e-ae6d-11cf-96b8-444553540000′ ><param name=’movie’ value=’swfs/videoPlayer.swf’ /> <param name=’quality’ value=’high’ /> <param name=’bgcolor’ value=’#000000′ /> <param name=’allowfullscreen’ value=’true’ /> <param name=’flashvars’ value= ‘&videoWidth=0&videoHeight=0&dsControl=manual&dsSensitivity=100&serverURL=&DS_Status=true&streamType=&autoStart=true’/><embed src=’swfs/videoPlayer.swf’ width=’640′ height=’377′ id=’videoPlayer’ quality=’high’ bgcolor=’#000000′ name=’videoPlayer’ allowfullscreen=’true’ pluginspage=’http://www.adobe.com/go/getflashplayer&#8217; flashvars=’&videoWidth=0&videoHeight=0&dsControl=manual&dsSensitivity=100&serverURL=&DS_Status=true&streamType=&autoStart=true’ type=’application/x-shockwave-flash’> </embed></object>

Change is a Constant

I will no longer be in the mobile and devices organization for Adobe after the first of the year. I will be taking a product specialist position focusing on: Flash Media Server, Flash Media Encoding Server and Flash Media Rights Management Server. This will also include working with the Flash Authoring and Flex Builder IDE.  I guess it might be time to change the name of my blog? At any rate you will see articles that include information about Adobe mobile solution but the focus will change.

Stay Tuned!

Updated Stock Tracker Example

I recently updated a Flash project (Stock Tracker) and thought I would post it for your review. It is a rather simple stock tracking application that takes advantage of one of my favorite Flash capabilities SharedObject. SharedObject gives you the ability to store text based data on a device. There are a number of things to keep in mind when you use SharedObjects for one the device ultimately may decide to purge the data at which point you will need to have a contingency plan to deal with that issue. I use SharedObjects to store the stock symbols that are entered by the user as well as the last stock information downloaded to the device. This gives the user the ability to see the last stock information even if they lost their connection to the network. I will provide a link to download the swf (e.g. compiled application) at the end of this short article. I provide this application as is with no warranty or support. It is also not something that I want anyone to resell. With that said I hope that you find it interesting. For the most part it is a single screen application. In other words you enter the stock symbols on the same screen that you display the stock information. There are other screens for instance when you first run the application it will ask you to enter an update interval. This should be a one time setup that determines how often the application will attempt to fetch stock data from the network. There is a menu item that allows you to change that interval if you desire. It should go with out saying that setting a lower interval will increase your data bill if you do not have an unlimited plan. The following is the primary screen that will allow you to enter a stock symbol and review stock data.

Screen Shot of Stock Tracker
Screen Shot of Stock Tracker

The Menu softkey gives you access to a little help (very little), changing the update interval, quitting the application and an about screen. Other than that what you see above represents the entire application. You will notice when you enter stock symbols and successfully retrieve information about those stocks an arrow will appear behind the stock information. The arrow simply represents the overall change in all of the stocks entered. In other words if the change is positive the arrow is green and pointing up. If the change is negative well I think you can figure it out. Just a quick note on installation, there is none. I have not rolled this into a sis file as yet. You will need to use Nokia PC Suite to move it to the device. Because there is a security sandbox you will need to place the swf file on the devices storage not the memory card and you will need to place it in a directory called Trusted (“c:\Data\Others\Trusted”). Of course you will also need the FlashLite runtime, you can find the developer edition on Adobe Labs. I have only tested this on an N95. If there are enough requests to support a different screen size I will do my best to make that happen.

I hope you find it interesting, I would appreciate any comments and suggestions.

Download Example

When you get to the login page use the guest login and just enter your first and last name. If you see a password field click the guest radio button.

Adobe Presenter 7 and Mobile Learning

Considerations:

After writing a couple of articles I realized that some people do not know that there are both open and closed cellphones. Open devices allow you to create and load applications on the device where closed devices do not. Open devices, for the most part, include Symbian, Windows Mobile and sometimes Linux. Some examples of open devices include the Nokia N95, N73, E62 and Palm Treo 700w (Windows Mobile).

