This is a brief prelude to another post I hope to make in a couple of days or so, once I've solved my problem to my satisfaction. In the meantime, here's a related curio that I hadn't seen documented online before I had to start digging...
At time of writing, only Firefox and Chrome seem to actually support this function, albeit with moz and webkit vendor prefixes. caniuse.com doesn't have too much information about future support in other browsers - it'll appear in IE10, but it's unclear about Safari or Opera. Certainly the Opera Next 12.0 I downloaded yesterday doesn't appear to have it.
Now, for the most part this isn't the end of the world, as there are published shims to implement a workable alternative using setInterval() or setTimeout(). Unfortunately, these will just churn away as normal in a background tab, whereas what I wanted to do was to see how things were different in a background tab.
It turns out that the two implementations we have so far differ in their behaviour. Chrome comes to a dead stop when a page is in a background tab, which is probably what you'd naively expect to happen. Firefox on the other hand does some gradual throttling - you'll get one frame in the first second of being backgrounded, then another after a further two seconds, then a further four seconds, eight seconds, sixteen seconds, etc.
I knocked up a very rough demo for this, so that you can see for yourself - take a look here, and see what happens when you r-click the link on the page and open it in another tab - the function called via requestAnimationFrame() updates the page title, so you can see how often it gets called from the text in the tab.
I'm not completely clear why Mozilla have implemented this the way they have - I've not dug out any official specs, but going by the year old Chromium issue to add this functionality, I don't expect this behaviour to show up in Chrome/Chromium.
In the next post I'll elaborate on the problem I've been trying to solve - suffice to say, using requestAnimationFrame was a bit of a hacky way of trying to achieve something that I'd have thought should have been extremely straightforward...