Interactive 3D to come to HTML

Web developers could soon be able to start including interactive 3D in their applications, thanks to new standardization efforts.

Although almost all PCs, as well as mobile and embedded devices, already contain high-performance 3D graphics hardware to process interactive 3D, it’s never made its way onto the web.

Now, though, computer scientists from the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence and the Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research are working to describe computer scenes in spatial detail directly within websites’ code.

They’ve agreed on a common proposal to extend the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) to include advanced graphics capabilities. The proposal allows for easily 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.

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,” says head of the XML3D research group Kristian Sons.

At least two implementations will be made available. In the short term, a JavaScript implementation using WebGL for rendering will allow developers to get started immediately, while, further down the line, a native implementation integrated within the browser will improve performance and functionality.

The joint proposal will be officially presented at the SIGGRAPH 2012 and Web3D conferences this week in Los Angeles.