Friday, October 29, 2004

Online Audio and Video Resources, Part 2

Solutions. Step One: Flix Pro

A few weeks ago I started looking in earnest again for a "solution" to some of the problems I outline in Online Audio and Video Resources, Part 1 of this series.

This new found interest in the stalled world of online media was brought on by a series of projects I took on for my son-in-law, Scott, a relatively new real estate agent. We decided there were major opportunities for generating real estate business online. More and more people are looking to the web as their first source of real estate information, and most real estate agents and brokers continue to be only marginally literate in the ways of the web. In theory, at least, that spells "opportunity".

We felt that online audio and video should be a significant part of our efforts -- if nothing else this would set Scott apart from the large mass of agents. We decided this would involve two types of "programming": video-style "virtual tours", and information presented in the form of "radio" programs -- what you might call "talking articles".

And perhaps the most aggressive component of this promotional program will involve a "For Sale By Owner" website targeted at Canadians. This service will have a unique twist (once we get around to setting it up.)

Both of these required a simple technique that could easily be embedded in web pages. Flash seemed like the answer in both cases, but I didn't have the specifics figured out for either.

First, I wanted to tackle the video issue. Other than my own "talking articles" and online tutorials (mentioned above), I had not seen many workable instances of flash-encoded video. A quick Google search revealed that there were two companies seriously developing tools for encoding video in Flash.

The first product is "Squeeze", from Sorenson, a major player in the video encoding business. Squeeze has been endorsed by Macromedia, and has been integrated into Macromedia's "Flash Video Kit". Since this seems to require Dreamweaver (which I do not use), and gives the distinct impression of pushing users towards the complete (expensive and difficult-to-use) Macromedia suite of tools, this was not going to be my first choice.

The other product is Flix from a company called Wildform. At first glance Flix appeared to be my sort of product. Free-standing, no hidden Macromedia-oriented agenda, apparently quite flexible, and lots of built-in "player" designs that should hold off for quite a while the desire to go into Flash MX and start designing new players.

Flix Pro is not real cheap -- $149 for a tool that encodes flash video. But it will encode from almost any other format (including .wmv, .avi, .mpeg, mp4, mov/qt, and audio formats .mp3, .wav, and .wma), and then nicely wrap it up with one of several special built-in players. Add on the "Power Players" ($29) and you'll have 135 players to choose from.

Flix Pro is a very nice product which quite effectively solves my embedded video problem. Now I can throw together a movie in Ulead MediaStudio Pro, output an all-purpose .avi, and have it flash-encoded and "player-ized" in no time at all. Here's an example. I expect it to be the basis for a unique type of "virtual tour" product we are working on.

-- Rick Hendershot,
Online Audio and Video

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