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February 10, 2016

VP9 Joins the Roster of WebRTC Video Calling

Web-based real time communications (WebRTC) is a market that's been making constant gains and changes for the last several years. One more change was made recently, as those placing video calls with WebRTC can now turn to the VP9 codec for video calls as desired. This is an update that's been some time in the making; the Chrome browser started offering support for the VP9 codec as far back as two years ago.

VP9 may not look that much different from other, currently-available codecs, but there are several improvements that come along with VP9 as a result of work from Google's WebM team. These improvements come together to make VP9 one of the best sources for video around, as even little details get a new level of accentuation. With VP9, the sharpest image features get priority in transmission, and asymmetric transforms are used to help keep scenes looking sharp.

All this extra clarity doesn't demand extra bandwidth, either; those connections that can currently handle a 720p connection will be able to handle a 1080p call with VP9 at the same level of bandwidth use. This in turn means that users who couldn't previously handle video calling might be able to do so now, since VP9 needs about 40 percent of the bitrate required to run the VP8 codec. Looking at a comparative screenshot at Google Developers shows that there's not much difference in video quality, but a huge difference in bandwidth used to get that quality.

A handshaking process known as “offer / answer” allows the choice of codec, and other media settings like bitrate, to be set up right at the beginning of the call. Callers might have adjusted the initial contact information, known as a Session Description Protocol (SDP) metadata message, to prefer VP9 but use VP8 as the second choice. If the answer confirms that VP9 is available, then the call runs in VP9.

It's easily the best thing about WebRTC: it continually advances. All these new changes and all these advancements come together to make the system better overall. More useful, more usable, and better in a variety of situations, every new advance helps to make WebRTC into a new standard for communications. Its flexibility allows it to be accessed from Web browsers instead of from a dedicated app, and it can often provide services that many dedicated conferencing apps simply don't. Anyone who considers video conferencing, voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) calling, or other communications tools must therefore keep WebRTC and its advancements in mind in development.

This is a system that has potential enough to knock just about anyone out of the market, so those who don't keep up with WebRTC's development may well find an inhospitable market for old, behind-the-curve hardware. VP9 is just one part of a growing array of changes that makes WebRTC a force to be reckoned with.

Edited by Kyle Piscioniere
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