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

Flash Lite 3 and Flash Media Server Video

Examples Used in this article:
simpleStreamingExample.fla
bwcheckExample.fla

In this article I am going to cover two scenarios for streaming Flash video from the Flash Media Server to Flash Lite 3. The first is the simplest possible example the second will use script based bandwidth detection to determine the bandwidth available to the device and then stream the appropriate video based on that information.

Flash Lite 3 as has support for streaming content from Flash Media Server. I am sure that most of you already know that it cannot be the same support that is in the desktop Flash player and you would be right. There are several exceptions, for example you can stream content to a device with the FashLite 3.0 player but not from a device with the FlashLite 3 player to the Flash Media Server. I hope that one day soon we will be able to stream video from a cellphone to a Flash Media Server and broadcast to the world but for now we will have to settle for consuming that content on our FlashLite 3 enabled devices. The approach for creating a Flash Lite 3 application that receives streaming content from a Flash Media Server is very similar to creating that content and targeting the desktop player. I should also say that for now you cannot create FlashLite applications using Flex, I hope that changes soon but today the Flex component foot print is too large for devices. I will use Flash CS3 and Device Central for the examples in this article.

The example we are about to create should be familiar to you if you have created an application that took advantage of the Adobe Flash Media Server in the past. We will use NetConnection and NetStream to create the connection and video.attachVideo() and NetStream.play() to attach and play the stream. Two notable exceptions to functionality as compared to the desktop Flash player are the lack of support for Remote SharedObjects and one-way streaming as I mentioned earlier. We are going to focus on video in this article, I will cover data in a separate article in the near future.

In order to test this example you will need to have Flash Media Interactive server 3 installed. If you do not already have it installed you can use the developer version which provides a connection limited development server. It is fully functional but will only allow a limited number of connections.

You can download this example (simpleStreamingExample.fla) and other examples from my Connect meeting room. When you download this example you will need to substitute your FMS servers name or ip address for the following yourserver.com in the actionscript of the simpleStreamingExample.fla file. If you have the FMS server installed locally that would be localhost or 127.0.0.1. In addition you will need to substitute the name of a video file that you created and placed in the _definst_ directory under your FMS applications folder for the following melissaInterview in the actionscript of the simpleStreamingExample.fla file. You could also use one of the flv files on my Connect meeting room in the zip file called videos_for_streaming_example.zip.

The first part of the process will be to choose a target device. In other words what device or devices are we going to target with this application? Launch Device Central and sort the list by the version of FlashLite then choose 3.0. You should see a few devices in the list, if you don’t make sure to download the newest device profile update #5. For this example I am going to use a generic Flash Lite 3 (240 x 320) profile because there is a problem with the new Nokia N95 8GB profile and DoCoMo removed support for video from the 905i series. The issue with the Nokia N95 8GB profile is a known issue and should be fixed shortly and DoCoMo will add video support to the 906i series. Before you wonder why I asked you to download the update, I just wanted to see if I could get you to do it. Just kidding there will be other updates and I want you to get in the habit so that you always have the latest intel on devices that support Flash. Now that you have a new blank Flash file open in Flash CS3 we will move on to the next major step which is to create the video object that we will use to attach our streaming video. Open the Flash library from the Windows menu in Flash CS3 or you can use the short cut keys (cntrl & L). From the Display panel menu options of the library panel select “New Video…”.

Create The Video Object

Give the video object a name (“vid”) and drag it to the stage. Once it is on the stage you will need to give it an instance name. Simply click on the video object that you moved to the stage then look at the property inspector at the bottom of the stage.

Flash CS3 Property Inspector

The instance name is “vid_video”. We will use this name in the Actionscript to attach the video stream to this object. Now its time for a little Actionscript. This is a very simple example and in order to keep it simple I am going to place my Actionscript on the first frame of a layer that I named “AS”.

