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Adobe Media Player: A Good Start

By Chris Maxcer MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Apr 22, 2008 4:00 AM PT

The new Adobe Media Player 1.0 is a good first step into territory the company hadn't before ventured. Yet it's clearly a 1.0 version that needs some tender loving care to bring it up to 1.5 or 2.0.

Adobe Media Player: A Good Start

I don't say this lightly -- I started the free download process from Adobe with high hopes that I'd find a media player that fills in the gaps left by the likes of iTunes and Hulu.

I didn't find what I was looking for, but maybe -- hopefully sometime soon -- I will. Let me explain.

What It Does

Adobe Media Player 1.0 is a cross-platform Adobe AIR (Adobe Integrated Runtime) application that's designed to let you find, organize and play video content both online and offline. It runs on Windows XP, Vista and Mac OS X.

Users have access to Adobe's catalog of content, which includes shows, clips and videocasts from partners that include CBS, MTV Networks, Universal Music Group, PBS, CondéNet, HGTV, Food Network, DIY Network and Scripps Networks, among other smaller content providers.

The videos are free to consumers and supported by ads.

Adobe Media Player lets you play streamed shows, downloadable shows and even your own videos stored on your hard drive in the Adobe Flash format. For the first time, consumers can download video outside the browser in the Adobe Flash format and then play it in the new player. The video quality can be viewed in 1080p, 720p or 480i resolutions, but the HD-quality content may need faster PC processors and more video memory for decent results.

Install and Setup

The install process was easy -- it's roughly a 3 MB download with intuitive clicking and waiting. I installed and tested Adobe Media Player on a 2.4 Ghz Apple MacBook running Mac OS X with 2 GB of random access memory running over a 3 megabits per second DSL connection (with typical 1.9 to 2.4 Mbps speeds).

Navigation and Interface

The interface sports the familiar black and charcoal gray background also seen in the consumer-grade Adobe Photoshop Elements and Express applications. It looks elegant and has some nice animation between actions. While it's basically intuitive, you're going to be a little confused at times. Adobe provides some Adobe Media Player tutorial videos -- watch them to cut down on the learning curve.

You can customize your home page by adding favorites of shows, which you can also subscribe to, but you can also browse through Adobe's catalog of shows and content as well as search. Since its launch, Adobe has been promoting MTV's "The Hills" and CBS' "CSI: NY" on the home page in big, hard-to-miss squares.

Some shows are only available for streaming online, which is indicated by a small yellow circle icon with a "lightning" zag through it. Downloadable shows feature a small down-pointing green arrow.

Playback Experience

My playback experience was all over the map. Sometimes I could watch streaming content with nary a hiccup; other times, shows would pause at least once every minute before continuing.

On two occasions, I was able to pinpoint the problems with my own network and incoming Internet speeds. Once my Apple Time Capsule was in the middle of a Time Machine backup, and another time my incoming Internet speed had dropped to 400 Kbps or so, both of which seemed to indicate that low-end DSL subscribers in the 768 Kbps up to 1.5 Mbps range might be more likely to experience buffering and playback glitches for streamed content. For content that's already been downloaded in advance, playback should be just fine.

Adobe's online support doesn't have a lot of content or detail, though I would expect it to grow as users provide feedback to the company. One support document, however, notes that poor performance can be caused by low available network bandwidth, and Adobe recommends that users turn off applications that could be using bandwidth -- such as instant messenger clients, peer-to-peer sharing applications and, of course, Time Machine. Entering full screen mode sometimes helps too.

One evening, however, when I was trying to watch an episode of "CSI: Miami," I freed up network bandwidth, checked my incoming connection speed, and still nothing worked. Watching was an exercise in frustration. The progress bar seemed to show that much of the show had been downloaded in advance, with plenty of buffering available, but still I encountered lots of hiccups and pauses in the playback. It's not clear how much of a show has truly been download to your PC while streaming.

This might not be Adobe's fault. There could be issues with my Internet service provider, a content provider or something in between -- there's just not a lot of information or options available to help troubleshoot these issues. To be fair, I gave up and went directly to CBS.com, found the "CSI: Miami" episode I wanted and started streaming it from CBS directly -- and saw the same commercials for some kind of steamed microwavable healthy meal in bowl, by the way -- and the playback was just as choppy and irritating. I very nearly ditched CBS.com in favor of shelling out US$1.99 for the episode at iTunes, but I slogged my way through 44 minutes of show in about 70 minutes of watching.

The Next Morning

The evening before, I was watching during prime net-using hours. At 6:30 a.m., however, I opened up the same show and -- wahoo! -- the episode streamed clear and clean without any issues.

Lesson: Don't get your hopes up for evening entertainment. Go to bed and get up early instead.

The only other glitch that I noticed was that the play/pause button would stop working for no particular reason, making it impossible to pause a show. At other times, it worked as expected.

Needs More Content

Of course, the primary benefit of Adobe Media Player is that the content is free. iTunes: Not free. A key competitor, also new on the scene, is Hulu, and it has free content. The problem that every media playing device/service has right now is content limitation. None of them have all the shows or enough episodes. Eventually that will change, and it's a factor that is only marginally within Adobe's realm of control. What factors into that are countless licensing deals and fractured interests in the industry, not to mention the willingness of content producers to let their shows be converted into various digital formats for online use.

Obviously, the ability to download "CSI: Miami" would have solved my problems -- but the shows are only available for streaming. Gotta love the pirates out there who ruin it for everyone -- though some silly captains of industry clinging for control could take a little blame too.

Thumbs Up

Overall, despite the minor glitches, I think Adobe Media Player is a worthy addition to most consumer Macs or PCs. It's not one-stop shopping for online content by any means, but if it has the shows you want, it will likely work well enough to make it worth your time.

As for me, I'll use it occasionally here and there, as I occasionally use Hulu, YouTube, iTunes and whichever systems the major networks are using to deliver their online content. I very much want to support the online delivery of great content. It's not only great having it available; I also like having it available any time, anywhere, in a variety of formats. In the meantime, I'll try to remember to record the key episodes with my DVR connected to my HD television before I end up struggling through a hiccuping shootout on "CSI: Miami" again.


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