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Internet Explorer 11: WebGL and more

by Ashley | 17th, October 2013

Update November 6th 2013: Hello! If you found this page from a link titled "IE11 beats Chrome and Firefox in WebGL performance", then please note we didn't write that headline. This blog post does not prove that IE11's WebGL is faster than Chrome or Firefox in general. The test pertains to a very specific use case using our specific HTML5 game engine Construct 2. The WebGL benchmark below is probably also mainly measuring Javascript performance and browser engine parallelism. We hope you still find the blog post interesting!

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Windows 8.1 is rolling out today, and with it comes the new Internet Explorer 11. To our pleasant surprise, IE11 supports WebGL - despite WebGL being based on OpenGL, the long-time rival to Microsoft's own DirectX. Microsoft deserve a lot of credit for this. Recently we've heard a lot about their commitment to open standards with IE, and this shows they're actually pretty serious about that. It's not just talk, they're actually shipping real standards-based features - hopefully a trend that will continue!

IE11 should also arrive for Windows 7 users before the end of the year, and we understand there should be a Windows Phone 8.1 update coming soon as well. The IE11 browser engine is also used to run Windows Store apps on Windows 8.1 (and Windows Phone 8.1 apps when it comes). Overall this is a pretty significant update for Construct 2 games across Microsoft technologies.

About a year ago we reviewed IE10 and found it disappointing. So what's new in IE11 and how does it hold up against the latest Chrome and Firefox?

WebGL in IE11

WebGL support in IE is great news for Construct 2 games. Now you can use WebGL shader effects and they'll also work in IE11+. This allows for games with much more advanced visuals, such as the 'Rain demo' example that comes with Construct 2. Note some effects are broken in r146 and earlier due to a bug in our WebGL renderer - preview or export with r147+ if you have trouble.

We've written previously on this blog about how WebGL support can significantly boost performance over the normal "canvas2d" renderer. So what kind of effect does this have with Construct 2 games in IE11? We ran our renderer benchmark which measures how many on-screen sprites the browser can manage at 30 FPS (links: WebGL test and canvas2d test). The test machine was running Windows 8.1 64-bit with an Intel Core i5-2500 (3.3 GHz), 8 GB RAM, and a nVidia GeForce GTX 660 graphics card.

Internet Explorer 11 WebGL vs. canvas2d performance

It's a pretty big difference! WebGL rendering in IE11 is well over 10 times faster than canvas2d. This is in line with what we've seen from other browsers supporting WebGL. That should provide a nice performance bump for many games, and we're especially keen to see how this affects games on Windows Phone 8, where performance is even more important.

How does IE11's WebGL compare to Chrome and Firefox?

Internet Explorer 11 WebGL performance vs. other browsers

Surprisingly, IE11 outperforms both Chrome and Firefox on this test! Perhaps this is down to IE11's DirectX 11 based rendering and newly optimised Javascript engine. This is the first time we've seen IE edge ahead of Chrome and Firefox, so hopefully this will up the ante and encourage Google and Mozilla to make further performance improvements. It's a nice sign of the healthy competition that's back in the browser market. Fortunately, performance is still pretty outstanding across the board - I doubt many games will end up with tens of thousands of sprites on-screen!

The last nice advantage of WebGL support is for retro-style games. It's important to ensure games that are designed with pixel art stay pixellated when scaled up. IE10 previously would use a blurry linear scale which would ruin the crispness of the artwork. Now with WebGL support IE11 can set point sampling and keep the retro look. IE11 also now supports this with its canvas2d renderer so you can get it both ways, but IE11 should always use the WebGL renderer unless you explicitly turn it off (which we don't recommend).

Fullscreen API support

The other main addition to IE11 on desktops is support for the Fullscreen API. This means the Browser object's Request fullscreen action can now work in IE11, which includes allowing iframe'd games to become fullscreen. It's a nice feature for extra immersion in your game and can be especially useful for arcades such as our own.

Support for Windows Store apps

Note that all existing apps in the Windows Store appear to still be using the IE10 engine, presumably for backwards compatibility. You'll need to publish your games again for Windows 8.1 in order to get the new IE11 engine with WebGL support. You also need Construct 2 r147+ to have the option to export to Windows 8.1, which then requires Visual Studio 2013 to publish.

What's the downside?

Unfortunately there are still a few things we're sad to see missing in IE11. Looking at ScirraMark we can see a few key features are still missing. Most notably there's no support for the Web Audio API, so advanced audio effects still won't work in IE. Ogg Vorbis audio is still not supported, and there's no word on WebRTC. There's no Gamepad support either, despite Chrome and Firefox supporting XBox 360 controllers! Finally IE11 still can't loop audio seamlessly, which is kind of ridiculous - listen to the background rain sound in the 'Rain' demo and you'll hear nasty gaps. That's another thing the Web Audio API does well.

