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The Coming of the GPU-Accelerated Web

The Coming of the GPU-Accelerated Web



The Web Revolution is Coming...

The Web Revolution is Coming...

While the need for a good GPU is apparent for gaming and selective content creation tasks, it won't be long before you need a reasonable GPU before you can even browse the internet. Following our Internet Explorer 9 Beta launch last week, we found that several site owners are really hoping to build a great web experience, now that a reasonable level of broadband penetration has been reached. Assuming a good connection, they are hoping to get very responsive browsers with support for the latest webs standards, while the web content interacts with the site user as if it's a native application to the system and not running it off the web. Currently, some level of this experience is possible via JavaScript and Flash, though they are still not fast and smooth enough in certain implementations.

Enter HTML5 with the latest levels of the markup language supported, CSS3, XHTML, DOM levels 1 and 2, WOFF and much more. Furthermore, with the support of Canvas tags in HTML5, it enables dynamic, scriptable 2D graphics rendering that scalable vector graphics (SVG), WebGL, direct implementation of audio and video without plug-ins. For examples and experiences with HTML5 and more, Microsoft has this test drive site that has an excellent showcase HTML5 in action (along with tests boasting IE9 Beta's positive aspects). Yet another example of a HTML5 enabled site with SVG and more is a test site that the Associate Press is working on with Vectorform to improve their site experience in future.

Of note here is SVG; it really hasn't gained much traction until recently when Internet Explore 9 Beta was around the corner. While supported on other browsers, IE's previous incarnations only supported a very basic subset of HTML5 and thus SVG support wasn't one of them. With IE holding the lion's share of the worldwide browser market of about 60%, the new IE9 with full HTML5 support is going to be a real driver towards SVG traction and usage. What's more is that IE9 can greatly speedup SVG implementation with its hardware accelerated graphics support and thus, handle a lot more complex sites.

Another possible growth area that NVIDIA highlighted in the GPU Technology Conference 2010 is 3D graphics support with WebGL. Think of WebGL Quake if you will. Of course its implementation greatly depends on the software supporting hardware graphics acceleration and unlike SVG, IE9 has no 3D acceleration support at the moment. However its rivals Firefox and Chrome do in their upcoming editions.

As you can see, HTML5 itself isn't the killer solution as it is an ever-evolving spec, so it really depends on the browsers and to what extent they've evolved to support the various standards. The other aspect is the progress of web browsers themselves. With ever more fancy content variety being incorporated onto websites, the need for browsers to responsively support all of this without being bogged down and enable next generation experience is looking to be as crucial as the standards it supports. For example, while Internet Explore 9 Beta is the first browser to support hardware accelerated graphics with DirectX and D2D and DirectWrite APIs, it doesn't support 3D acceleration as pointed above. The problem is further compounded by the fact that rendering and accelerating the web on various platforms greatly differ in their implementations and thus user experience is bound to vary as well. Grappling these aspects would be the tougher aspect for all browser vendors to ensure there's cross-platform consistency and to assure users of a certain level of experience.

 

Does Hardware Matter?

With hardware accelerated graphics rendering support on browsers, it does beg the question if varying hardware would affect performance of your web experience. This mini video clip from NVIDIA should certainly help answer that:-

Now that's a resounding yes! Some experts would have course next point out that this would mean a varying level of web experience and performance across various systems for everyone. Think of it this way - currently, the more platform performance you have, the greater your applications and sometimes even your internet experience improves. The only different is that now, hardware accelerated graphics support on browsers will tap on to the GPU as well. Here's a couple more slides from NVIDIA on their performance findings at this point of time:-

 

3D Vision Live (beta) - World's First 3D Streaming Web Channel

The idea of this new initiative from NVIDIA is to provide a video destination that will stream 3D trailers, music videos, sports and other short 3D video content. The requirements is as captured in the below presentation slide, but you basically still require a 3D Vision equipped PC, Microsoft Silverlight 4 browser plug-in, and tuning yourself to 3dvisionlive.com. The site is still experimental at this point of time, but this is another avenue or showcase where GPUs are involved in the web experience. For those of us who don't have the right hardware and software to view this new site, we've captured this mini video to show you what it's like:-

 

Closing Notes

So it seems that the GPU-accelerated web is on its way with emphasis on 2D, 3D rendering and video playback performance. However, there's still a lot of work to be done by a lot of vendors and browser suppliers to sort our standards and ensure experience across various browsers are on a somewhat equal level before more web developers embrace the next generation of internet experience. However when it does arrive, it will certainly be a transformational one.