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NTT launches browser-to-browser chatroom with avatars

SkyWay uses WebRTC for video and audio chats through Chrome and Opera

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If you don't mind being represented by a feline avatar, NTT Communications has a quirky video chatroom just for you.

The networking arm of Japan's NTT Group launched a Web app that allows browser-to-browser communication for voice, video and data exchange.

WebRTC Chat on SkyWay makes use of WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communications), a peer-to-peer communications platform using HTML5 that allows video and audio conferencing if you have an up-to-date version of Chrome, Firefox or Opera.

NTT's SkyWay chatroom works with the Chrome and Opera browsers. Users have to point their browser to the SkyWay site, create a chatroom and invite friends. No registration or downloads are needed.

Conversations take place in a virtual room, where each person is represented by a cartoon-style cat avatar that evokes the characters in the Line chat app, which is wildly popular in Japan. Clicking on other avatars in the room starts video or audio calls.

The room has a few humorous features. For instance, hitting a large cartoon gong produces a booming sound and a shower of animated clapping frogs.

It's a cartoonish take on similar WebRTC-based video chat sites such as Talky.io and vLine.com.

Unlike the recently launched peer-to-peer app FireChat, which uses Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to establish off-grid, ad hoc communication networks, WebRTC needs an Internet link.

NTT Communications, which calls SkyWay the first service of its kind in Japan, said the browser-to-browser service offers an encrypted, private communications channel where only the start and end points of a conversation are stored on a server. The company is offering the website as a one-year free trial.

"We want to promote real-time web services with WebRTC technologies," spokesman Kensaku Komatsu said in an email.

NTT Communications also wants to use the know-how gained from the trial to improve services and products, particularly with regard to system designs, operations and monitoring, he added.

Backed by major players such as Google and Mozilla as well as startups, WebRTC is being touted as a game-changer for Web-based communications and a threat to apps such as Skype.

So far, it isn't supported by Microsoft's Internet Explorer or Apple's Safari browsers.



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