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Planned 3D web graphics standard taps JavaScript

Hardware speed bump

Broken CD with wrench

SIGGRAPH Two open-source developments move a step closer to hardware-accelerated 3D web graphics that take advantage of the latest capabilities in modern GPUs.

Industry consortium the Khronos Group used SIGGRAPH 2009 in New Orleans, Louisiana, Tuesday to showcase more details about their WebGL working group. Khronos also introduced a number of refinements to its OpenGL API set.

WebGL was introduced at the Games Developer Conference in March, with the goal of moving the web out of its 2D Flatland and into the third dimension.

Khronos said Tuesday that WebGL will define a JavaScript binding to OpenGL ES 2.0 that will enable 3D graphics to run in a browser on any platform that supports either OpenGL or OpenGL ES. The WebGL work will take advantage of the Canvas dynamic-scripting element as defined in the HTML 5 spec.

WebGL's OpenGL ES support is interesting because it would enable the Safari browser in Apple's iPhone to take advantage of 3D hardware acceleration. When The Reg asked a Khronos spokesperson about this eventuality, he could neither confirm nor deny that area of focus.

WebGL members include AMD, Ericsson, Google, Mozilla, Nvidia, and Opera Software. When we noted that neither Apple nor Microsoft - maker of Internet Explorer - are listed as participating in WebGL the spokesperson reminded us that Microsoft isn't one of the dozens of members of the Khronos Group.

Apple, however, is a very active member. The company is a driving force behind the group's OpenCL GPU-assisted parallel computing initiative, for example.

Not being listed as a working-group member doesn't necessarily mean a company isn't playing a behind-the-scenes role, though. And Khronos' spokesperson was mum when we posed that speculation.

Scheduled for its first public release before the middle of next year, WebGL is also being designed to take advantage of what the announcement refers to as "marked increases is JavaScript performance across all major browser."

The 3D web has been garnering a lot of attention recently, but settling on an open standard hasn't been easy. Google, for one, is both working with the WebGL group and developing its own experimental browser plug-in, O3D.

We're hoping that all the major players - Google included - will get behind an open standard. And at first blush, WebGL would appear to be a strong candidate.

Kronos, meanwhile, also announced the latest version of its well-accepted 2D and 3D API set, OpenGL 3.2, the standard's third major update in a year.

The group reported a host of improvements, many designed to take advantage of the increasing abilities - and complexities - of today's GPUs while still providing advantages to existing GPUs. Among the claimed goodies in version 3.2 are increased performance for vertex arrays and fence sync objects, improved pipeline programmability that includes geometry shaders in the OpenGL core, and greater flexibility in visual quality and multisampling rendering that enables shaders to directly process texture samples.

OpenGL 3.2 joins a growing list of open Khronos standards: OpenCL for GPU-assisted computing, OpenGL ES for mobile 3D graphics, the new WebGL for 3D-in-a-browser, and more.

And OpenGL 3.2 isn't just an esoteric cutting-edge set of APIs. According to the Khronos Group, the standard is compatible with over 150 million GPUs already roaming the wild. ®

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