Google+ Hangouts Go HD, Starting With Hangouts On Air

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Google today announced that it is bringing HD-quality video to Hangouts, its video chat service. The rollout will start with Hangouts on Air, the live-streamed version of Hangouts that makes group chats available for viewing by anybody on Google+, YouTube and as embeds on a user’s website. Everybody else will be able to get access to this feature “over the next few weeks.”

As Google notes, the higher video quality obviously requires an HD-capable webcam, as well as more bandwidth and processing power than a regular video chat.

As our friends over at Gigaom noted earlier today, the company also switched from using the H.264 video codec to its own open VP8 codec in preparation for this move. This switch, Google VP of Engineering Chee Chew told Gigaom, should be virtually invisible for users, but its adoption has now enabled Google to turn on this HD feature.

Google doesn’t just offer an HD version of Hangouts. Last December, it launched a low-bandwidth version of Hangouts with a bandwidth requirement of just 150 kbps.

In the long run, Chew told Gigaom, the team also plans to embrace WebRTC for plugin-free video conferencing, but to do so, the standard still has to mature. It’s also currently not possible for Google to apply many of the effects it offers in Google+ Hangouts through WebRTC. The WebRTC standard also currently doesn’t give developers control over how much bandwidth these chats use without using a proxy server in the middle. Given these restrictions, it will likely take quite a while before the Hangouts team can enable WebRTC for all of its users.