Google Hangouts Going HD, May Enter Enterprise Market
August 29, 2013

Google Hangouts Going HD, May Enter Enterprise Market

Michael Harper for - Your Universe Online

Google has begun to upgrade its Hangouts video conferencing feature to include 720p HD video, thanks to a switch from the H.264 video codec to VP8, an open source and royalty free video codec introduced in 2010. The switch allowed Google to begin offering 720p video without taxing users’ processors.

This video efficiency also opens the door for Google to begin offering the same high-quality video to mobile users. The switch to VP8 and 720p video has been happening quietly over the past few weeks and will continue until it’s completely rolled out. Yet it’s the future of Google Hangouts that has most people talking.

Though the company is switching to VP8, this technology is merely a stepping stone to WebRTC, a technology which will be natively supported by almost every browser.

When Google first announced Hangouts, plug-ins had to be installed to allow video playback and other features built in to the video conferencing web app. Plug-ins are hassles, however, and being able to offer a service without one makes for happier users.

Google’s Hangouts is a more fully-featured video conferencing option, one which can place silly hats on top of the participants and place them in front of a myriad of backdrops. Doing this kind of heavy lifting isn’t easy and requires some clever development work and the need for better, more efficient protocols. Google has for over two years now had its eye on the new emerging standard WebRTC and hope it will allow users to do all they want without the need for plug-ins.

The search giant is already building its Chrome browser (both Android and desktop versions) to support WebRTC, meaning Hangouts could one day run just as well on mobile devices as they do on the desktop. Other browsers are also ready to embrace the WebRTC. Apple is the lone holdout and has not promised to support this new standard on Safari, according to a Mashable report.

Google leaving H.264 for VP8 also lets it get away from using code from a third-party to power Hangouts. Vidyo’s implementation of H.264 and some of its scalable video coding technology has been powering Google’s video conferencing offerings since the Google Talk days. As Google moves to VP8 — and eventually VP9 — Vidyo’s H.264 contribution is no longer needed. Yet, despite this, the two companies are likely going to continue working with one another well into the future. Vidyo is ready to make the switch to WebRTC along with Google and will support its VP9 technology as well.

"Vidyo has been a great partner, working with Google to provide a high quality video solution for Hangouts,” said Chee Chew, vice president of engineering at Google in a Vidyo statement.

“By continuing our relationship, we will now combine the power of WebRTC with the benefits of Vidyo’s technology to deliver the best possible experience for our users,” he added.

The Vidyo statement also briefly mentioned an enterprise version of Hangouts for businesses.

“Vidyo and Google plan to develop additional capabilities to further optimize the Hangouts experience for enterprise users,” reads the extent of its acknowledgment of this plan.

Such a move would not be surprising.

Google has often taken competitors head-on by entering their market. If Google prices an enterprise Hangouts as aggressively as Google Docs, it’s likely Cisco, Microsoft and Polycom will have something to be worried about.