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September 25, 2013

WebRTC Poised to Shape the Future of Live Web, Mobile Broadcasting

There has been a lot of talk about WebRTC’s potential in recent months, but comparatively little to show for it outside of telecommunications. To be fair, WebRTC’s main squeeze is and will always be real-time communications via video, audio and text, but there are definitely other areas where simple video transmission comes in handy — such as, say, live Web broadcasting.

Indeed, it seems as though we’re poised for a golden age of live Web TV as heavyweights like Google, Microsoft, Adobe and Cisco have started turning to H.264, VP8 and WebRTC for this purpose. Actually, Google took the first major step toward this golden age earlier this week.

In particular, the company upgraded its Google+ Hangouts Web broadcasting platform, switching from the H.264 codec, to VP8, the open-source codec included in the WebRTC project. Prior to the switch, Google+ Hangouts belabored under certain restrictions, namely that each participant in a broadcast needed to install a certain Google-developed browser plug-in and that all broadcasts were restricted to standard definition. The latter was simply due to limitations inherent in H.264.

With VP8, on the other hand, Google+ Hangouts users can now enjoy high definition playback in HTML5 without the need for any plug-ins at all.

While VP8 experienced issues in the past, namely claims that it infringes on WebM’s H.264 patents, these issues now appear settled, allowing it to be adopted more broadly. Adobe, for example, is looking to incorporate VP8 into Flash.

Other companies are going a different route, however, such as Microsoft, which is working on its own implementation of WebRTC, CU-RTC, which is an alternative to Google’s. Likewise, Nokia remains unhappy with how the patent dispute between VP8 and H.264 played out — which is appropriate now that Nokia’s mobile operations are not part of Microsoft.

But, as always, the best way for Web broadcasting and mobile TV to move forward is if everyone can agree to embrace one standard, and WebRTC seems to be the best option — for now.

Edited by Rachel Ramsey
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