WebGL graphics technology powers Sony PlayStation 4 UI


Sony PlayStation 4 is grabbing all the headlines these days before and after its release. Now that the system is out, more details about the hardware and software are surfacing.

Sony’s Don Olmstead is revealing an interesting tidbit in Google+ forum, namely that the entire PS4 UI is based on WebGL, the 3D graphics browser technology.

“When you login to your PS4 you are running #WebGL code. The PlayStation Store, the Music and Video Applications, as well as a good chunk of UX are all rendered within the browser,” Olmstead said.

WebGL establishes itself as a standard for hardware-accelerated 3D graphics in the browser. The technology provides high-quality three-dimensional graphics in the browser. It supports all the most popular desktop browsers. The interface is based on OpenGL ES 2.0 and is developed by the Khronos Group, together with Mozilla, Google, AMD, Nvidia and others.

Sony’s move is an interesting one in technology, as largely video game consoles have always run on custom native software like standard HTML5 and CSS3. Navigating to the PS4’s menus and UI run quickly and with little lag is one of the more refreshing elements of the next-gen console experience.

WebGL technology is used, for example with the port on the web video game Unreal Engine 3 for the new version of Google Maps to test with the direct integration of Google Earth. Microsoft most recent version of browser Internet Explorer 11 also supports WebGL.

That said, the web html5test.com tests shown on PS4 and its competitors (except for Xbox One, which is not out yet) for HTML5 standard increasingly used by the websites and will be using in the future. Although it is one of the criteria for assessing the performance of the browser, it cannot be taken as a reference only.

So far the PS4’s UI is getting good reviews and is generally described as “responsive” so it sounds like they didn’t really lose. Many comments on Ycombinator at least reasonably pointed out good response for Sony WebGL development.

“Customer expectations are different between something opened in a web browser and something downloaded from the app store. Apps that are amazing as web pages can be awful as apps. The amount of effort required to get a web application to perform in a way that matches user expectations for native UI cues, animations, quality and responsiveness across platforms is enormous and incredibly more difficult than your standard web app,” said one of the user.

Other user said the PS4’s UI isn’t particularly resource-constrained and desktop is the one place where performance least matters. If they’re using nothing but a WebGL context filled with custom code for text, layout, etc. then you have a fair point.  It seems likely that they’re taking advantage of HTML/CSS on top of whatever WebGL parts they’re using, allowing system UI work to be done by more general web design people rather than involving lower-level developers just to implement a new kind of dialog.