The reason that I am making a point of explaining open versus closed is that you will need the Flash Lite player installed on a device in order to player converted Adobe Presenter content. Adobe makes developer versions of the Flash Lite player available for download on the developer network site. For the time being the only Flash Lite 3 player available is for Symbian (e.g. N95, N73, etc…). I would assume that there will be a Windows Mobile version later this year but if you want to get started today and do not have an open handset buy a Nokia device with the Symbian OS. Because Flash Lite requires a decent amount of performance and memory I would buy an N95 or an N73 or equivalent.

The Nokia N95 8GB has Flash Lite 3 integrated into the browser. Before you get too happy I tested Presenter content on this device using the browser with Flash Lite 3 in a number of different scenarios including accessing the content on a Connect server, using an html wrapper for the viewer-lite.swf on a standard web server and using an html wrapper for the view.swf on a standard web server and none of the scenarios loaded the content. There seems to be a problem playing Adobe Presenter content using http, I would assume that at least in part the problem is a security sandbox issue as there is no way to set the security settings for the converted Adobe Presenter content. In addition to the previous issue there is a strange bug that affects the ability to play video on the N95 8GB, when you play a slide that has embedded video the screen rotates to landscape. This is not a problem if you are already in landscape mode. I would assume that Nokia will have a fix for the video problem soon but for now I would stick with content loaded onto an Nokia N95. I will use the term device and Nokia N95 (non-8GB model) interchangeably in this article.

The object of this article is to show how you can create content using Adobe Presenter 7 that will run on an open handset running Flash Lite 3. If you are not familiar with Adobe Presenter check out the following example . If you are still looking for additional Adobe Presenter information you will find a number of PDFs that go into some detail on the resource site for Adobe Presenter and Adobe Connect.

Authoring:

It should go with out saying that we need to use every available pixel of these small screens for content. With that said it should also be obvious that some content will simply not work on some devices based on the resolution of the device, input device requirements(mouse) as well as memory and processor requirements.

There is an unwritten rule that you should not use more that five or six bullets on a slide when creating a PowerPoint presentation. I would say that when creating a presentation for a small screen that it should be more like three or four bullets at most. Using a larger font will go a long way to improving readability of text. In addition the issue of readability is abrogated to some degree by adding audio to the presentation using the Adobe Presenter plug-in. In the following the image on the right is a screen capture of the original slide from a PC and the image on the left is a screen capture from a Nokia N95, with a 320 by 240 resolution, running the converted content.

Original Image from PC on Right Image from N95 on Left

As you can see the fidelity of the conversion is very good. The image is scaled and placed correctly as is the text content. The image should also help make the point that it is a good idea to use a slightly larger font if you are thinking of using the converted content on a device with a small screen.

The original image that was added to the presentation was approximately 4004KB. The size of the slide with out the image was approximately 1KB. When I added the image and published the presentation the slide with the image was 231KB. This is still fairly large for some devices, you may want to optimize your images before adding them to PowerPoint and converting them with Adobe Presenter.

Adobe Presenter Content Example

There are several problems that may or may not be obvious with the preceding content image. First the content requires a mouse to start, stop and pause the content not to mention use the sidebar functionality (thumbs, notes, search), most cellphones do not have a mouse. Second too much screen real estate is used by the sidebar. Third the images of the headphones and microphone are too big for small screens. The good news is that Presenter 7 addresses most of the issues for us either during the publish process or at runtime. When you publish the PowerPoint content using Presenter 7 there are two swf files, used as viewers, created in the publish folder the viewer.swf and viewer-lite.swf. The viewer.swf is the file that is used to play the content on PCs while the viewer-lite.swf is the file used to play the content on non-PC devices with a minimum client requirement of Flash Lite 3. The view-lite.swf solves some of the previously mentioned issues by removing the mouse requirement and not loading the sidebar.

Audio:

Audio works the way that you would expect it to in Adobe Presenter content. The Presenter plugin for PowerPoint gives you the ability to record and edit audio for each slide in the presentation. When the viewer-lite.swf and the data folder are moved to the device you will hear the recorded audio for the given slide.

