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Flash Video for Professionals

Flash Video for Professionals

This is a slightly different book on Flash video. It covers the Flash video basics, creating video players and eye candy, but it also has some interesting extras that could save you money. It is very hands on with few step-by-step guides and has a wide focus that tries to cover both developers and designers. It's mostly for developers though.

TITLE: Flash Video for Professionals
AUTHOR: Lisa larson and Renée Constantini
PUBLISHER: Sybex (July 2, 2007)
ISBN: 978-0470131138
PAGES: 362 B/W
CD: No, but files on authors blog flashconnections.com
PRICE: £17.54 UK / $26.39 USA / $30.23 CAN

Click here to order

Americans may be well into this, but this book has a very solid first chapter that explains how to set up a business proposal and communicate with clients. I'd say that this chapter alone is worth the price of the book. I've used the sample proposal provided as a template for a couple projects now and it's saved me money already. This doesn't really have to be in a book about Flash Video, but it's a very nice addition. The book also offers checklists for deployment as well as advice on how to handle those last minute client requests. Many will learn a lot from this.

Content

The second chapter take you through the process of getting / producing video, tips and tricks to get good footage, technical considerations and encoding the video to FLV format. This part is a little thin, but it should be sufficient. Next up is deployment considerations and playback. The book covers both simple playback using the FLVPlayback component that comes with Flash CS3 as well as how to program your own video player. This part of the book puzzles me a bit. You either use the FLVPlayback component by dropping in on Stage, instantiate FLVPlayback with 10 lines of code or you use the supplied 25 class MVC application.

This MVC player is really good. It follows good programming practice, it's a good example of the MVC-pattern with interfaces and all. It's written in both AS2 and AS3, but the fact that there's nothing in between a simple or advanced solution could cause many readers to drop the ball. I feel that the book does not try hard enough to explain the 25 class diagram of the player. The book has a simple and well written introduction to OOP but I doubt that designers will be able to understand it despite the fact that it is used in subsequent chapters. Programmers will probably love browsing the code and learning from it though. It's a great introduction to the MVC pattern in pragramming in general, but it may seem daunting to many since it's not all that well explained.

The book is well written and covers a lot of good side-subjects such as testing, bandwidth checking, deployment tricks and it has a good user experience focus. The book barely mentions the tools you use. As they say - there's so many different ways to create Flash files (Adobe Flash, Flex Builder, Flex SDK, FlashDevelop, FDT and more) so it does not make sense to try to cover it all. The book rather focus on the process of preparing / deploying video and the possibilities you have such as playlists, working with metadata, masking, filters, transitions and automatic thumbnail creation. All of these topics offer code examples, but few of the examples are complete, so some programming experience will be required to make use of it.

The sample applications in the book include video players of varying complexity, from simple to quite advanced, a FotoBooth application and a webcam/FMS application that teaches you to work with live streams. Subjects such as transitions are explained extensively so that you could either roll your own transitions or use the transition classes that come with Flash.

Opinionated

I like opinons. I have a lot of them myself and I love a good discussion. If somebody have done their homework, it's far easier to trust their opinion than trying out all the alternatives yourself. This book is opinionated in many aspects: when it comes to client communication, what tools to use (like selecting a FLV to DVD conversion tool or a programming IDE's), what Actionscript version to use and many other things.

The opinions don't always come out right though. When reviewing the shortcomings of the FLVPlayback component that comes with the Flash CS3 IDE, the author says "It's almost always better to write your own code rather than try to decipher someone else's". For simple applications this may be true, but we'd never ever suggest that somebody rolled their own application framework or 3D engine.

Strong Points

  • Planning and client handling is a theme through the book. This is a great addition that can save you a lot of trouble. I'm sure that a lot of this advice came from lessons that were learned the hard way.
  • The book also covers alternate deployment scenarios such as DVD
  • The book is pragmatic. If all you know is AS2, stay with that. The book clearly states that AS3 is better in so many aspects, but if you try to learn AS3 while delivering a client project, you'll probably get a hard time.

Weak Points

  • Lot's of good snippets, but few complete code examples.
  • Hands on examples of third party tools are not very extensive, though many good tools are mentioned.
  • The advanced MVC Player requires more explanation than offered in the book.
  • Thin on encoding. This is in many ways "the core" of streaming video - how to make video look good. This is covered and good advice is given but it's shallow.
  • The book could have done with some better tech editing. A good example is that there's an incomplete code sample on page 81. The most important line of code is missing (the one specifying the video file) so beginners will never get this example to work.

Conclusion

I really like this book. It's obvious that the authors were inspired when they wrote large chunks of it and this rubs off on the reader. I kept wanting to put down the book and start playing. This also makes the book a little less structured than other books. This can be both good and bad, but it works well in this case.

Recently, we reviewed Rob Reinhardt's competing book on Flash video. Rob's book is more structured and has a lot of step-by-step intructions for the complete beginner (maybe even too many). This book is more hands on and suited for the beginner / designer that have some light Flash programming experience and want to get into Flash video. It's not for the faint at heart though. The MVC player that comes with the book will scare anyone not into programming, but the book also covers the FLVPlayback component well enough that a designer could use it.

Where Rob covers a lot about equipment, how to compress properly and work with software like After Effects to deliver Alpha transparent video, this book covers other aspects better. It's really just the basic stuff that overlaps between the two, so if you are into video, you might be interested in both to get as much advice and sample code as possible.

The fact that this book covers both AS2 and AS3 also differentiates the books from each other. Designers that still haven't taken the leap to AS3 should probably get this book. Since all examples are both AS2 and AS3, they'll be able to compare how the two Actionscript versions differ and it could make a good way to transition to AS3. The drawback of this approach is that this book features fewer example applications since code listings for both languages are required.

PS: Lisa recently did a good introduction to FMS for AdobeTV that's worth to check out.

 

About Jens C Brynildsen

Jens has been working with Flash since version 3 came out. Since then, he's been an active member of the Flash community. He's created more than a hundred Flash games (thus the name of his blog) but he also creates web/standalone applications, does workshops and other consulting. He loves playing with new technology and he is convinced that the moment you stop learning you die (creatively speaking). Jens is also the Editor of this website.

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