Up until now my Blue Mountains project has been exploring browser-based vector terrain rendering. This has been building on my interest in high-resolution SVG terrain exploration since I presented a platform at The IEEE Theory and Practice of Computer Graphics a little over 10 years ago (Whelan and Visvalingam, 2003). As there was no native browser support for SVG at the time, rendering was performed through a plug-in from Adobe, with the SVG being produced on demand by a Java Servlet.
As browser rendering and processing capabilities improve, client-side rendering of terrain (and other map elements) have featured in popular web mapping environments. Apart from the development of realistic 3D rendering through Google Earth and Google Maps, the recent experiments from rapidly expanding start-up, Map Box, provide some interesting cartographic examples (see: Vector Terrain, Dynamic Hill Shading). Equally the vector rendering of map data through libraries such and PolyMaps and D3, and the experimental work documented by Michal Migurski place dynamic, vector rendering firmly in the focus for future mapping interfaces. This is especially true on the increasingly high-resolution display surfaces available or where complete stylistic freedom is required.
Whilst these developments are pushing forward this field, some of the rendering layers I have been exploring in the Blue Mountains Project are, at this stage, not suited to browser-based rendering. Therefore to ensure responsive interaction across platforms, and given the relatively static nature of the terrain data, the project is going to take a different direction and look to pre-render and serve terrain tiles to the client. An off-line tile cache will also be available for mobile applications while out of data coverage. Details of the render layers and prototype tile-server will be posted soon.
Ref: Whelan J. C. & Visvalingam M., 2003, Formulated silhouettes for sketching terrain, In Theory and Practice of Computer Graphics 2003, 90-96.