Video:

Video is a favorite media type for learning content authors. Adobe Presenter allows a content author to import and set preferences for video. When importing video you have the option to place the video on the slide or the sidebar. In order to use video in content converted by Adobe Presenter on a device the video needs to be placed on the slide not the sidebar as the sidebar will not be loaded by the viewer-lite.swf. As a test I imported a Quicktime video that was fairly small (200 x 160 pixels) and set the placement to slide and the datarate to 400kbps. The video played well with no visible dropped frames and decent quality audio on a Nokia N95.

Themes and Custom Animations:

Adobe Presenter gives the content author the ability to create and reuse themes as well as the ability to retain custom animations created in the PowerPoint presentation. Since a different viewer is used to play converted content on a device(viewer-lite.swf) than on a PC (viewer.swf) and that viewer does not support themes, they are not retained.

Custom animations are created in PowerPoint and retained after conversion by Adobe Presenter. I tested several custom animations including Fade, Dissolve In, Fly In, Checkerboard and Spin and all worked as expected on the device.

Imported Flash Content:

Using Adobe Presenter a content author has the ability to import Flash content and place it on a slide or the sidebar. As mentioned previously the Flash content will need to be placed on the slide not the sidebar. Most Flash content imported using the Adobe Presenter plugin for Powerpoint is retained but will have limited use on devices based on the limited input options available on devices. For instance the lack of a mouse means that you use the navigation keys on the device to advance the converted PowerPoint slides. Which means that the content author cannot use those keys to interact with imported Flash content. It would be helpful if Adobe Presenter had a method for remapping the keys used for slide navigation to adjust for the input requirements of the imported Flash content. Since content converted by Adobe Presenter uses different keys to advance slide content on the device based on the orientation of the content it is impossible to use the devices navigation keys for Flash content as it would move the slides forward or back. If you could remap the keys you could have converted content always use the same navigation keys to advance the slides. For instance when you start the presenter content in portrait mode the right navigation button on your 4-way rocker is used to advance the slide content. When you switch to landscape it is the down navigation button on your 4-way rocker that advances slide content. This will limit the amount of interactivity that you can expect on a mobile device as the author of the Flash content would have to take into account whether the slide content was in portrait or landscape mode. One solution would be to use screenResolutionX and screenResolutionY from the Capabilities class in your Flash content to figure out if the content is being run in portrait or landscape and adjusting input keys accordingly.

Fonts can also be a source of confusion when targeting a device. I recently found that the use of device fonts, fonts that rely on the host to have the type face, do not work in Flash content imported using Presenter. If you use a font such as Arial or Times New Roman the outlines are embedded with the content and work well. If you have dynamic text you will need to embed the characters you intend to use (e.g. Lowercase, Uppercase, Numerals, etc…).

Quizzes:

Adobe Presenter allows the content author to create or import a quiz that will be published with the other content from the presentation. Unfortunately the quiz functionality from the Presenter plugin for PowerPoint is not supported when using viewer-lite.swf as the viewer on a device. A nice feature for a future release would be to enable quizzes with out reporting so that learners could at least test their knowledge of a subject. Of course it would be great to get reporting as well but this would be a good first step.

Move Content to Device:

Another important consideration is how will the content author get the content onto the device. Since, as previously mentioned, it is not possible to access Presenter content from a device using a browser (http) the content, for now, will need to be manually loaded onto the device. I am hoping that someone proves me wrong on this point as it would greatly increase the usefulness of this content if it could be accessed across the Internet. The good news is that you will find it is a simple process to load content onto the device using Nokia’s PC Suite.

From the following image of the Adobe Presenter publish directory you will notice that there are six files and one directory. You will only need to move the viewer-lite.swf and the data directory to the device in order to play the content. You can leave behind all the other files as they will not be used on the device to play Presenter content.

Adobe Presenter Publish Folder

Summary:

The ability to play content from Adobe Presenter on a mobile device is a welcome ability that portends the beginning of a trend that I have been talking about for some time, mobile learning. With that said there are a few features that I would like to see added to the product in future releases.

Feature Requests:

  1. Configurable key mapping inside Adobe Presenter
  2. Ability to access content over the Internet via http
  3. Ability to use quizzes and store results locally to submit when connected
  4. Client-side API to enable the manipulation of Presenter content from other Flash content using Actionscript (e.g. fullscreen)
  5. Ability to set security settings