Fast, smooth, high resolution stereoscopic 3D graphics are coming to a web browser on a PC or Smart TV near you very soon, with many web developers and designers now claiming that 3D is on the verge of going mainstream on the internet.
With lots of new movie and gaming content migrating to the cloud, there is now a strong commercial impetus for web developers and content producers to create browser tech capable of running the latest 3D graphics.
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"The big push today for developers is to create a browser that is capable of harnessing morecomputer power in terms of tasks and performance," says Adam Taylor, in-house analyst at games agency Adotomi.
"One of the big focal points is rendering 3D graphics (as opposed to true 3D) and, with the advent of HTML 5 and custom APIs such as WebGL, we're a step closer to that.
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The 3D web revolution
Mozilla's Firefox was the first browser to add support for 3D HTML5 video and has been working with partners such as Nvidia and YouTube to help lower the barrier for 3D video on the web, "encouraging 3D video innovation built on open webtechnologies,"according to a Mozilla spokesperson.
"We're very excited about the possibility of 3D on the web,"the Mozilla rep added."WebGL enables an entire new class of applications on the web. Being able to take advantage of first-class 3D hardware acceleration in a browser on both desktop and mobile allowsweb developers to create compelling and immersive experiences for their users.
"3D graphics open the door for developers to create spectacular games, vivid graphics and brand-new visual experiences for the web, without requiring users to install plug-ins. Being able to share fully 3D data as easily as people share photos on the web today can help foster collaboration."
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If you have not seen any of the latest WebGL experiments and tech demos (which will work in the latest versions of Chrome, Safari or Firefox) then you might not be aware of how far 3D web-based graphics have already come.
And if you need further convincing that the big money in the games industry is pushing 3D web gaming, look no further than EA's recently released (free to play) Tiger Woods PGA Tour Online.
"The stuff created using WebGL technology is among the most visually stunning we've ever seen on the web," says .net magazine's deputy editor, Oliver Lindberg, citing the 3 Dreams of Black video for Danger Mouse's ROME project as a great example.
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In addition to this, online browser games developers such as Bigpoint and gaming middleware specialists such as Unity are really starting to push the tech boundaries of what is possible when it comes to squeezing the most impressive 3D (and stereoscopic 3D) graphics out of current gen browser and PC hardware tech.
3D Battlestar Galactica
German online gaming developer Bigpoint made a splash at GDC 2011 in San Francisco earlier this year, demonstrating the latest stereoscopic 3D browser games titles Toon Racer, Ruined Online and Battlestar Galactica Online – the first batch of fully 3D games set to be made available through a web browser.
"For rendering 3D graphics inside the browser there are currently two technologies that have significant audience penetration and developer base,, Unity's Web Player browser plugin and WebGL" says Carlos Ulloa creator of the Papervision3D engine for Flash and interactive director at 3D web agency HelloEnjoy. "But in the next few month's we'll see significant developments."
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However, the 3D web expertargues that the potential audience for these developers' work is limited by Unity's 3D editor requiring a plugin install, in addition to the fact that "while it's based in many open source projects, Unity is a proprietary, closed source technology with, currently, no Linux support.
Adobe Flash 11 Molehill
Right now, Unity offers 3D games developers the best overall experience, with advanced rendering, physics and effects. That said, the latest developments with WebGL – which is soon set to arrive in full (non-beta) versions of Safari and Opera, in addition to new mobile versions for iOS and Android – are sure to increase its appeal amongst browser games creators and 3D web designers.
Added to this,with Adobe's 3D-capable Flash 11 on the horizon (code-named Molehill) and other major new 3D browser tech developments such as Google's Native Client O3D,it is clear to see why web designers think we are on the verge of a 3D browser revolution.
"Flash 11 supports accelerated 3D graphics," notes Ulloa, "it still requires a plugin, but has a massive penetration. And Google Native Client is a browser technology that allows the secure execution of native code without any additional install. This means that browsers that support Native Client will run Unity content without installing a plugin.
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In Ulloa's opinion, this"generalisation of Web 3D technologies will allow developers to create better games, with richer visuals and deeper gameplay."
This, in turn,"will attract higher budgets to build bigger and more ambitious projects.3D will become a more familiar technology for users who never played games before, and in the same way it's happening with smartphones, will create a wider and more varied game-playing audience.But3D will be used for more than games, in areas like visualisation, education, simulation and creative apps."
3D WoW in a browser
Indeed, games designer Seb Lee-Delisle explained to Edge magazine recently that we could even "see in-browser MMOGs like World Of Warcraft appearing" following recent tech demonstrations showing WoW running in an iPad browser from cloud-gaming specialists Gaikai.
Meanwhile, other developers are already more than willing to stargaze much further into the future, suggesting that all of these latest developments in 3D browser graphics tech are just the tip of the 3D web iceberg.
"There is no question about it; 3D will most definitely be part of our future," says Ravi Rabheru, sales manager at 3D specialists bluegfx.
"In terms of browser-based technology, YouTube has been able to play stereoscopic video for a long time now. The next stage is to enable this through web-enabled 3D TVs, so that users can select or search for 3D content on YouTube and play directly through the TV without the need for a PC. I would be surprised if we don't see this within the next few months.
"I think the real driver behind what we see now as 3D is going to eventually be a fully interactive, immersive holographic environment. Think of the Holodeck in Star Trek. Of course we're a long way off that sort of technology from what we have today, but it will definitely get there."