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Adobe-ARM Web video promise not ready

Posted: 13 May 2009     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Web video  Adobe Flash Player 10  OS  graphics 

Adobe Systems and ARM Ltd aim to bring Web video to a wide range of mobile systems with their collaboration on a new version of Adobe Flash Player 10. But the software may not be widely available until early next year, and even then it will require OEMs to write or at least review fine details of the code for optimal performance.

As much as 80 per cent of Web video today is based on Adobe Flash written for the x86 processor and Microsoft Windows. Adobe and ARM announced last year their plans for a native ARM version geared for smart phones, netbooks and other devices.

In an update on the effort, the duo said progress has been good, but the complexity of the job may push out broad availability until early 2010. That's because the job requires significant work on graphics, codecs and Adobe's scripting language as well as significant integration and testing among separate chip, software and systems vendors.

"We're coming down to home stretch and soon the work shifts to delivering [code] to OEMs," said Anup Murarka, director of technology strategy and partner development, for Flash at Adobe.

"We're on track [to finish internal work midyear, have a] summer or early fall beta with OEMs and a final production release at the end of this year, but it's really looking like it will be very early next year" before systems ship using the code, he said.

"We're doing code drops on a regular basis to OEM partners to ensure releases are out early," Murarka said. "It's complex, but we want to make it happen as soon as we can."

Since late last year, Adobe has demonstrated versions of Flash 10 on ARM working under OS including Android, Windows Mobile and Symbian.

Palm announced in February it is working with Adobe on a version of Flash 10 for its upcoming Pre handsets. Neither Adobe nor Apple has made any announcements about versions for the iPhone.

Although geared for the high volume smart phone, the same code is expected to run on a variety of mobile devices that support a full OS including netbooks.

Flash roadmap
Creating a version of Flash Player 10 for ARM involves detailed work on three levels—graphics, codecs and the Flash programming environment.

A primary issue is that today's Flash software is geared for use on relatively muscular and homogenous x86 desktop processors. It was not designed for the kinds of multi-core SoCs popular in smart phones that use a mix of ARM cores and hardware accelerators for functions like 3D graphics and video.

"There are many choices in hardware and software that are outside our control," said Murarka. "We've done so much to help OEMs understand their trade-offs," he said.

For example, Flash is based on 2D vector graphics run in software. Moving to a full 3D environment is too big a step for Adobe, at least for now.

So the duo is adopting the OpenGL ES version 2.0 applications programming interface as a compromise. The API helps minimise code conversions from 2D to 3D that can sap system performance.

"It's not an ideal spec for Flash, but is offers some good performance opportunity for us and our engine," said Murarka.

Thus OEMs will either have to support Open GL ES 2.0 or create their own way of mapping the 2D Flash code to their 3D hardware. "If OEMs choose not to have OpenGL ES, there will be a bit more work to make a finished product," he said.

"Our long term vision is a Flash player that can support 3D graphics," said Kerry McGuire, director of strategic alliances at ARM. "It's a bit of a shame not to make use of [the graphics hardware typically in the SoCs]," she said.

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