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August 29, 2013

Get Major Upgrades for Google Hangouts without Plugins, Thanks to WebRTC

There's no shortage of potential applications for Web-based real time communications (WebRTC), as we've discovered over the past few months. From games to conferencing to medical applications, WebRTC is showing up in many more places and doing many more things than many might have expected. A whole new use is showing up in Google Hangouts, thanks to a set of upgrades received for the service that are not only offering better video quality, but more options as well.

Some users already have access to this, while other users will have to wait just a bit for the full rollout to arrive, set to happen in the course of the next few weeks. But once it does arrive, users will have access to full 720p HD video, and they won't need plugins for the move either.

What brought on this sudden upgrade of video with increased simplicity? Turns out, it was a move on Google's part to change video codecs. Google is making the move from the H.264 codec to the VP8 codec. VP8 is a royalty-free codec that got its start back in 2010, and not only gives access to better video, but also allows for such access without the need for extra plugins. Reports also indicate that VP8 was a sound choice thanks to the improvements gained in terms of processing power; running a 10-person video call on the H.264 codec was said to take a lot of juice to properly run.

At the root of it all, meanwhile, is the WebRTC standard. Google—along with Mozilla—has been making a great many moves in the direction of Firefox these days, and WebRTC is opening up some great new frontiers in terms of improving both browser-to-browser and browser-to-server communications. Google, backed up with some Vidyo WebRTC technology, will give Google Hangouts plenty more power than previously realized over the course of the next few months.

The co-founder and CEO of Vidyo, meanwhile, offered a little commentary of his own in talking to VentureBeat surrounding the move, saying, “This is great news for the WebRTC community and takes our relationship with Google to the next level. WebRTC provides a vision of new communications possibilities for video-enabled Web applications, and by leveraging Vidyo’s expertise in scalable video coding (SVC), we will jointly create a path to accessible quality video.”

Indeed, the combination of more capability at less processor power, providing higher-quality video without the need for intervening plugins will likely prove very welcome to Google Hangouts users, and may well bring in new users who weren't ordinarily fond of Google Hangouts. It's entirely possible that, thanks to this improvement in not only quality of service but also ease of use, Google may be able to pull in a few Skype users as well who may be interested in making the switch to a simpler product that offers quality video.

That's strictly speculative, of course, but Google is certainly ratcheting up the quality of the Google Hangouts offering, and in turn, should make some users very happy. Including, all too possibly, some users who previously weren't counted in Google's roster.

Edited by Alisen Downey
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