JAX London 2014: A retrospective
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Chrome and Firefox phone in to P2P in-browser video chat standard

ElliotBentley
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Browser devs show off the power of WebRTC, a “Skype-killing” new standard, in a cross-browser video call.

Google and Mozilla have shown off a new browser-based peer-to-peer video chat capability developed as the result of a joint effort between their engineers.

The native P2P video functionality is part of the new WebRTC standard which, though still in development, has advanced to the point to allow communication between browsers by different vendors.

To celebrate, twin blog posts were released by the Chromium team and on Firefox Hacks, titled “Hello Firefox, this is Chrome calling!” and “Hello Chrome, it’s Firefox calling!”. Both include a slightly goofy video demonstrating WebRTC in action in a conversation between Mozilla’s Chief Innovation Officer, Todd Simpson, and Google’s Director of Product Management, Hugh Finnan.

WebRTC

Currently, only desktop Chrome 25 Beta and Firefox Nightly for Desktop currently support the video chat demo, the source code of which is available on Google Code.

It’s a warm and fuzzy publicity coup for both organisations, but also a testament to the groundbreaking capabilities being baked into modern browsers and the successful adoption of open web standards. On the Chromium blog, Lachapelle writes:

In order to succeed, a web-based communications platform needs to work across browsers. Thanks to the work and participation of the W3C and IETF communities in developing the platform, Chrome and Firefox can now communicate by using standard technologies such as the Opus and VP8 codecs for audio and video, DTLS-SRTP for encryption, and ICE for networking.

The WebRTC standard has been shown off before: Last November, Mozilla demonstrated a similar demo that incorporated Firefox’s social API, allowing immediate sharing of links and files with another person (albeit not between different types of browser).

However, the standard defines more than just video calls: the Data Channel API within the WebRTC specification allows data of any kind to be transferred directly between browsers, not just audio and video.

Hacker News user Huon Wilson wrote of the potential of Data Channels: “This gives multiplayer games, file transfers, realtime chat and collaborative editors (let your imagination run wild…) and the only thing a server is required for is establishing the connection (and saving state).”

These are still far off in the future, although the idea of a native browser-based “Skype-killer” has just become one step closer to reality.

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