Firefox update debuts WebRender, updated AV1 decoder

Firefox has been updated with a range of significant performance improvements, but developers will be most interested in WebRender’s rollout and the updated AV1 decoder.

WebRender is Mozilla’s next-gen GPU-based 2D rendering engine. The technology aims to make browsing feel smoother by moving core graphics rendering processes to the GPU.

Previous iterations of Firefox’s browser rendering pipeline varied dependent on platform and OS, which had two core drawbacks:

  • Dependent on the variation, rendering was performed on the CPU which consumes resources valuable for other tasks.

  • Maintaining a multitude of backends was inefficient and costly.

In a blog post, Mozilla Engineering Manager Jessie Bonisteel wrote:

“A single backend that we control means bringing hardware acceleration to more of our users: we run the same code across Windows, Mac, Linux, and Android, and we’re much better equipped to work around driver bugs and avoid blacklisting. It also moves GPU work out of the content process which will let us have stricter sandboxing in the content process.

We’ve seen significant performance improvements on many websites already, but we’ve only scratched the surface of what’s possible with this architecture. Expect to see even more performance improvements as we begin to take full advantage of our architectural investment in WebRender.”

WebRender is going live in today’s Firefox update, but initially for users running Windows 10 on desktop machines with NVIDIA graphics cards (around 4% of Firefox’s desktop population.)

On May 27th, 25% of the qualified population will have WebRender enabled. That will increase to 50% by Thursday, May 30th if everything is going smoothly. WebRender will then be enabled for 100% of the qualified population by the following week.

WebRender is not the only significant feature in the latest Firefox version. An updated decoder for AV1 – the new royalty-free video format jointly developed by Mozilla, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and others as part of the Alliance for Open Media – is being launched.

The new decoder is called dav1d and replaces the reference decoder shipped in January’s release of Firefox. Mozilla has witnessed substantial growth in the use of AV1 – with their latest figures showing 11.8% of video playback in Firefox Beta used the new format, up from 0.85% in February and 3% in March.

Elsewhere in the release, Mozilla is adding: Enhanced data protections such as blocking ‘fingerprinting’ and crypto-mining, improved accessibility features, and increased speed through better resource management and the suspension of idle tabs.

The latest version of Firefox Quantum is available here.

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