Mozilla recently showed off a demo of a video chat app built entirely from web standards. Most of the demo runs on top of the proposed Web Real Time Communication (WebRTC) standard, the W3C’s answer to the audio and video streaming capabilities once found only in proprietary plugins like Flash.
Mozilla’s demo movie shows two users signed in with BrowserID (recently renamed Persona) start a video chat right in the browser. The Persona features, combined with the SocialAPI add-on for Firefox, make the demo browser look a bit like Facebook or other social sites with a “buddy list” of currently signed in users available in the sidebar. Select a user from that list and just click the video chat link to start a call.
Currently Mozilla’s video chat demo requires an experimental build of Firefox and actually uses “a custom API intended to simulate the getUserMedia and PeerConnection APIs currently being standardized.” In other words, video chat in Firefox is still a long way from replacing Skype, but Mozilla does plan to bring at least preliminary support to Firefox later this year.
The short-term goal, according to Mozilla hacker Anant Narayanan, who narrates the video above, is to add WebRTC support to Firefox’s Nightly channel “by the end of this quarter.” Narayanan cautions that in the beginning support may be “limited to just getUserMedia and not the full PeerConnection.”
While the demo video focuses on making video calls work in the desktop browser, with help from some other elements in Mozilla’s larger WebAPI project — which is developing a set of APIs that will allow web apps to better compete with platform-native applications — web-based video chat could work on any device. We recently looked at Mozilla’s Camera API, which gives developers access to your device’s camera, and, in conjunction with these video chat tools, could theoretically bring video chat to mobile browsers as well.