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October 29, 2013

Hangouts Move Toward WebRTC with HD Calling Among 18 New Google+ Updates

In an event focused on improvements to Google+, Hangouts, photo sharing and storytelling, Google announced 18 features to Google+ on top of the 20 it’s pushed out over the last four months. One of the core focuses of this event was Hangouts and the three components of Hangouts: the app, the broadcast feature and the video calls.

The Hangouts app now has location sharing, SMS messaging support and animated GIF capabilities. Hangouts On Air, a broadcast feature that is described as, “Like having a satellite truck in your pocket,” now enables users to plan, promote and manage Hangouts On Air. There will be a dedicated landing page as well as tools to manage the Hangout, such as lowering a particular person’s volume or dropping them from the Hangout.

Hangouts as a video calling experience now feature full-screen video calls across devices, fix and enhance webcam lighting automatically and will offer HD calls. Google is also bringing the creative tools that are applied in Auto Awesome to Hangouts for video calling, like turning the Hangout black and white, blurring the background with the Spotlight feature or softening the focus with the Focus Effect. “It really makes the experience of connecting with another person just more enjoyable and more fun,” said Vic Gundotra, senior vice president at Google.

Google’s algorithms can detect a human face and back-lit situations, so it automatically boosts light so you can see a person, even if that means increased noise. Google has been using facial recognition in the past to enable users to apply effects to their video chats, like adding a cartoon birthday hat on top of their heads.

Google Hangouts made the switch from H.264 to VP8 earlier this year, which enables the HD calling and plugin-free communications. When the company launched the video chat platform two years ago, it hinted at plans to utilize WebRTC for Hangouts. The move to making HD Hangouts available to all users across all devices is a part of a bigger shift for the company toward the VP8 codec and WebRTC.  

Check out more details about the event and other new Google+ features, especially the photography ones, with Tony Rizzo’s TechZone coverage, and check out the video of the event presentation below (scroll to the 12:30 mark).

Want to learn more about the latest in WebRTC? Be sure to attend WebRTC Conference & Expo, Nov. 19-21 in Santa Clara, Calif. Stay in touch with everything happening at WebRTC Conference & Expo. Follow us on Twitter.

Edited by Alisen Downey
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