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A feature repo for working on multi-layer support in WebXR. Feature lead: Artem Bolgar
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Layers in WebXR

Work in progress.

Why layers? What are the benefits?

Other XR APIs (such as OpenXR, Oculus PC & Mobile SDKs, Unreal & Unity game engines, more? tbd) support so called 'composition' layers. The benefits of layers are as follows:

  • Performance and judder

    Composition layers are presented at the frame rate of the compositor (i.e. native refresh rate of HMD) rather than at the application frame rate. Even when the application is not updating the layer's rendering at the native refresh rate of the compositor, the compositor still might be able to re-project the existing rendering to the proper pose. This means smoother rendering and less judder.

    A powerful feature of layers is that each of them may have different resolution. This allows the application to scale down the main eye buffer resolution on low performance systems, but keeping essential information, such as text or a map, in a different layer at a higher resolution.

  • Legibility / visual fidelity

    The resolution for eye-buffers for 3D world rendering can be set to relatively low values especially on low performance systems. It would be impossible to render high fidelity content, such as text, in this case. As it was mentioned above, each layer may have its own resolution and it will be re-sampled only once by the compositor (in contrary to the traditional approach with rendering layers via WebGL where the layer's content got re-sampled at least twice: once when rendering into WebGL eye-buffer (and losing a lot of details due to limited eye-buffer resolution) and the second time by the compositor).

  • Power consumption / battery life

    Power consumption is super critical for mobile AR/VR headsets. Due to reduced rendering pipeline, lack of double sampling, no need to update the layer's rendering each frame the power consumption is expected to be improved versus traditional way of rendering and compositing layers via WebGL.

  • Latency

    Pose sampling for composition layers may occur at the very end of the frame and then certain reprojection techniques could be used to update the layer's pose to match it with the most recent HMD pose. This may significantly reduce the effective latency for the layers' rendering and as a result improve overall experience.

Examples of use cases

Composition layers are useful for displaying information, text, video, or textures that are intended to be focal objects in your scene. Composition layers could also be useful for displaying simple environments and backgrounds to your scene.

One of the very common use cases of WebXR is 180 and/or 360 photos or videos, both - equirect and cubemaps. Usual implementation involves a lot of CPU and GPU power and the result is usually pretty poor in terms of visual quality, latency and power consumption (the latter is especially critical for mobile / standalone devices, such as Oculus Go, Quest, Vive Focus, ML1, HoloLens, etc).

Another example where composition layers are going to shine is displaying text or high resolution textures in the virtual world. Since composition layers allow to sample source texture at full resolution without multiple re-samplings the readability of the text is going to be significantly improved.

This proposal consists of the several documents:

  • Multi layers - the general information about the proposed layers
  • Layers core - describes the core elements of the layers.
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