We’ve been working a lot with the new H.264 support in Flash. Like the On2.VP6 addition back in Flash 8, the inclusion of H.264 opens up new potential for delivering high-quality video at low bitrates. One drawback is that Flash doesn’t currently support transparency in H.264 – you’ll have to stick to VP6 for your walk-on hosts and so forth.
The latest figures from Adobe put the H.264-enabled version (9.0.115) at 62% penetration for the US and Canada as of March. This is probably into the 80s by now, as the 99.4% of users with Flash 6+ get prompted to auto-update when they encounter Flash 9 content. There’s little reason to hold off from distributing in H.264 at this point: very few users will have trouble viewing it and the quality boost and/or bandwidth savings are significant.
My favourite example of this new potential is Italian compressor Fabio Sonnati’s February blog post where he shows off a 1080p Sigur Ros clip that he encoded at 500kbps (that’s Fabio there on the left lookin’ sexy). Now, 500kbps is a decent bitrate for sub-SD web video: 480×270, for example. Fabio’s video is 1920×1080. The result is pretty stunning. And although Sonnati is a true master of the delicate art of compression, and the content of the video makes things easy on him (extremely low motion, slow pans, etc), this is very exciting stuff for media producers.