OpenTok on WebRTC: Grab your lab coat!

At TokBox, we spend a lot of time keeping up with what’s going on in the world of face-to-face video, because we’re always looking for the best ways to help move the OpenTok platform forward.

Today, we’re very happy to launch OpenTok support for WebRTC through an early-access build generally available to our developer community. While WebRTC is still a ways away from being ready for end users, last week Google took a big step forward towards their vision of what WebRTC could be with their stable release of Chrome 21. That makes this an opportune time to show you what we’ve been working on behind the scenes.

We’re making this build available through OpenTok Labs, a new part of our site for sharing what’s up-and-coming with developers. Through OpenTok Labs, we hope to give you a clearer idea of what we’re working on and what the future of OpenTok will be. And with your feedback, to make that future even brighter.

For those of you unfamiliar with the WebRTC project, it has the potential to dramatically change the quality of face-to-face video across the web. Combining a set of HTML5 APIs with new codecs, AV processing algorithms and peer networking support, WebRTC has the potential to replace Flash as a higher-quality foundation for browser-based face-to-face video. And for those reasons, we’re very excited about WebRTC.

But WebRTC, like other standards efforts, is not likely to follow the smoothest path to market. Just yesterday, Microsoft indicated that it didn’t see eye-to-eye with Google on some of the decisions that Google is pushing in the standard. And that shouldn’t be too surprising – after all, what other browser-based video standard has benefited from general agreements on codecs, protocols and other key issues?

That’s why we take a pretty pragmatic approach. We’re excited about WebRTC, no doubt. But we also know that it’s going to take a while before your end users all have a consistent implementation in their browsers. Some users will have WebRTC. Some will have different codecs. Some won’t have anything at all.

At TokBox, our job is to sort through fragmented environments like these and make life simpler for you. After all, you just want face-to-face video in your app, without having to worry about standards wars, telling your users to download or install any scary plugins, or giving them crazy configuration instructions.

What you need us to do is easy to describe: detect and assess browser and device environments, figure out how to connect two, three, or three hundred endpoints together, and deliver the best quality we can to your end users. Whether that’s over WebRTC or Flash. Peer-to-peer or cloud-routed. Via an open standard or with our own proprietary stack. Then add additional services and features – archiving, device interoperability, and the like – so you can let your app fly.

By using WebRTC well, OpenTok can continue to keep life simple for developers while making end users even happier. And that will make us very happy here at TokBox.

Our new Labs build starts to paint this vision. And in that same build, we’re also leveraging native JavaScript WebSockets communications for all internal OpenTok messaging. Which makes everything else about OpenTok – beginning with how long it takes to connect to a session – a whole heckofalot faster…

If you haven’t already experienced it for yourself, you should. Make sure your Chrome release is up to date, and wander over to the Labs to visit the future today.