Interactive 3D graphics for the Web, at last

Two research groups say they are working on a common proposal to add advanced graphics capabilities to HTML.

Up until now, it is claimed, interactive 3D graphics have not been available on the World Wide Web, even though "almost all PCs as well as mobile and embedded devices already contain high-performance 3D graphics hardware to process it." Two development groups have teamed up to change that.

National Gallery of Art Photo by Joe McKendrick

In a joint press release published at Phys.Org, the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence and Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research report they "are working to describe computer scenes in spatial detail directly within the websites’ code."

The two teams report they have agreed on a common proposal to extend the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) to include advanced graphics capabilities.

The two institutes originally each had their own proposals, namely X3DOM and XML3D, but say they are now distilling their technologies into common components to bring interactive and highly dynamic 3D graphics to the declarative world of HTML.

The proposal is intended to allow for describing 3D geometry, its material properties (shaders), lights, and virtual cameras as new HTML elements. "These elements can be used almost exactly like existing HTML elements. Therefore, millions of Web developers can quickly begin to include interactive 3D visualizations in their Web applications," says Philipp Slusallek, professor for computer graphics at Saarland University and scientific director in the DFKI and in the Intel Visual Computing Institute (VCI).

Here's a synopsis of the potential benefits to be seen from the project, as stated by Kristian Sons, head of the XML3D research group at DFKI/VCI:

"The proposed declarative extension to HTML offers a high-level approach for Web developers, extending the low-level procedural approach to talk to graphics hardware now offered by WebGL. "Instead of requiring Web developers to become WebGL experts or learn new APIs, we are adding advanced graphics capabilities to HTML, allowing Web developers to reuse their existing skills and directly apply the Web technology they use on a daily basis."

WebGL, or Web Graphics Library, is a JavaScript API for rendering interactive 3D graphics and 2D graphics within any compatible web browser without the use of plug-ins. (Wikipedia)

At least two implementations will be made available, the groups say: For the short term a JavaScript implementation using WebGL for rendering will allow developers to get started immediately, while a native implementation integrated within the browser will offer optimal performance and full functionality.

(Photo by Joe McKendrick. Hallway in National Gallery of Art.)


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