3D web content may get a lift from DirectX, Apple's Metal, and Vulkan

Khronos looks to boost 3D web content through a new API interface

One of the big problems in gaming is incompatibility. A game written for Windows and DirectX won't work on Macs or Android devices. Vulkan games work on Android, but not on Apple devices, which has its own Metal API.

That's one problem that standards-setting organization Khronos is looking to solve with the newly formed 3D Portability Exploratory Group. The group's goal is to develop an interface so 3D games and content on the web perform better by hooking up seamlessly with Vulkan, DirectX, and Metal low-level APIs.

The 3D API exploratory group has just been formed and still exploring the idea, and any solution is still a long time away. But the benefits would be massive: Web gaming would work better across multiple platforms and devices, and game development would be more efficient.

It's not exactly clear how the 3D API will ultimately work. But the current idea is to develop a usable wrapper, so game code can be translated to work with Vulkan, DirectX 12, and Metal systems at high levels of efficiency. The question will be whether interactive 3D games will be able to exploit the full power of GPUs, which is something low-level APIs like DirectX 12 and Vulkan do very well when rendering graphics and games.

The DirectX 12, Vulkan, and Metal APIs are mainly used for games and other graphics applications, but not to render web content. This wrapper could bridge that gap, and could also help improve the delivery of 3D web content to VR headsets.

Most of the browsers today support WebGL 2.0, which helps render better 3D graphics in browsers by harnessing the power of GPUs. Most browsers already support WebGL 2.0, and many companies have plans to deliver games and VR content using the underlying technology of WebGL.

There are many moving pieces to ensure the 3D API works effectively. It could possibly be integrated into WebGL Next, which will provide deeper graphics and GPU computing for rendering 3D content off the web. Khronos has just started working on WebGL Next, Neil Trevett, president of Khronos Group, said in a video during a Khronos presentation at the recent Game Developers Conference.

It's not just the APIs, but also the shading languages also have to be figured out, Trevett said. Open-source tools from Khronos and Microsoft could help define the 3D portability API.

At GDC, Khronos also detailed plans on OpenXR, a new standard for delivery of VR content over the web. All major VR companies are behind the effort, but Microsoft and Apple are missing from that list. The first standards may come out in 12 to 18 months. 

The idea behind OpenXR is to come up with a standard so VR programs work across all head-mounted displays. The focus is on creating standards to gather input and tracking data.

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