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December 11, 2013

WebRTC: One of HTML5's Greatest Success Stories

WebRTC, the HTML5-based standard for facilitating real-time, browser-based video communications, aims to create a world where nearly all Web-connected devices — phones, TVs and computers — can communicate with each other on a common platform. While this goal hasn’t quite been achieved yet, much progress has been made.

As it stands, initiating a WebRTC session from any PC is as easy as firing up a compatible browser — Chrome, Firefox and Opera as of version 18 — and heading to a WebRTC video chat site like Bistri. This simplicity is a huge change from prior and competing real-time communications offerings as even simple consumer-focused offerings like Skype require that you download a program and do a little setup. It can get even trickier when multiple types of devices are brought into the mix. WebRTC can avoid this, providing the same experience across all devices — provided support is there.

In general, WebRTC “support” means that a browser must be compatible with three important APIs: getUserMedia (AKA MediaStream), RTCPeerConnection and RTCDataChannel. The first enables the ability to capture video and audio data from the user’s device to be turned into usable JavaScript objects. RTCPeerConnecton, meanwhile, allows a browser to connect directly to other browsers, or peers. Finally, RTCDataChannel enables peer-to-peer exchange of arbitrary data with low latency and high throughput, making it best suited to applications like file transfers and real-time text chat.

The idea is that any browser that offers full support for those three APIs can provide an identical WebRTC experience, regardless of device. Unfortunately, some browsers report that they support WebRTC, when in reality they only support getUserMedia — which is where Opera 18 stands currently.

Regardless of these little setbacks, though, WebRTC is among the biggest HTML5 success stories. It’s no surprise, then, that this week’s DevCon5 HTML5 and mobile app developer conference features a session dedicated WebRTC.

“Video Calling: WebRTC” was a session held at the event featuring Peter Dunkley, technical director at Crocodile RCS, focusing on the growth of video on the Web enabled by technologies like HTML5 and WebRTC. Dunkley also covered the future of video, including the potential for interactive features and streaming options. The event continues today in Los Angeles, Calif. 

Edited by Rachel Ramsey
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