According to Google’s release for Chrome Beta 94, the company is integrating certain new web standards that might improve browser-based gaming experiences. WebCodecs, which are set to be published shortly, may make cloud gaming easier and faster, while WebGPU, which is still in beta, could make it easier for creators of web games to tap into your computer’s capabilities.
WebCodecs is an API that allows developers to have more control over the video encoding/decoding codecs that are pre-installed in your browser and determine what to do with video streams. While there are existing ways to get video to play in Chrome, they aren’t particularly built for cloud gaming, which requires the lowest possible latency. WebCodecs is designed to minimize overhead, making it easier to get the incoming video stream onto your screen as quickly as possible, perhaps using hardware decoding.
This should help it perform better than it does now on slower machines, in principle (which are the kinds of computers where cloud gaming is most desirable anyhow).
WebGPU is a newer, more experimental web development platform that allows web developers to connect to your computer’s native graphics API (akin to Apple’s Metal, Microsoft’s DirectX 12, or Vulkan). Simply said, it allows web developers to communicate with your graphics card in a language it knows, rather than having to go through additional layers that may slow things down. It’s a next-generation version of WebGL that allows developers to use the (now mostly obsolete) OpenGL framework.
In the future, the technology should make it easier for developers to create graphically intensive web games that take advantage of current-generation GPUs.
Both technologies have applications that aren’t limited to gaming. Zoom was interested in leveraging WebCodecs for videoconferencing, and WebGPU might be used to generate 3D models in the browser or speed machine learning models, according to a Google lecture from July 2020. It’s understandable that they’d appear in Chrome, given that Google is involved in all of these sectors, from cloud gaming with Google Stadia to its own video conferencing apps. Both pieces of technology, however, are open standards produced by the W3C, and other browser manufacturers have started testing them as well.
Of course, for the time being, we won’t be seeing WebCodecs or WebGPU-powered experiences. While WebCodecs is near to being released (it’s planned to be enabled by default in Chrome 94), developers will still need to make their apps compatible with it. WebGPU, on the other hand, is now in an experimental testing phase that Google hopes to finish in early 2022. If it becomes a feature depends on how well the trial works, whether the specification is complete, and whether enough people are interested in utilizing it.
While these technologies may not make the unthinkable feasible, they are still intriguing. The barrier to entry for developers is lower when things are easier or more flexible. The time developers save figuring out how to get frames onto your screen is time they can spend improving other aspects of the experience for gamers who want to play on the web, whether through streaming or native games.