WebGL promises to bring hardware-accelerated graphics to the Web

The Khronos Group, the same industry consortium that on Monday released the OpenGL 3.2 specification, on Tuesday announced WebGL, a new initiative that its proponents hope will drive a standard for the display of hardware-accelerated 3D graphics on the Web.

WebGL was announced in March at the Game Developer Conference (GDC) in San Francisco. The WebGL working group includes companies like AMD and Nvidia — the two main supplier of graphics chips for personal computer and video game consoles — along with Google, Mozilla, Ericsson and Opera.

WebGL defines a standard that uses OpenGL ES 2.0 — a 2D and 3D graphics programming framework that operates as a subset of the “desktop” OpenGL standard — bound to JavaScript, the popular scripting language that enjoys ubiquitous support in modern Web browsers. The Khronos Group indicated that WebGL will leverage technology in the emergent HTML 5 specification.

Hardware-based graphics acceleration in a Web browser isn’t a new idea, though up until now it’s largely remained the domain of proprietary formats like Adobe Flash. WebGL would offer an alternative that functions as an open standard, with a specification available royalty-free to any developers who want to use it. The Khronos Group hopes to have a first public release of WebGL ready in the first half of 2010.

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