Internet Explorer is still on a slow release cycle and still has lots of old versions hanging around. However this does seem to be beginning to change. IE now seems to be on an approximately yearly release cycle, which is better than it has been in the past. IE10 and newer have an 'Install new versions automatically' option which is on by default. But as things stand now, there's still a lot of IE8 and IE9 users hanging around who probably won't be upgraded, especially since IE9+ don't support Windows XP and IE11 doesn't support Vista. According to StatCounter less than half of all current IE users are on IE10, and it seems it will still be a while before the legacy versions disappear in to history. Meanwhile we only have one version of Chrome or Firefox to think about, and their latest versions still work well on Windows XP.

Conclusion

WebGL support in IE11 makes it a massive improvement over IE10 for HTML5 games. Support for shader effects and the performance boost are valuable for Construct 2 games. The fullscreen support is a nice touch, and it outperforms Chrome and Firefox in one of our benchmarks. However for us this doesn't quite outweigh the missing Web Audio API and Ogg Vorbis support, the fact older versions of IE still have substantial install bases and updates only come yearly, and the fact you can't benefit from these improvements if you're on XP or Vista. On that basis we still have to recommend Chrome and Firefox over IE11 for playing HTML5 games on the web. Despite that, IE is definitely moving in the right direction and is great news for developers publishing to the Windows Store, and IE12 has the potential to close the gap completely. We'll probably have to wait a year to find out about that though.

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Comments

6
Aelfraed 3,602 rep

wow this is great! ;)

Thursday, October 17, 2013 at 4:03:34 PM
7
firebelly 7,239 rep

Is there anyone we can engage to make our voices heard? I know MS has a lot of random forums and places to vote on features.

Thursday, October 17, 2013 at 4:09:10 PM
7
gillenew 24.6k rep

totally awesome!!
I'm impressive, don't imagined that microsoft was doing this

Thursday, October 17, 2013 at 4:09:21 PM
6
Index 7,577 rep

Internet Explorer seems to be trying to do a lot with touch interactions. Would be nice if they finally caught up with some standards. The browser might actually be nice for touch web games.

Thursday, October 17, 2013 at 4:09:41 PM
5
Nipponshin 5,353 rep

Great news! I'm happy to see that Microsoft is trying to live up to his promises.

Thursday, October 17, 2013 at 4:16:45 PM
6
EmpowerMe 8,604 rep

This is great news. It's nice to know that C2 will continue to expand its reach into the marketplace so seamlessly as the browsers increase their features.

Thursday, October 17, 2013 at 4:17:39 PM
4
onzephyr 9,937 rep

Great news. The WebGl tests for E11 are very interesting. One step at a time for MS. but at least it is a step forward.

Thursday, October 17, 2013 at 4:17:44 PM
4
Blacksmith 8,252 rep

Cool, thanks for the info :) This'll make a big difference on windows devices!

Thursday, October 17, 2013 at 4:18:46 PM
3
jayderyu 15.0k rep

This is very good news. More potential distribution.

Thursday, October 17, 2013 at 4:26:49 PM
3
EgoAnt 6,403 rep

I am so excited to have the WebGL shader effects for Windows 8.1 apps that I might explode. tick... tick... tick... Hm. No explosion... Okay, I guess I'm not THAT excited, but it's still pretty cool.

Thursday, October 17, 2013 at 4:33:33 PM
2
Jayjay 19.0k rep

This is awesome news, I'm really glad to see WebGL across all browsers still has room for improvement too!

Thursday, October 17, 2013 at 4:57:38 PM
2
Animate 11.6k rep

Great summary. It is great to see the 3 major browsers align in support of Web GL, thus one step closer to making it the standard for html5 games...

Thursday, October 17, 2013 at 5:30:01 PM
2
jobel 14.6k rep

so there is hope for IE yet..but, no audio or ogg support basically breaks the deal for me..

Thursday, October 17, 2013 at 6:56:54 PM
1
Paradox 39.2k rep

Step forward in performance and a step back in sound, it sounds like Microsoft.

But it does sound like they are coming around. Our games will work on their browser someday. ;-)

Thursday, October 17, 2013 at 7:00:10 PM
1
KazaaMafia 8,909 rep

Downloading Windows 8.1 as we speak... I will be testing various things today. Can't wait :)

Thursday, October 17, 2013 at 7:20:39 PM

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