Microsoft announced that starting today Skype for Web, as well as the Outlook.com, Office Online and OneDrive services, will support plugin-free voice, video and group video calling in the Edge browser.
The company uses the technology called Object Real-Time Communications (ORTC), which is a simpler and more powerful part of the WebRTC protocol that Microsoft adopted in Edge last fall.
Skype for Web launched last year, but so far you could only chat to other people. If you wanted to do voice calls and video calls, you had to install a plugin as well. Now, thanks to the WebRTC and ORTC technologies, voice and video calls can be done directly in the browser. The downside is that for now, this only works in the Edge browser.
Other browsers haven’t implemented ORTC yet, or if they have, they don’t support the h.264 video codec, which Microsoft has chosen for Skype for Web video calls. Microsoft could’ve also supported the VP9 codec in its service, because it has already integrated support for it in Edge. This would’ve allowed Skype for Web to work fully in Chrome, as well. However, Microsoft seems to prefer h.264 over VP9 right now, even though it can use almost twice as much bandwidth as VP9.
This decision may have something to do with the fact that VP9 is not hardware-accelerated on most devices yet, which means it requires more processing power for the real-time videos to be decoded, which can also consume more battery life. The company said in a previous blog post that it will work on supporting VP8, Google’s previous generation codec, in the future.
Either way, Chrome should support h.264 for WebRTC video calls soon, and Firefox has supported it for a while. Safari has also started working on WebRTC support recently, so it may not be long until Skype for Web works there as well. Microsoft expects Skype for Web to work across the major browsers in the next few months.
In the meantime, Skype for Web will work without a plugin for the Edge browser in Windows 10 version 10.0.10586 and above.
Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom’s Hardware. You can follow him at @lucian_armasu.
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