Google recently updated their Hangouts feature to include 720p. This is also because they changed their protocols from H.264 to VP8 – with a further upgrade to WebRTC soon.
This was a plan a few years in the making. Google bought VP8 from On2 Technologies in 2010 where they stated it will become more used in the future. The product wasn’t fully ready as there were legal issues to work out and HTML5 standards were just being finalized.
Vidyo was the current licensing vendor for Google’s use of H.264. They served as such since 2008. There is no official news on Google’s partnership with Vidyo, but CEO Ofer Shapiro stated in a blog their partnership is as strong as ever and he couldn’t be happier.
What is VP8
These are all protocols to send high-definition signal. H.264 is the standard at this point, as H.264 is used in Blu-ray discs. However, there are two problems with this codec – 1. it requires a plugin to run; 2. H.264 is a patented codec, therefore, Google has to pay licensing fees to use.
VP8 is different. Google owns the rights to VP and has made it open with a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license. This means you can create products using video with the VP8 standard and not have licensing fees – as long as you attribute to the codec.
VP8 is also a simpler codec than H.264 – leaving a smaller web footprint. The software can then focus on delivery of content the user requests.
What is WebRTC
This is an API by W3C that focuses on browser-to-broswer communication. This includes voice calling, video calling and P2P file sharing (such as a Dropbox). With VP8, new protocols can be initiated and developers can do more, such as make crazy virtual hats you can put on your video head.
In the meantime, to apply a full high-definition video in a hangout, go to the settings and change the voice dropdown to studio.