Firefox update will add WebVR support for virtual reality viewing

Web browser developer Mozilla Corp. will bring virtual reality viewing capabilities to its flagship product Firefox by default with its planned update Tuesday.

This addition will bring Firefox in line with its major competitors, Edge and Chrome, which already support some parts of the standard for online virtual reality viewing. The Firefox 55 update launching tomorrow will include the WebVR standard, which will open up VR viewing capability for web and mainstream VR Windows-enabled headsets as well as a 2-D capability in the browser.

“WebVR is the big platform feature shipping in Firefox 55,” Mozilla wrote in its update roadmap. “Firefox users with an HTC Vive or Oculus Rift can experience VR content on the web.”

Mozilla’s Firefox has lagged behind other leading browsers for Windows over the years with the inclusion of the WebVR standard. Google Inc.’s Chrome browser added WebVR capability in February and Microsoft Corp. added application programming interface hook support to Edge build 15007 in January – full default support in Edge will roll out with the Windows 10 Creators Update.

Mozilla first announced its intention to bring VR to all Firefox users in June.

“WebVR transforms virtual reality into a first-class experience on the web, giving it the infinite possibilities found in the openness and interoperability of the web platform,” Sean White, Mozilla senior vice president of emerging technologies, wrote at the time. “When coupled with WebGL to render 3-D graphics, these APIs [application program interface] transform the browser into a platform that allows VR content to be published to the Web and instantaneously consumed from any capable VR device.”

WebVR is an experimental JavaScript API designed to provide developers easy support for VR devices such as the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard via a web browser. In a fully compatible browser, a developer would be able to use WebVR to detect VR devices, enumerate device capabilities, determine device orientation and stream VR imagery at the appropriate frame rate.

With WebVR, developers using web-based APIs would be able to create VR experiences that would be compatible with multiple different devices and run from different platforms such as Windows, iOS, Linux or Android.

Support for WebVR has been building all year with version 1.1 available across a number of browsers: Chrome for Android, Firefox Nightly, Samsung Internet, Microsoft Edge, Chromium, Servo and Oculus Carmel.

Consumers using WebVR-enabled browsers can already find content on the web that uses this standard. For example, 360-degree VR movies can be watched on Within Unlimited Inc.’s website – including “Asteroids!” and the “Mr. Robot Virtual Reality Experience.” Or seek out friendship in the WebVR-enabled VR social app Beloola.

A large number of experiences can also be viewed at WebVR Experiments, including Google Creative Lab’s “The Musical Forest,” virtual ping-pong game “Konterball” by Wild and “Under Neon Lights” an interactive music video by The Chemical Brothers from Within.

A number of tools that support WebVR already exist for developers such as JanusVR, for building immersive 3-D webspaces and worlds on the web; A-Frame, Mozilla’s open-source community-based development framework for VR experiences; Blend4Web, another open-source framework for 3-D game modeling; and PlayCanvas, a 3-D game engine and interactive application built with a cloud-hosted creation platform.

Image: Mozilla

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