Adobe adopts HTTP live streaming for Apple products

At NAB in Las Vegas last week, Adobe Systems previewed new streaming video capabilities for its Flash Media Server — adding HTTP Live Streaming support to the system. It appears to be a concession to Apple’s Steve Jobs, whose “Thoughts on Flash” with the introduction of the iPad last year and his decision not to support it, was controversial to say the least.

HTTP Live Streaming is a protocol that Apple developed for iPhones and iPads to stream live and recorded video using standard HTTP connections instead of the more difficult to optimize RTSP. It uses H.264-encoded video and AAC or MP3 audio packaged into discrete segments of an MPEG-2 transport stream. It also has a .m3u playlist to catalog the files that make up the individual parts of the stream.

Apple at the time said Adobe’s Flash was too power hungry to allow the iPad to get its all-day battery life. Apple can play Flash Mac OS X if it’s loaded onto the computer. But HTTP Live Streaming is the only format compatible with the iOS on iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches.

Apple submitted HTTP Live Streaming to the IETF in 2009 as a proposed standard. Microsoft quickly added support to its IIS Media Services server, which is used to deliver “smooth streaming” video to Silverlight-based clients. When IIS Media Services detects an iOS device, it instead packages and delivers the content using HTTP Live Streaming.

Adobe added its own HTTP-based streaming feature to Flash Media Server last year. It breaks up H.264 video into segments saved as separate files and sends those files to a client over HTTP. Its HTTP Dynamic Streaming uses an XML-based file (instead of a plain-text playlist file) and the MPEG-4 fragment container format (.f4f). It’s only compatible with Adobe’s Flash or AIR.

Adobe, however, is “committed to developing technologies that simplify broadcast workflows to make it simpler to reach a fragmented lineup of devices,” said Kevin Towes, senior product manager for Flash Media Server.

In a recent blog post, Towes wrote that Adobe is adding HTTP Live Streaming support to Flash Media Server and Flash Media Live Encoder. “By adding support for HLS within the Flash Media Server, Adobe is reducing the publishing complexity for broadcasters who need to reach browsers supporting HLS through HTML5 (such as Safari) or devices where Adobe Flash is not installed.”

This is a major shift for Adobe. Instead of trying to convince Apple to build Flash into the iOS for iPhones and iPads or losing potential Flash customers, Adobe is now acknowledging through its actions that some content publishers need video streaming protocols without Flash.

Apple recently began selling its portable MacBook OS X computers without Flash preinstalled, which, in the case of the latest MacBook Air models, increased battery life as much as 33 percent.