Skype goes VP8, embraces open video codec

Skype (s MSFT) has adopted Google’s (s GOOG) open source video codec VP8 as its default solution for video conferencing, according to a blog post from Google Product Manager John Luther. The new Skype for Windows client 5.5 will automatically use VP8 both for one-on-one and group video calls as long as other participants are using the same version.

Skype has been using VP8 for group video calls since late last year, but the adoption of the codec for one-on-one calls as well is definitely a boost for Google’s open video ambitions. Google open sourced VP8 in May of 2010 as part of its WebM video format, but many end users likely haven’t seen VP8 in action just yet. WebM is supported by Chrome, Opera and Firefox, and YouTube has been converting its entire catalog to the format. However, the site still serves up H.264-encoded videos in Flash by default, and users have to opt in to a special trial to get to see the WebM versions of YouTube videos.

The codec has also been targeted by patent pool entity MPEG LA, which is threatening to form a patent pool for VP8. Google has maintained that companies adopting WebM or VP8 have nothing to fear, and the fact that a company that’s being acquired by Microsoft is willing to put its eggs in the open codec basket definitely should quell some fears and possibly encourage other video sites as well as video conferencing providers to switch to embrace the format. One should note, however, that Microsoft has so far shied away from adopting WebM for its Internet Explorer browser.

WebM developers have long been saying that it is well-suited for real-time applications, and Google itself is working on making VP8 the default video codec for both Google Talk and its new group video chat platform Google+ Hangouts.