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David Talbot

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Web Browsers with 3-D Graphics

A Mozilla executive charts the future of Web-based media technologies.

  • September 23, 2009

Already, the latest Web browsers, including Firefox 3.5, Google’s Chrome, and Apple’s Safari, allow you to play video directly inside them, without the need for video-player plug-ins. This trend toward media-rich browsers will continue. The next Firefox browser will be able to play 3-D graphics, said Chris Blizzard, director of evangelism at the Mozilla Foundation (makers of Firefox) this morning at Technology Review’s annual Emerging Technologies Conference (EmTech@MIT). With underlying software now able to run 30 to 40 times faster than in the past, “we are starting to see the pieces come together,” he said. “This is something that is going to be delivered in Firefox, adding real-time accelerated 3-D rendering to the Web.”

Among other things, this could allow 3-D video games based on common standards to move to the Web, threatening today’s PC-based gaming market. (Google is also working on adding 3-D graphics to Chrome.) But for such transformations to happen, a significant fraction of Web users would have to be using the newest browsers, something Blizzard cautioned could take several years. “The most depressing thing is that the most widely used browser is still IE6,” he said, referring to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer Version 6, which was released eight years ago and does not support the latest Web technologies.

Blizzard also demonstrated the kinds of video technologies that Web developers can now easily build inside browsers–including adding face-recognition software atop a live video feed and then putting the recognized person’s Twitter feed in a box over his head. This kind of creativity will become easier, and spread more widely across the Web, with the wider adoption of open-video standards and looser licensing of proprietary video archives. In general, rapid advances in browser technologies will allow a “much richer experience for users on the Web,” Blizzard predicted.

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