Blabbelon Launches HD VoIP for Video Games

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Blabbelon Launches HD VoIP for Video Games

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Video gamers love VoIP in video games but have often been disappointed with poor voice quality - including jitter, lag, and choppiness, inability to continue to talk via VoIP once you close the game and just an overall poor user experience. Well, Blabblelon aims to change all that with the launch of their browser-based VoIP application which uses a mix of Java and Flash to VoIP-enable any PC, Mac, or Linux computer. The beauty of Blabbelon is that it works at the browser-level, so you can VoIP your friends whether you are inside the video game or not. With Blabbelon, you can blab all you want - even start your own blab-a-thon if you want.

Blabbelon is not to be confused with Babylon where the story goes that God wasn't too pleased with the Tower of Babel the people built, so he took one common language and confounded it into many so they couldn't understand each other. Well, Blabbelon may not be a Star-Trekkian universal translator-- or some anti-Tower-of-Babel gizmo helping you to understand what that French guy who just fragged you said, but it will give you crystal clear wideband HD voice.

Leveraging Skype's wideband SILK codec the audio quality is superb. In fact, as far as I know, this marks the first time anyone has embedded the SILK codec into Java. When I interviewed Blabbelon, I asked them if anyone else had successfully embedded Skype's SILK codec within Java and they confirmed they are the first. They pointed out that it took serious coding and some tricks to get the SILK codec embedded into Java. Dean Elwood, CEO of telecom provider Voxygen Limited and chief technology strategist of Blabbelon explained they are using a LAMP architecture on the back-end and the front-end is a combination of Java and Flash. Dean said, "Because Skype is only releasing binaries and not source code. The naked binaries are not Java, so we had to do a few tricks to get Java to work nicely with binaries for Mac and Windows. It's not an easy thing to do. Getting it into the browser we had to do some work."

The browser-based VoIP chat tool not only leverages Skype's SILK super wideband audio codec, but it can handle thousands of simultaneous users - up to 7,000 in fact. According to Blabbelon, "Blabbelon provides a platform for a wide variety of users such as: gamers securely competing in team-based quests; businesses running 7,000 person global conference calls; or grandparents taunting grandkids over a game of Facebook Scrabble."

I took it for a test drive and it worked pretty well with very good voice quality. I was able to hit a "hot key", by default the right Ctrl-key and then talk to my other test account. Here's a screenshot (click for larger image):
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The key part about the hotkey is that it works whether or not you have your browser in the foreground. Thus, you can be in full-screen gaming mode and press the hotkey (right Ctrl) to push to talk. This was a technical challenge according to Blabbelon. Dean said, "It was tricky to get Shift and Ctrl intercepted using Java. They're not easy keys to intercept. Bearing in mind the when the user is engaged with Blabellon, the browser isn't in the foreground. So maintaining that hotkey mechanism within Java and using the Ctrl and Function (F1-F12) keys on the keyboard was another problem we had to solve. But it's the right thing for the product, so we had to find a solution for that."

I asked if games such as WoW which have their own VoIP systems built-in are their primary competitors. Blabbelon CEO Ed Ikeguchi said, "Almost all of these games have their own VoIP system built-in, including WoW which then begs the question, 'why don't people use it?' I mean literally no one uses it. It's primarily to do with the voice quality built into these games are very poor. Yes, it gets the job done, but it's very much like the Xbox Live system which is very scratchy, mono audio. The other really big thing is if you're inside WoW and I party up with you because you and I are going to do an activity. We can turn on the voice system in-game and we talk to each other. But that's not necessarily what gamers are striving for. Because after you and I leave the group or break the party up, we want to keep talking, switch to another game, etc. The in-game system won't let you do that."

With Blabbelon, session leaders can use, create and maintain their own private or public groups through a number of features such as texting, e-mail notifications and privacy management. Users can run Blabbelon in their Web browser, while simultaneously using other online applications - with no impact on their overall network performance, since Skype's SILK codec was designed to use approximately 50% less network bandwidth than previously required.

Blabbelon will initially focus on a core audience of the millions of online gamers and players of Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games such as the very popular World of Warcraft (WoW). Online gaming today consists of guilds and clans getting onto hundreds if not thousands of voice servers so they can IM/chat and talk/VoIP. Popular VoIP/IM servers used in online gaming include Ventrilo and Teamspeak.

Blabblelon CEO Ed Ikeguchi explained, "The systems presently in place have been discovered by gamers because scale very nicely, they are relatively inexpensive, though typically they pay for them. I looked at the landscape and found that it could potentially be an interesting opportunity." He continued, "One because it just felt like gaming was becoming more and more social. but found that maybe it could be an opportunity to improve on the technology because it's all somewhat antiquated." He explained, "Meaning very heavy client/download software that has to be configured in a pretty techy-way with firewall ports, IP addresses and the like. Really in this day and age we felt that it would be worthwhile if we could put it into a pure Internet experience through a browser. in so doing, try and implement some improvements like better sound quality and ability to configure systems to the liking of the individual.

"Blabbelon is one of the first third-party developers to take advantage of our SILK codec in order to deliver clearer, richer, and warmer wideband audio to consumers," added Jin Kim, head of business development and IP licensing for Skype. "Blabbelon's adaptation of SILK into its Web-based voice chat service clearly demonstrates SILK's potential for delivering a good user experience across a broad quality of network connections."

"SILK's ability to provide super wideband-quality sound using a minuscule amount of bandwidth is a huge accomplishment. We immediately saw the potential this had in building the next-generation of chat services," said Ed Ikeguchi, CEO, Blabbelon.

My one suggestion is to allow you to simultaneously be in two groups and allow 2 separate hotkeys. The private "team talk" can be used for coordinating your team efforts while the public hotkey is used to publicly "trash talk" the opposing team (voice is sent to both groups).

Available immediately, Blabbelon is hosted by Rackspace, which offers 100% uptime through Rackspace's worldwide network and zero downtime guarantees.


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