The original aim of Google+ Hangouts was to allow video chat with groups of people. The new Google+ Hangouts On Air option offers a different choice: a live video broadcast which anyone can watch, and which is later archived to YouTube.
Google made the Hangouts on Air option to selected broadcasters last year, but now says the option will be opened up across the world. To use the feature, you need to be over 18 and have an active YouTube account. Like a regular hangout, you can incorporate You can check how many people are watching during a broadcast, and a recording is automatically added to YouTube when your video is finished.
Like most Google rollouts, this is a gradual process, so you might not see the option (which shows up as an 'Enable Hangouts on air' checkbox on the main Hangouts page) for quite a few weeks. Once I get access, I'll be curious to see what the performance is like. Hangouts are virtually the only Google+ feature I find myself using, and while they're convenient, the result even in one-on-one conversations is often variable, with dropouts and screen-glitches very much the norm.
Since their introduction last June, Hangouts have gained a number of features, including bigger video, screen sharing, international calling and their own apps. Tempted by the thought of live broadcasting? Tell us in the comments.
Google+ Hangouts On Air: broadcast your conversation to the world [Official Google Blog]