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Get Smart About Web GL, Tech Making the Internet More Immersive

Ken Kaplan Executive Editor, iQ by Intel

The World Wide Web is pretty amazing for many reasons, especially for the way it miraculously keeps getting better all the time.

Every day we pop open our browser on desktop and mobile devices and dive into a sea of information and inspiration in the form of text, images, videos, links and a multitude of ways to interact with them.

Internet experiences have improved significantly over the years, but they’re about to get a whole lot more immersive thanks to WebGL.

What is WebGL?

WebGL is a Javascript API developed by Mozilla and maintained by the Khronos Group, officially released about three years ago though not seeing stable release until March 2013. It is the web-enabled version of the OpenGL API, which allows devices to render 2D and 3D graphics.

How does it work?

In essence, WebGL brings the power of real-time image rendering to a webpage by allowing your internet browser to tap into your device’s hardware accelerator, thereby enabling it to perform tasks that are normally reserved for app-based or software-powered functions. In the case of WebGL, these tasks are real-time, 2D- and 3D-image rendering.

Why does that matter?

The interactive experiences we’re used to on the web today have the potential to reach a whole new level of immersion thanks to WebGL. Rather than simply interacting with content on a webpage, WebGL allows us to dive into it.

Due to the rigorous nature of the hardware acceleration process, WebGL is not for the faint of heart or processor. Almost all desktop devices can run WebGL with a powerful enough graphics card, but WebGL experiences are often impossible on tablets – unless they’re using a tablet powered by an Intel processor.

The popularization of WebGL has massive implications for almost every way we use the web.

Video games

Gamers are no stranger to the importance of high-speed and powerful 3D image rendering like the kind you’ll see when you’re gaming on an Intel-powered tablet, for instance. WebGL brings high-caliber gaming experiences from software and apps to the Internet browser itself.

HelloRun is a simple game, not entirely unlike FlappyBird, but to play the game is to be immersed in a beautiful first-person, 3D experience.

You’ll see WebGL at work in high-defintion, 3D graphics that render as you go through the maze, with lighting and color that interact with the music and your position in the game.


In many classrooms, especially science ones, visualization and hands-on manipulation are key to helping students understand concepts.

To date, applications have been developed to meet this need, but accessibility to these education tools will increase exponentially with WebGL-powered models that can be fired up right in the browser.

There are existing WebGL-powered models of chemical structures and the human body that can be hugely helpful in the classroom, but they are not quite as mesmerizing as the Eye Texture Raytracer.

The Eye Texture Raytracer allows you to manipulate a model of an eyeball as the pupil dilates and constricts by simply moving your mouse.

WebGL helps lighting on the surface of the eyeball and reflections in the pupil update in real time as you move the model around.

Music videos

Music videos are a beautiful way to bring the feeling of a song to life with visuals. WebGL music videos bring the feeling of a song to life with interaction, and it is hauntingly beautiful.

Check out “Just A Reflektor” by Arcade Fire, an interactive video by Vincent Morisset.

To experience “Just A Reflektor,” you first have to connect your phone via Internet and webcam.

You then control various aspect of the video as it plays, using your phone as a remote control of sorts. In this image, the phone is controlling the point to which all of the white lines are tracking on the screen.

You’ll see WebGL bringing certain parts of the video into focus, lighting up certain parts of the subject’s face, directing the shine of a mirror and a variety of other techniques that can be found on the video’s technology page here.

Professional applications

Many industries rely on applications that allow for 3D graphic rendering to more efficiently do their jobs, most notably in real estate.

We recently highlighted Floored, a company that creates interactive and web-based 3D models of physical spaces that were previously represented with only floor plans and photographs.

You’ll see WebGL where the first-person 3D image of the real physical location renders as you virtually walk around.


WebGL brings the storytelling capacity of movies to a level of interactivity and immersion that they may not even be able to be classified as “movies” anymore.

Rome “3 Dreams of Black” (pictured at top) is a Chrome experiment that falls somewhere between music video, movie and game as you navigate through a first-person dreamworld.

WebGL is helping control the viewing direction, creating visual elements rendered in real time as you move along

Rome offers a great explanation of the technology behind the movie, as well as WebGL itself and other applications, on their technology page here.

With the potential of WebGL already accessible via desktop and Intel tablets, it’s only a matter of time before we see these incredible WebGL applications in every way we access the web (including VR headsets), making for an future of incredibly immersive web experiences ahead of us.



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