In line with its regular update cadence, the Khronos Group — the organization behind specs like OpenGL, OpenCL and WebGL — today launched updated specs for its OpenGL specs for 3D desktop applications at SIGGRAPH 2014. There are a couple of major updates that will result in smoother 3D graphics and make the lives of developers a bit easier, especially if they want to port applications from DirectX11. More importantly, however, the non-profit consortium today announced its call for participation to define the next generation of this 3D standard.
As Khronos president (and Nvidia VP of content development) Neil Trevett told me last week, this is meant to be a ground-up redesign to create a truly modern 3D API. The Khronos Group already started work on this internally in order to set some keystones, but it is now opening up the process to the whole ecosystem.
OpenGL was first developed by Silicon Graphics almost 22 years ago — long before anybody anticipated what modern GPU would look like, let alone mobile GPUs. With this next-generation spec, the group started from a blank slate to define this future standard. What Trevett would like to avoid is even greater fragmentation in this space. “Fragmentation is a real danger because we now have more platforms that are 3D-enabled than ever before,” he told me. “We need an open standard.”
Developers are clearly excited about initiatives like Apple’s Metal, which gives them more low-level control over how their applications use the GPU. The next generation of OpenGL will offer similar features. Trevett specifically mentioned that the new OpenGL will feature an architecture where the driver does less and the hardware is exposed more. “There will be less going on behind the scenes,” as he put it, and developers will be able to exercise greater control. Giving applications more control over GPU and CPU workloads, the group argues, will result in higher performance and better predictability.
The other keystone feature will be a focus of multithreading to reduce overhead. That, too, is something that the early OpenGL specs didn’t anticipate and that the group can now address from the ground up. Trevett also told me that the new specs will feature a common intermediate shading language — the first one in the industry.
The companies that have already committed to working on the new specs include a who’s-who of the 3D graphics ecosystem. Partners include hardware players like Nvidia, AMD, Apple, Samsung, Intel, Sony and Qualcomm, but Trevett also noted that the developers of the major 3D engines are on board, including Epic and Unity, as well as game developers like Blizzard, Valve and Electronic Arts. Other notable members include Oculus VR, Pixar and Google (which is betting on OpenGL ES for Android).