I am using an “if(inited” code block as the starting point of my application. Inside of this “if” statement I am setting up a connection to my Flash Media server using the “connect” method of the NetConnection Class.

if (inited == null) {
inited = true;

nc = new NetConnection();
nc.connect(“rtmp://localhost/simpleVideo/”);
playvid();

}

function playvid(){

ns = new NetStream(nc);
vid_video.attachVideo(ns);
ns.play(“melissaInterview”);

}

The parameter in “nc.connect(“rtmp://localhost/simpleVideo/”)” points to the application on the FMS server. “RTMP” is the protocol used to carry the content. There are several types of RTMP but Flash Lite 3 only supports basic RTMP no tunneling or encryption.

Protocol

Description

RTMP Real-Time Messaging Protocol
RTMPT Real-Time Messaging Protocol tunneled over HTTP
RTMPE 128-bit encrypted Real-Time Messaging Protocol
RTMPTE 128-bit encrypted Real-Time Messaging Protocol tunnelled over HTTP
RTMPS Real-Time Messaging Protocol over SSL

The default port for FMS is 1935, that can be changed if you use the default you do not have to include the port in the server reference. Finally the application name (i.e. simpleVideo), simply means that there is a folder in the applications folder inside the installation folder of the Flash Media Server called simpleVideo.

C:\Program Files\Adobe\Flash Media Server 3\applications\simpleVideo
FMS Folder Structure


Using a reference to the connection created in the previous step we create a one way channel inside the connection using NetStream.

ns = new NetStream(nc);

Using the reference from the previous step we attach the stream to the video object on stage.

vid_video.attachVideo(ns);

Finally we start to play the video. Notice that we leave off the “.flv” file extension.

ns.play(“melissaInterview”);

Pretty simple huh?

Now lets add a little control to this example. I would assume that most people viewing video might want to pause and play that video. I am going to create a function called “pausePlayVid()” and inside of that function I am going to add the pause method of the Netstream class.

function pausePlayVid(){

ns.pause();

}

To keep it simple I am going to use a component that I created to map navigation keys to function names. In other words I would assume that your device has left,right,up and down navigation keys, this component allows you to pick one of those navigation keys, in this case I will use the right navigation key, and map that to the function we just added to the example called “pausePlayVid”. This is a simple component that you can download with the samples for this article. Now when I test this example in Device Central and the video starts to play if we hit the right navigation key it will pause and if we hit it again it will play.

There is one more thing we should consider if we want this to work on mobile phones, bandwidth! I am sure you have noticed that you can have a conversation with someone on your cellphone and simply turn around and loose the connection? If you haven’t then you must live in cell tower heaven. For all the rest of us we should consider a way to stream different content based on available bandwidth. There is nothing we can do for a lost connection although that would be a neat trick. At this point I was planning to show how we could use the native bandwidth detection of FMS 3(Flash Media Server) to automatically select the best streaming content for the current bandwidth of the FlashLite enabled device but unfortunately there is a problem that will not allow this functionality to be used with Flash Lite 3.x.

I am still looking into the cause of this but all is not lost. Even though we cannot use the native bandwidth detection we can use an approach developed back in the days of Flash Communication Server (i.e. predecessor to FMS) and described by Stefan Richter on Adobe’s Developer Connection.

This is a very good article that covers in detail the approach for bandwidth detection that will work with FlashLite 3 content. In this article you will also find tutorial files and the server side script that performs the bandwidth detection. The approach involves a call from the client to a server side script. The server side script calls a method on the client to determine the devices bandwidth and sends the value back to the device. At this point the device can use this information to choose the most appropriate content. You will need to download the server side script (bwcheck.asc) and place it in a folder called “bwcheck” under the applications directory of the Flash Media Server 3 installation directory.

For all those not familiar with the Flash Media Server, the “.asc” extension denotes this as a server side script.

