Yippee! No more crappy, blurry YouTube videos! No more pixelated garbage filling every corner of the Web! Adobe's addition of the advanced H.264 high-definition codec — "codec" being a fancy way of saying "video algorithm" — to its popular Flash software. Flash, of course, has become the ubiquitous means of distributing video on the Web. Adding H.264 will finally bring high-quality moving images into the Web mainstream, and put an end to the rein of amateurism in online video. Or will it? Not so fast.
H.264 makes it possible for dramatic quality improvements in Internet video, it's true. However, most loser-generated content is still being produced with crappy cameras, on home computers with cheap editing software. The update to Flash will not create a tidal wave of better content. It only removes one of many roadblocks.
And, needless to say, a more advanced algorithm won't improve the subject matter of Web videos. YouTube will remain just as inane and crappy as before. The difference between professional and amateur content, however, will become more and more distinct. We'll still be inundated with videos of dressed-up pets and teenagers lip syncing two feet away from the camera (always original and entertaining). We'll just be more aware that we're watching crap.
For Adobe, it's a timely move. Content producers were beginning to eschew Flash video's universality for higher-quality download formats; startups like Joost were hoping to develop alternative video delivery mechanisms by emphasizing better image resolution; and Microsoft thought it saw an open door to compete with Flash through Silverlight, its competing multimedia platform which supports another HD-video format. Adobe just closed the door on competitors and cemented its control of online video for the foreseeable future. And if it renders people's home videos that much more tiresome, all the better.