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Will a Google-Vidyo partnership solve the WebRTC video codec dilemma?

September 12, 2013 | Telepresence Options

vidyo google webrtc

Story and images by Tessa Parmenter / Search Unified Communications

Google is partnering with video conferencing provider Vidyo to improve the�WebRTC�video codec, hastening ratification by international standards bodies. Under the agreement, Vidyo will develop a royalty-free scalable video codec extension for the nascent VP9 codec to improve reliability and quality of browser-to-browser video calls.

Early WebRTC video applications have suffered from poor quality and high bandwidth requirements -- as much as 2 Mbps per session. A scalable video codec (SVC) extension would improve video quality and cut bandwidth usage in half.

"SVC does not send anything that cannot be transmitted or cannot be translated to be displayed. It optimizes the amount of data that it sends to get the best resolution possible ... for the existing network and endpoint condition," said Henry Dewing, principal analyst at Cambridge, Mass-based Forrester Research Inc.

Bandwidth and quality, however, aren't necessarily stopping WebRTC use, Dewing explained. "There's a question of having all of the participants and standards bodies agree to how it works."

WebRTC video codecs: The VP8 and H.264 debate

WebRTC currently uses the VP8 SVC, the predecessor to VP9, but not everyone is happy with this decision.�H.264, a codec with similar quality and bandwidth savings, is more ubiquitous in today's video and telepresence hardware. VP8-based WebRTC would require a gateway or media router to speak with H.264 endpoints.

"You can find [VP8] in some SIP phones and in some custom applications, but it's really hard to find VP8 hardware support in cell phones and hard phones," said Alexey Aylarov, WebRTC board member and CEO of Zingaya Inc., a Palo Alto-based provider of click-to-call services.

However, MPEG LA, the firm that controls video standards licensing, charges patent fees to vendors using the H.264 codec. The firm waived royalty fees in 2010 for vendors offering free Internet video to users (also known as�Internet Broadcast AVC Video). However, the license term ends the last day of 2015, and browser vendors don't want to risk having to pay, or worse yet, make end users pay, to search the Web with WebRTC-enabled browsers.

"The [video codec] controversy is probably the biggest issue with WebRTC so far," Aylarov said. "Half of the [WebRTC] Working Group sees that the WebRTC video codec should be an open codec like VP8 ... and the other half says it's not very important; it's more important that the codec be compatible with other devices and endpoints."

Several video vendors debated the WebRTC video codec in a recent Wainhouse ReasearchCollaborate!�webinar and believed interoperability to be the main issue. "Businesses don't care whether it's H.264; they just want [video] to be interoperable," said Michael Helmbrecht, vice president of video solutions for Austin-based LifeSize.

"Eventually, something's going to have to win out," said Rob Arnold, senior industry analyst at San Antonio-based�Frost�& Sullivan Inc.�"I think right now SVC is looking more like a transition technology than a long-term technology. But I don't know that those companies that have been working with SVC are going to make a wholesale shift in development focus from H.264 to VP8. [Though] it has a lot of support, it's been primarily Google-driven."

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