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How video chat on Android tablets is about to improve

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Google Talk (s goog) video chat users with Honeycomb tablets can soon start walking and talking, thanks to SRI International, a nonprofit research institute. On Thursday the Menlo Park, Calif., organization announced availability of its 2D video stabilization software for Google Talk video. The software not only minimizes any shaking on the incoming video but could also reduce the amount of effort needed from a device to encode the video, which can help battery life.

Here’s how SRI explains the stabilization solution that was chosen by Google for use in Google Talk on tablets:

Video chat applications capture video from the front-facing camera on smartphones and tabletsOnce an image is acquired by a camera, it is compressed before it can be transmitted. In video compression algorithms, the bandwidth used to encode the video increases with the amount of motion in the scene.

By stabilizing the video, SRI’s software compensates for scene motion and allows the video compression algorithm to improve image quality by using fewer bits to encode the video. There is increased mobile device efficiency when an image is stabilized before compression, and there is less work for a device’s video compression engine to perform.

One one hand, I don’t believe that most people are walking and video chatting at the same time. And I’m not sure I even want to see people doing so; they’re likely to hurt themselves or someone else. But I’ve personally seen a need for image stabilization when video chatting with my son. He’s often on a mobile device and walking around the house when chatting with me from his mom’s home. It drives me crazy, to be honest, so if SRI is looking for beta testers in the future, I have a prime, youthful candidate.

On the other hand, there’s little doubt that stationary computing is becoming a legacy activity for some. Consumers and enterprises alike are doing more while away from a desk, kitchen table or other “traditional” computing area. Tablets and smartphones are gaining or already have front-facing video cameras for chatting, while new software applications are popping up or adding video calls. So while the masses may not yet be walking and video talking, it looks like this communication will be used on the go more often. Gaining image stability for moving video chats won’t make it a safer activity, but it will make it more enjoyable.

The side benefits from SRI’s solution are nice for mobile devices, too. If a device doesn’t have to work as hard to compress a video due to image stabilization before compression, that can marginally reduce the power load and bring some battery efficiency. Only heavy video chatters are likely to see any improved battery life as compared to non-optimized video chatting, but every little bit of juice is precious when it comes to mobile devices. Even the most portable device is rendered useless with a dead battery.