Google Hangouts go HD with VP8 switch [UPDATE]

Aug 28, 2013
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Google Hangouts go HD with VP8 switch [UPDATE]

Starting this month, users will be experience an increased bit of quality in their Google+ Hangouts video chat as result of the company switching over to a new form of video codec. The video codec itself isn't new, it having been released all the way back in 2010, but it's new to this Google system, and just as video chat begins to hit the likes of smartphones and tablets with Hangouts, Google has let it be known that they'll be bringing a higher definition to the web as well. Speaking with Janko Roettgers of GigaOM, Google's Vice President of Engineering Chee Chew let it be known that Google is switching from H.264 to the codec known as VP8.

According to Chew, this codec will allow for a "cleaner, better video" when users are chatting face-to-face on the web. This VP8 is - and has been since 2010 - open sourced then and offered up royalty-free by Google ever since. With the 2013 integration of VP8 into the web-based Hangouts software, users will be working with HD. That means 720p, in this case, while "Full HD" or 1080p may be a ways off.

If you're aiming to chat with 10 people at once and you're aiming for anything higher than HD at the moment, you'll need to start working on the code for yourself. Meanwhile Google is still working on integrating WebRTC at a greater level with Google+ and Hangouts in the near future. At the moment - according to Chew - they've only got a bit more work ahead of them before they'll be able to transfer Hangouts over to a full WebRTC environment.

It would seem that real-time effects offered in Hangouts are one of the problems they've got to work out in WebRTC before they can move on. WebRTC is integrated deep within Chrome desktop and Android web browsers right this minute - it also works with Firefox and Opera, but Internet Explorer and Apple's Safari will continue to need plugins if they hope to work with the likes of WebRTC (or VP8, for that matter).

This change-over to VP8 - and eventually to WebRTC - means Google no longer relies on the third-party technology known as Vidyo. Google launched Google Talk video chat back in 2008 licensing technology from Vidyo in the process. Here as Hangouts have taken over the full pack of Google messenger apps, and is switching to Google-made video codec, Vidyo is out.

UPDATE: Vidyo is NOT out! A clarification from Chee Chew himself:

"Over the past couple of years, we have worked closely with Vidyo to bring you hangouts. I'm looking forward to continuing this relationship with Vidyo to work on innovations that will make hangouts and WebRTC even better and to bring them to internet standards." - Google Vice President of Engineering Chee Chew

Vidyo has announced that they'll be continuing to work with Google for the greater good of WebRTC, which as you know, is the future of Google's handling of video coding in the future. Google will be using Vidyo's Scalable Video Coding (SVC) extensions within WebRTC and Vidyo will be developing a scalable video extension for the VP9 codec - this will be part of the continued open source project that is WebRTC as a whole.

VIA: Vic Gundotra


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