Now lets take a look at an example (bwcheckExample.fla) that uses bandwidth detection to determine the appropriate video to play on the device. You can download this example and other examples from my Connect meeting room. When you download this example you will need to substitute your FMS servers name or ip address for the following yourserver.com in the actionscript of the bwcheckExample file. The video files for this example are in the videos_for_streaming_example.zip archive. Unzip the video files and place them in the _definst_ directory inside the streams folder of the Flash Media Server as the following screen capture illustrates.

directory for videos on FMS server

There is a brief description of the approach in the help files for Flash Media Server. Even though the description mentions “native bandwidth detection” the actionscript will work for script based detection as well with one exception. You will need to set the following to false in the “Application.xml” file on your Flash Media Server.

<BandwidthDetection enabled=”true”>

In the following example we will use two connections to the server. The first is a connection to get the available bandwidth and the second is to connect and play the appropriate stream. Just to be clear I had to create the different video files (“.flv”) manually. There are server solutions to realtime transcoding but they are either too expensive or outside the scope of this article to explain, that maybe a topic for a future article. It is also worth noting that in this example we only check the bandwidth once, it would be a good idea to check the bandwidth again in the event of an error or possibly poor video play back performance. That might also be the topic of a future article as well. As I have already covered the basics I will only cover the bandwidth detection in this example. The following example starts the same way the previous example started with a new NetConnection(). When the connection is made and accepted by the server side script (“bwcheck.asc“) the process of detecting the bandwidth begins. The server calls the method “onBWCheck” and sends packets of data in order to determine the clients bandwidth. When the process is complete the server sends the results to “onBWDone”.

We create the connection that will be used to check the bandwidth of the client.
nc = new NetConnection();

On the server the following code in the bwcheck.asc file on the FMS server accepts the connection and kicks off the detection process by calling the function calculateClientBw inside the same file.

application.onConnect = function(p_client, p_autoSenseBW){
this.acceptConnection(p_client);
if (p_autoSenseBW)
this.
calculateClientBw(p_client);

The following is method on the client is called by the server to assist in determining the bandwidth of the client.

nc.onBWCheck = function() {
return ++counter;
};

When the process is complete the server calls the client with the following and passes in the bandwidth, deltaDown, deltaTime and latency.

p_client.call(“onBWDone”);

On the client the following method retrieves the bandwidth, deltaDown, deltaTime and latency and then calls the function on the client that will determine the appropriate video file to use.

nc.onBWDone = function(p_bw, deltaDown, deltaTime, latency) {
initVideo(p_bw);
};

The following function uses the bandwidth information passed to it to set a variable called useVideo to the appropriate video file. For simplicity I named the video files for the bandwidth they will use (e.g. 200kbps). In addition I am also changing the amount of video that will be buffered before playing each video.

function playVideo(param_detected_bw:Number) {
var detected_bw:Number = param_detected_bw;
if (detected_bw>200) {
bdwdth_txt.text = “connected @ “+detected_bw +”kbps playing 256kbps_Stream”;
useVideo = “200kbps”;
bufferlength = 4;
} else if (detected_bw<200 && detected_bw>=160) {
bdwdth_txt.text = “connected @ “+detected_bw +”kbps playing 150kbps_Stream”;
useVideo = “150kbps”;
bufferlength = 7;
} else if (detected_bw<160 && detected_bw>=120) {
bdwdth_txt.text = “connected @ “+detected_bw +”kbps playing 100kbps_Stream”;
useVideo = “100kbps”;
bufferlength = 9;
} else if (detected_bw<120 && detected_bw>=85) {
bdwdth_txt.text = “connected @ “+detected_bw +”kbps playing 75kbps_Stream”;
useVideo = “75kbps”;
bufferlength = 10;
} else if (detected_bw<85 && detected_bw>=65) {
bdwdth_txt.text = “connected @ “+detected_bw +”kbps playing 50kbps_Stream”;
useVideo = “50kbps”;
bufferlength = 12;
} else {
bdwdth_txt.text = “bandwidth too low. Sorry”
};

Well thats it. I hope that helps get you started creating streaming Flash video content for Flash Lite 3.x. The following articles will help you round out your understanding of Flash video support in Flash Lite 3.

Flash Lite 3 video capabilities

How to play FLV video from YouTube using Flash Lite 3

I hope you found this article useful.