HW accelerating in website rendering has become an hot topic along the HTML5. Mozillas answer to this demand is their new Layers architecture.
Mozilla's Layers allows browser to take the suitable parts of the rendering to GPU and of course along that to get some eye candy to the end users. Idea is to divide the logically different parts of the rendered content to different layers allowing better division between the CPU and GPU.
The Layers will structure a layer tree which constructs the final webpage. To simplify, they have a container (representing the surface) and its leafs (including the actual graphical data). The final render is constructed from the textures generated from the leafs and composited to the screen.
The basic layer infra will include ThebesLayers, ContainerLayers and a LayerManager.
The Manager is responsible of constructing the layer tree and rendering that to the destination context. The rendering is always happening as an result of an transaction to the tree and only happening to the visible region parts of the texture.
The Container layers task is to group together the child layers beneath it. It represents the surface into which its children are composited and handles the Z order of the its children.
Thebes in general is nothing new. It has been part of the Mozilla gfx architecture already quite awhile as an C++ wrapper for Cairo API's and as an API for text handling.
The ThebesLayer abstracts the Thebes surface which is used to display items that will be rendered (surprise, surpise) using Thebes. So Cairo Image surface drawn to by Cairo. The question is of course - why not doing this directly with Cairo? Why the wrapper? - Some discussions about this from Bas's blog comments.
There is bit of an older bug in Mozilla bugzilla explaining this basic functionality in detailed. In principle what you get with the basic functionality is what you already have - Cairo content shown to the screen. Of course besides the basic functionality you will also need some additional layers for video, something for webgl plus you would also like to have optimized way of doing the rendering. So not all about just basics.
What from my point of view makes this layers especially in interesting are the plans to bring layers to also to Fennec 2.0 along the other goodies like Electrolysis. It will be most definitely interesting to see how it performs and behaves in a more limited environment.
BTW the first bits of layers are already available through the latest nightly builds of Firefox4. The usage of the layers is still limited to Windows/GL, full-screen video only but the sources are available for seeing and testing.