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Working with Content

Increasing productivity often means reducing the complexity of workflow. Flash MX includes better content authoring and dynamic file loading, to eliminate unnecessary (and often time-consuming) tasks.

Components

Flash MX includes a set of interface building blocks called UI Components. Components in Flash MX are akin to Smart Clips in Flash 5: pre-built pieces of animation and scripting that can be reused. Components extend the Smart Clip concept by allowing for Live Preview during authoring, and enhanced ActionScript capabilities. The UI components, specifically, can also be "skinned" to match the look and feel of your design.

The Flash UI component set comprises CheckBox, ComboBox, ListBox, PushButton, RadioButton, ScrollBar, and ScrollPane. Each individual component performs a particular job:

  • CheckBox displays a single choice.

  • ComboBox and ListBox both display a list of choices.

  • PushButton triggers a script when the user clicks it or presses Enter or Return.

  • RadioButton displays a single choice in a group of choices.

  • ScrollBar adds a scroll bar to a text field.

  • ScrollPane provides a scrollable area for viewing movie clips.

By combining the UI components along with text fields and other objects, you can rapidly deploy user interfaces that have a standardized appearance. This is a significant improvement over previous versions of Flash, which haven't had any significant tools for UI building.

Streamlined Symbol Creation

This isn't listed in the documentation as a new feature, but it's an important enhancement nonetheless. Creating new Movie Clips, Buttons, and Graphic symbols is a fundamental activity in Flash development. Now, in addition to symbol name and type, you can also set the registration point and linkage/sharing properties at creation time. Previously, registration point was set by hand, and linkage required a second trip to the Library window. For animations, this streamlined symbol creation represents a real time saving.

Embedded Video

Much to the chagrin of third-party tool vendors, Macromedia finally took the plunge and added native video playback to the SWF format. Flash MX and Flash Player 6 both feature the Sorenson Spark video codec, a highly optimized piece of software for streaming web clips.

Flash has been capable of handling linked QuickTime video for a few versions now. But Flash Player has not been able to play the movies; they had to be exported to QuickTime format in order to work. With the new "embedded" video you can import QuickTime, DV (Digital Video), AVI, and MPEG files directly into Flash documents, and export them as SWF files.

I've encountered some issues with audio synchronization during playback, and there is the existing 16,000-frame time limit (approx 8 minutes at 30 frames per second), but on the whole this functionality works very well. The video playback portion of Flash Player is rumored to be less than 100KB in size, which is impressive indeed.

Dynamic MP3 and JPEG

The loadMovie() action was once limited to SWF files only, allowing several movies to be displayed in Flash Player at once. This is useful because separate files can be combined in a bandwidth-friendly way (helps avoid site bloat syndrome). Flash MX offers two additional file loading capabilities: JPEG images and MP3 audio. JPEGs are loaded using the standard loadMovie() action, MP3s by the Sound object's loadSound() method.

A few downsides here: JPEG isn't optimal for images with blocks of solid color, and dynamically streamed MP3 files cannot be controlled with script. So, if you wanted to create a streaming MP3 audio player in Flash, pause, rewind and fast forward functions would be impossible. You can set dynamic MP3s to play as "event" sounds, but they only play after being completely loaded.

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