Asus Transformer Prime Struggles with WebGL

Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime

Asus Eee Pad Transformer PrimeAsus’s Transformer Prime is certainly a slick piece of hardware. However, when it comes to using it on Google’s Chrome Experiments site, it’s a completely different machine.

With a Chrome browser on my aging Asus duo-core 2.27 GHz notebook with 1 GB of video memory, graphics were silky smooth without any video glitches or stray artifacts. I monitored the CPU usage on several of the “experiments” and found that the 3D ball dropping into a pool of water was a demanding piece of code. Measurements went from about 8 percent CPU (on both cores) usage up to around 68 percent. Nothing unusual, considering all the complex computations needed for realistic water and gravity effects. With the sticky pink thing demo, usage only jumped up to around 35 percent. Again, an expected result since the calculations were fairly straightforward and relatively simple.

On the Transformer, the sticky thing was smooth and responsive in both the Opera and Chrome Beta browsers. Oddly, with gravity turned on, the pink textured square settled against the left side of the screen. In the Chrome browser, it settled to the bottom.

Opera seemed like the logical starting point because it scored the highest on the browser evaluation site. I ran the Transformer in performance mode.

With the Opera Mobile browser, the 3D ball in the water wouldn’t run because it needed the OES_texture_float extension. The Chrome Beta apparently found the required extension, but descended into a perpetual loop, showing a “loading” message. After a few minutes, I gave up and closed out the browser tab.

The endless forest demo seemed to load OK in Opera, but only displayed a purple square at the top of the screen. I was surprised to see that the Chrome Beta test actually yielded a message that said I needed Google Chrome 9+, Firefox 4+, or “a modern browser that supports WebGL.” I was using Chrome version 16.0.912.77, application version 0.16.4301.233. On a whim, I tried Firefox. Low and behold the demo ran fine on version 10.0.3.

My point to all of this is that WebGL and HTML5 look like they have a long way to go on tablets.

I bought the Tegra 3-powered Transformer because it was one of the most powerful and capable tablets on the market. Several other manufacturers, like Lenovo, have announced that they will be fielding slates with the same muscular Nvidia quad-core chip. Rumors are that the Tegra 3 will even power some smartphones soon.

I’m very happy with the Transformer Prime. It has no problem playing YouTube HD videos or flying around the world using Google Earth. Google Earth, in particular, provides stunning views of San Francisco (with 3D buildings), Mount Everest, or the huge Escondida open-pit copper mine in Chile (24°16’20.66” S, 69°04’16.48” W).

Perhaps some of my problems with running the Chrome Experiment apps were driver relat.? Maybe they didn’t run right because the hardware just isn’t there yet. Or, it might just take time for Android mobile browser technology to fully support everything under the HTML5 umbrella.

When the stuff does work, it looks great. I think there are a lot of great opportunities for smart and aggressive developers in the HTML5 ecosystem to sort all this out.

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