Google wants Hangouts On Air to become the way musicians stream concerts from their garage or the stadium, so today it launches Studio Mode, an option that lets broadcasters optimize sound quality for real-time music instead of voice. Studio Mode makes a big difference, turning the noisy digital gargle into something closer to CD-quality. I’ve confirmed with Google that Studio Mode streams in stereo at a higher bitrate through a different codec. The feature is rolling out of the course of the day.
Right now, Ustream is a popular choice for artists to share their concerts with people at home, but Google could get everyone rocking Hangouts if Studio Mode makes listeners feel as if they’ve traded their crappy old MP3 for vinyl. You can hear the difference in the video below.
Without Studio Mode, Hangouts sound like they’re playing through crappy Apple earbuds no matter when device you’re listening on. Voices crack, drums seem distant, and rich bass and guitar tones sound sound flat and empty. Once enabled, its like you’ve been transported into the room with band. The bass rumbles, vocals retain emotion, and the high frequencies feel sharp and clean.
Studio Mode is available as an audio setting in Hangouts On Air, an extension Google’s video chat service that let people stream to an unlimited audience instead of just 10 people. Only the person running the Hangout has to switch to it to give their whole audience the benefits. Right now the rollout of Studio Mode has only reached 25% of users, so you should see it soon if you don’t already have the option in Hangouts.
The Studio Mode announcement follows a number of other developments around music for the search giant. Last week Google made a major concession to the music industry when it announced it would start reducing the search result prominence of websites that receive copyright infringement notices. These illegal sites have long sucked traffic away from legitimate sources of songs, leading to lost revenue for the big record companies.
Meanwhile, Google took a bit of a stumble in the music arena when it recently declared that the release of Nexus Q music streaming device would be indefinitely postponed. Many thought the product originally given away to developers at the I/O conference had too little functionality to warrant its $300 price point.
Hangouts On Air are already proving popular with musicians, with some creating open mic hangouts where anyone can perform. If Google can get musicians hooked on Hangouts, they might encourage their fans to buy songs and albums through the Google Music section of Google Play. That could help Google turn its fledgling entry into music sales into a real competitor to iTunes and Spotify.
Here’s what Google+ Hangouts On The Air sound like with and without Studio Mode. Going back to the unoptimized sound makes my ears cry, so good job Google. This is a huge improvement.