Engaging in a video chat with a bunch of your buddies from around the world is fun and all, but it’s not so great when everyone is a blurry, pixelated mess. Google has heard your cries and they will soon be offering 720p HD video chat to everyone. In fact, a few select users have already gained access.
Set to roll out to all users in the next few weeks, the HD video upgrade should make for a better overall experience, but they have to make a few changes in order to accommodate the higher resolution video. One of these is switching away from the H.264 codec, freeing them up from royalties, but also moving to the more efficient VP8 codec. They acquired and open sourced VP8 when they purchased On2 Technologies in 2010. This codec requires less processing power and makes it possible for the average user to handle up to ten 720p video streams at once. VP8 isn’t supported by every browser, though. If you’re using IE, Safari or some older mobile clients, you’ll still be able to run Google Hangouts using the H.264 codec instead.
Google is also working toward implementing WebRTC. Google developed and open-sourced this browser-based video chat standard and the idea here is that they will soon be able to implement a plugin-free browser experience for Google Hangouts. WebRTC doesn’t really support some of the features that Hangouts has — like AR hats and glasses — but that’s something that Google will be working on for the next little while.