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Killing Adobe Flash, one smart TV at a time

February 29, 2016
Someone just got themselves a Samsung Series 5 smart TV.

One more Samsung Series 5 smart TV means one less Adobe Flash Player.

Not a week goes by that I don’t see the discarded cardboard carapaces of several newly-purchased big screen smart TVs in the back alleys of the Fairview neighbourhood.

The sight always makes me smile because, near as I can tell, every smart TV in a home means one more Internet device that is not running Adobe’s aged and dangerously bug-prone Flash Player. Yay!

What it means for a TV to be “smart”

The box for a Vizio E-series. Expensive for a smart TV that doesn't browse the web.

A Vizio E-series box. A smart TV that doesn’t allow you to really browse the web.

At the lower end of the smart TV spectrum are what I think of more as big screen Internet of Things devices that get cable and allow users to access a small bit of the web through pre-installed apps–as in, a YouTube app, a Netflix app, a Facebook app and so on. I would put the Vizio E-Series 65″ LED in this class; it’s a good value big screen TV apparently and I see that a lot of Fairview residents are buying it, but it’s not a fully capable web browsing device.

Higher end Smart TVs offer both Internet apps as well as direct access to the World Wide Web via a web browser, along with oodles of external connectivity options.

Smart TVs acriss the board seem to have little internal storage and they all run some form of the Linux operating system.

And though you would be hard-pressed to get one into your pocket, all smart TVs are designed–hardware and software-wise–along the lines of mobile devices, making them, in many respects, the largest non-touchscreen tablets that money can buy.

Being both mobile- and Linux-based means that smart TVs cannot play web-based Flash video–because Adobe gave up on the Flash Player for Android and iOS mobile browsers five years ago and for Linux four years ago.

Desktops with Flash was then, and smart TVs without it are now

Trying to stream Flash-based video on a smart TV isn't a smart idea.

Trying to stream Flash-based video on a smart TV isn’t such a smart idea.—Faning Sessions Archive

Back in November 2011, Adobe announced that it would henceforth only build Flash functionality into mobile apps using Adobe Air, meaning that it was abandoning the standalone Flash Player for mobile web browsers.

HTML 5 was too entrenched on mobile platforms, said Adobe. That the Flash Player for mobile (abandoned at version 11.1.102.59) was also a resource hog that performed poorly in the power-constrained mobile environment, Adobe neglected to say.

In 2012, Adobe also pulled the plug on future versions of the Flash Player for Linux, outside of the special “Pepper” version built by Google into its Chrome web browser for the desktop.

Since 2012 Adobe has only solo-developed the Flash Player for the Windows and Macintosh desktop operating systems.

This is all well and good, a great many people are aware that Flash doesn’t come with Android or iOS devices anymore and many of the biggest embedded video services on the Internet, such as YouTube, Facebook and Netflix have dropped the need for the Flash Player altogether.

However, there are still plenty of websites clinging to Flash-based video content.

And no one bothers to tell smart TV buyers up front that they’re getting over-sized Linux or Android tablets rather than full desktop computers. Or that when they hit a website that kicks up a warning—either that they need to install the Flash plug-in to play content, or that their smart TV’s built in version of the Flash Player (11.1) needs to be updated—there will be little or nothing they can do about it.

The fact that there have been no Flash Player updates from Adobe for smart TVs for over three years has led to a steady stream of confused and annoyed smart TV owners taking to various web forums to ask what the Flash Player alerts mean and what can be done about them. The answers have, for the most part, been as confused as the questions.

That’s as much because the various makers of smart TVs have largely tried to ignore the issue completely.

In the recent past, Samsung’s smart TVs reportedly ran on an identifiable version of the Linux operating system and shipped with Adobe Flash 11.1. As of 2o15, Samsung’s smart TVs, such as the Series 5, were supposed to be running Tizen OS for TV—Tizen OS being the in-house implementation of Linux/Android for Samsung mobile devices. (With Tizen, it’s unlikely Samsung even includes the antiquated Flash 11.1.)

Either way that means no Adobe Flash updates, no how, for Samsung smart TVs—ever. But can Samsung just come out and say that? Of course not!

In a bewildering 2015 Samsung support note on the subject of Flash, the company stated that its OS prevented the smart TV web browser from installing anything downloaded by the user “for security purposes” and that “up to February 4, 2014”, Flash would be upgraded via firmware upgrades available from the Samsung website. Although, explained Samsung, Adobe no longer supported Flash on Samsung Smart TVs and Blu-ray players.

Finally the company recommended the mobile version “as Flash player updates are issued by Adobe for desktop and mobile”. (See: preventing the browser from installing anything for security purposes.)

The label from a Sony Bravia x81c listing it as an Android device.

The label from the box for a Sony Bravia x81c, listing it as an Android device.

Keep in mind that I do not own a smart TV and therefore I’m at great risk of generalizing at best and at worst being wrong on details but, as far as I can tell, owners of all smart TVs are in the same boat, Flash Player-wise, whether their set is made by Samsung, Sony, Panasonic, LG or any company that you’d care to name.

As for solutions, I can only think of two and I’d only recommend one of them.

First, if you own a Samsung smart TV, you might consider something called Smart Flash, a piece of freeware, supposedly developed by “enthusiasts” which purports to (somehow) add modern support for embedded Flash video, specifically to Samsung models. I’m not warrantying this by the way, I’m just mentioning it.

Personally, though I would recommend just avoiding the websites that still require the Flash Player for embedded video. (It’s not that hard.) And I’d wait for all the holdouts to ditch the moribund Flash in favour of browser-based HTML5 playback.

The figures on sales and shipments of smart TVs are fluffy at best, but there is a general consensus that Internet-capable TVs will dominate the television category sooner rather than later and who can really argue with that?

And who can doubt what effect a few hundred million smart TVs will have, added on top of the 1,5 billion-or-so smartphones and tablets that are already largely ignoring Flash video?

The fact that they’re helping to do away with the Flash Player may be one of the smartest features that these Internet-connected TVs have going for them, as far as I’m concerned. Click the images to enlarge them.

From → Android, Internet

One Comment
  1. Fun to find this out after I bought my Samsung, and not be able to stream the Super Bowl, the Oscars, or Trump’s address to Congress. All those major networks and CSPAN are still using Flash and there are not always alternative sites to view with HTML5 in the Smart TV browser.

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