WebRTC: The future of video streaming?

The term ‘video streaming’ introduced in the late 90s by Microsoft (with WMP) and Apple (with Quicktime) to create more flexible media transport. Due to the relatively slow internet connections of the time, the idea of displaying parts of a video while it was still downloading and not after its completion, seemed extremely attractive. However, these early attempts had a major drawback. The user often had to install more than one media players in order to support the new video formats. The solution was given in the previous decade by ADOBE, which introduced its flash video plugin, dominating the market of live streaming, mainly because of its adoption by youtube.

With the nowadays internet speed and CPU power, and with the new optimized compressed video formats the need for a new live streaming API emerged. The decision of Apple not to support the proprietary flash API in its mobile devices, while they were being loved by the huge majority of consumers, made this need even greater. Google in 2011, started the WebRTC project for browser based real time communication, leading the way to a new era. As it was an open source project and it became part of Google Chrome, it soon became widely accepted, mainly due to the following obvious reasons:

  • It does not use proprietary software. This means that web developers have the power to create real time communication applications with video and audio streaming, using open programming languages both on client (javascript, HTML5) and server (JAVA, PHP, etc) side.
  • No flash, applets or other external components need to be installed in the user’s pc. The requirement to support Flash, Java Applets or to download external components makes user’s life difficult. With WebRTC, any device that has a browser and an internet connection can stream video and audio
  • This project is supported by one of the leaders in the Internet industry. It is not just a software company like ADOBE. Not just a programming API like JAVA Applet. Google had the ability to put the project on rails, support it with its browser and its operating system, offering the complete package

So is WebRTC ready to be the next ‘flash’? Not quite yet and a lot of work has to be done. The protocols used are still not matured/finalized and the APIs are not accepted by all major browsers. Firefox and Chrome have adopted it and rumors say that Internet Explorer will follow soon.  Some bugs depending on the cameras’ drivers’ or OS audio and video settings still exist as well as security concerns about the privacy of the user’s stream.

Nevertheless, the number of software companies investing in WebRTC which offer live streaming or video conference web applications has dramatically increased. Moreover, the growth of cloud computing leads to web applications based on pure web client languages (HTML5, JAVASCRIPT and CSS). WebRTC totally fits this new era of powerful web client apps, especially if they run on tablets or mobile phones, offering freedom from special hardware or software requirements.

Last modified onWednesday, 18 March 2015 15:17
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Fylaktopoulos George

Fylaktopoulos George

George Fylaktopoulos is a senior software engineer with 9+ years of experience in Software analysis, developer of information systems, development of web applications, web services and mobile devices

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