More Insights into the OpenGL4.1, OpenGLES2.0, & WebGL Situation
http://images-3.vizworld.com/wp-cont...WebGL_logo.pngLast week I posted a rather, well let's just say 'sensational', article about the coincidental announcement by AMD/ATI of their new OpenGL|ES2.0 Driver for Desktops and Khronos's announcement of the OpenGL4.1 spec which offers full backwards compatability with the OpenGL|ES2.0 standard. Most people wouldn't care about OpenGL|ES2.0 on the Desktop, as it's the OpenGL Spec for Embedded Systems like set-top boxes and mobile phones, however the OpenGL|ES2.0 spec is the foundation of the up-and-coming WebGL spec that promises plugin-free 3D graphics on the internet for all to enjoy.
Currently in the WebGL space, you have about 4 options:
Before I continue, many people ask 'Why do I need a driver?', and it's a valid question. Right now, without any OpenGL|ES2.0 driver, you can go download development versions of Safari, Chrome, and FireFox and get WebGL. It all works just fine, but you'll notice it works a bit differently in each one. This is what the driver is for: consistency. With working drivers in place, the visuals will be identical across browsers and hardware, because the rendering is all handled in the Driver, not the Browser. Currently, browsers have a built-in translation layer that turns the JS-based OpenGL|ES2 commands and turns them into regular OpenGL commands, and some do a better job than others.
Initially, as in the article, I was a bit harsh on ATI for releasing a dedicated OpenGL|ES2.0 driver and favored NVidia's announcement of an upcoming OpenGL4.1 driver that would encompass the same results. This way, the user only has 1 driver to manage that in future systems will be installed by default, so the user literally has to do nothing. Unfortunately, NVidia's OpenGL4.1 support is limited to only the latest revisions of hardware:
You will need any one of the following Fermi based GPU to get access to the OpenGL 4.1 and GLSL 4.10 functionality:This means all those people with little GeForceM cards in their laptops are out of luck, as well as anyone with the GTX285 or earlier. No doubt these cards have the horsepower to handle WebGL, but they're currently unable to get the drivers necessary.
ATI's solution is a bit less elegant, but by offering a dedicated driver they open it to all of their hardware, not just the latest and greatest. Unfortunately, it does return us a bit to the previous world of loading plugins, except you're loading a system-level driver instead. However, this opens the world to all those old ATI Rage chipsets in laptops and FirePro's in the wild, covering the full gamut of users.
In the end, I'm sure NVidia will offer a driver for WebGL to older hardware, but there's no news on when that will be. If NVidia lags too far behind, we could find ourselves in a 'VRML Situation', where individual browsers begin to support various extensions in attempts to best utilize the hardware, leading to inconsistencies and incompatibilities we already see with HTML & CSS across browsers. Hopefully, with a good standards organization in place like Khronos, which VRML didn't have, we'll find consistent drivers coming to all platforms soon.
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