Adobe Releases Flash 10 Player

By Josh Catone
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Adobe today officially released the tenth version of its ubiquitous Flash player on the world. Flash 10, which was previously known under the code name “Astro,” adds a large number of new features to the Flash player, but the most flashy (forgive the terrible pun) are certainly the 3D support, the new text engine, and the Pixel Bender image processor, which was formerly known as Hydra.

I talked to Tom Barclay, a senior product marketing manager at Adobe, and Justin Everett-Church, a senior product manager at Adobe, who gave me an overview of each of those features.

What will quite possibly be the most talked about new feature in Flash 10 is the native support for 3D. Developers will now have the ability to very easily take 2D objects and transform and animate them in three dimensions — for example, rotating a set of 2D images in a circle in 3D space. Access to 3D effects in Flash comes via simple APIs and new tooling in Flash CS4. Previously developers would have had to use ActionScript or rely on third party tools to achieve similar 3D effects. “This is really 3D for the rest of us,” said Barclay.

Because the native 3D transformations and animations take advantage of GPU hardware acceleration, third party 3D animation tools will get a speed bump as well in Flash 10.

The new version of Flash will also sport an all new new text rendering engine that will allow developers to create their own text layout components. The new text rendering engine will debut on Adobe Labs later this year. When it does, developers will be able to support more advanced text layouts in their Flash-based applications, such as multicolumn flowable text, inline images, bi-directional text, and the ability to chain together multiple custom text components. That will make supporting non-Latin alphabets more easy.

The new Flash text rendering engine was developed in partnership with the Adobe InDesign team.

Perhaps the most compelling new feature in Flash 10, though, is the integration of the new Pixel Bender image processing technology, which is based on the tech that powers visual effects in Adobe’s After Effect CS4 video post production software. Pixel Bender lets developers create custom filters and effects that can be applied at runtime to video, images, and bitmaps. Adobe set up a Pixel Bender Exchange last May when Flash 10 went into beta, so you can get an idea of what sort of effects we’re talking about.

Because Pixel Bender supports multicore CPUs (whereas ActionScript does not), and because it is asynchronous and runs processes in their own thread, it won’t slow down your application while you’re computing massive calculations, according to Everett-Church. Basically, Pixel Bender is an engine that does math calculations very fast.

What makes it so cool, is that its just-in-time compiler can be used for more than just graphics. Everett-Church and Barclay told me, for example, about a customer who is been using Pixel Bender to render multichannel, omni-directional audio in real time (more on that in a later post).

Flash Player 10 is available at www.adobe.com/go/getflashplayer. It is available immediately on Windows, Mac, and Linux, with a Solaris version to follow. Adobe tells me that Flash 10’s features should make their way into the next release of AIR, on track for the end of this year.

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