Android Central Podcast on Hangouts

Better video quality with less bandwidth and no third-party code

Some of us may have noticed an increase in Google+ Hangouts quality in recent weeks, but the bump to 720p HD video is more than a simple settings change — it's the move to a brand new video codec called VP8. Prior to this transition, Google was using the more widely-known H.264 to handle video in Hangouts but has run into issues handling multiple video streams at high quality with the codec.

VP8 is a royalty-free and open codec that brings several improvements for the end user, including higher video quality — which is rolling out to everyone now — and group video calling in the browser without any additional plugins. The overall reduced bandwidth required for VP8 video also means that Google can now serve up higher quality streams with even less data.

The other part of this move to higher-quality and lower-bandwidth video is WebRTC, which is a new video standard that Google has been a big proponent of and has integrated in both desktop and Android versions of Chrome. Google has planned to move completely to WebRTC for Hangouts but a few issues have prevented it from happening. Those issues are being solved and we could see it in the coming months.

The end result for us as users of Hangouts is better quality with no third-party code or plugins required to do video chats in the browser, and that's a big deal. We're clearly still in a transitional period, but you shouldn't see any hiccups along the way — Google says the transition from H.264 to VP8 will be completely seamless from the front-end.

Source: GigaOM

 
There are 29 comments

Choorp says:

Finally! So glad that we're getting HD Hangouts.

Could reword this into "Google's latest attempt at forcing VP8 adoption". None of the reasons they provided have been backed by statistical analysis. Even worse, VP8 doesn't even have hardware acceleration on most devices, so performance will actually be WORSE than it was with h264.

dscribe says:

Yeah, I guess Google wants to degrade our hangouts experience, huh? A.K.A. What's the motive?

The motive to pushing VP8? Not having to pay h264 licenses, obviously. They add up, especially for large businesses. They force it wherever they can to force adoption in hardware so they can stop using h264 across all their services (think YouTube).

still1 says:

Google own that h264 patent(Motorola) so that point don't make any sense at all.
Google don't have to pay any royalty.

Owning a patent doesn't absolve you of any licensing fees. In addition, they had a license since before they bought Motorola.

still1 says:

even then moving to an open web standard is wrong??? lets use flash and silverlight instead of HTML5

There is no law stating HTML5 must be VP8. HTML5 is format agnostic, you can use anything (including h264, which they should be using).

VP8 itself is only claimed to be "patent unburdened", but Google refuses to state why, and won't protect those sued over it. Doesn't inspire confidence.

mwara244 says:

The real question is how long till 4K?

brendilon says:

Actually, yes, it does.

Then tell the MPEG-LA because Google is still listed as a licensee.

Proof: http://www.mpegla.com/main/programs/AVC/Pages/Licensees.aspx

dscribe says:

Since Google owns Motorola, they are essentially paying themselves. So, big deal.

brendilon says:

1. You assume that the list is up to date, which is not a safe assumption to make.
2. Being listed as a licensee isn't the same as actually paying licensing fees.
3. Even if Google was paying licensing fees, it's a ZERO cost issue for them since it goes right back into their other pocket. They'd be spending exactly zero dollars on licensing fees.
There is no logic whatsoever to your argument; do yourself a favor and stop embarrassing yourself by complaining about how Google is trying to avoid paying themselves licensing fees.

1. It's a much better source than what you've provided (none at all).
2. Actually, it kinda is, according to their site.
3. What in the world makes you think that because you own /a/ patent (and not even a major one, that's why even Motorola isn't listed as a licensor), that you automatically pay nothing? There are OTHER companies on that list, and a lot of them. Also, the MPEG-LA themselves need to make money.

And finally, it's not a complaint, it's blatantly obvious and was pretty much stated outright at the previous I/O conference when they announced it.

FortTech101 says:

So should I uploading my YouTube videos in that format to save money for Google? But when I upload it, it says QuickTime, not H264.

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tech_head says:

QuickTime is a container format that can hold H.264.

dazweeja says:

The money is certainly not the issue for a company like Google. The idea of having a proprietary technology at the heart of the internet is. It certainly would be preferable to avoid this situation if possible. MPEG-LA have been very good with licensing their proprietary tech but it is in their interests to see wide-spread adoption. That doesn't mean that there is no risk that they will change their position in the future. It is very much like Flash and HTML5. Flash was superior in most areas to the open source equivalents for many years, and still is in some areas. The doesn't mean that developing HTML5 and pushing it's adoption should not have been attempted. H.264 is in most cases superior to VP8. But VP9 is closer to being equivalent to H.265 and this is a crucial time period for Google to get hardware support for VP9 from component manufacturers.

Getting hardware support for VP9... which they aren't using. Yeah, great. That'll work.

Honestly, I could buy into the whole "we want to avoid licensing messes" if it wasn't for the fact that there's been next to zero evidence that VP8 its decendents are really patent unencumbered. Google won't even pledge to protect companies wishing to use the technology if such patent suits arise.

htowngator says:

Too bad the hangouts apk rolls out slowly

Anyone have a link to it?

Quality much better damn it's clear

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FortTech101 says:

I hoped they fixed the video where it would go to someone else's camera, it would blur the person for about a second, then make them clear. That annoyed me and you could really see it's effect on Hangouts on YouTube.

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Anyone have the new apk?

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Grahaman27 says:

Vp8 rocks, I'm glad to see Google is one of the first to use it.

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tech_head says:

VP8 isn't a standard. There are no reference documents available and the only thing that can be used to implement VP8 is the actual "C" library to dereive from. They may have compliance streams but do not be confused VP8 is not a standard like MPEG or H.264 (IEC); there is no written spec.

Google got VP8 technology when they purchased On2.
VP8 has worse quality at the same bitrate vs. h.264.
Now most people won't notice but this is so Google does not pay the royalties for H.264. It's not clear whether VP8 infringes or not. It certainly does use some elements from H.264.

What is doesn't have is the equivalent of "High Profile Intra" from H.264.

Anyway, I digress.

brendilon says:

Holy Jesus...
You do realize that Motorola owns H.264 patents right? Which means Google does? And that h.264 is royalty free through 2015 and stands a good chance of being extended beyond that? And even if it's not, the royalty max is $5m, which is about 1/2,000th of their annual profit? To put it in perspective, that's about how much Google makes in profit (not revenue) in 6 hours.
I don't think Google is worried about the licensing fees.

rhodri22 says:

Sigh...

Motorola does indeed own a large number of patents directly relating to H.264 video, however they do not own all of them as there are actually 26 other companies with H.264 patents, who, between them, own several patents that are integral to H.264 compression technologies that are almost certainly used by Google to reduce used bandwidth, for which they will be paying a licence fee.

As for the 'royalty free' use, you clearly have misunderstood. The agreement states that end users will never be charged for the use of H.264 technologies in encoded internet video, but Google would still have to pay a licence free for the encoding implementation that they provide for the user.

As for the cost, it would probably cost Google some $6.5 million a year to licence the technology that they don't own from the other 26 companies, if Google stops needing to licence the technology then they could leave the MPEG-LA AVC group that guarantees fair prices for patent licence sharing, thus allowing Google to set their own prices for the patents they hold with no fear of similar financial costs to licence the other H.264 patents.

StevesBalls says:

Thank you for the great comment. The article does a really poor job in regard to VP8 vs H.264. Step your game up AC...

mech1164 says:

As much as this is great and all. I'd rather they pushed Google Voice and SMS to the Hangouts apk. Do that and then that will be something to crow about. Until then this is just theater dressing to me.

Cue Apple fanboy fragmentation arguments

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