New OpenGL Standards Promise To Bring Better, Faster Graphics To Mobile And Desktop

At SIGGRAPH 2012 today, the Khronos Group, the non-profit organization behind the OpenGL standard, announced the release of OpenGL 4.3, OpenGL ES 3.0 for mobile devices. OpenGL, in its various versions for mobile and desktop, is the one of the main standards for developing graphics-intensive 3D apps and games for the iPhone, Android and many consoles and desktop operating systems. Among the companies involved in the OpenGL working groups are heavy weights like AMD, Intel, ARM, NVIDIA, Broadcom, Apple, Google, Nokia and game developers like Epic, EA and Unity.

OpenGL ES 3.0, which remains backward compatible with ES 2.0, is meant to make life easier for programmers as it spells out tighter requirements for supported hardware features. The new spec also brings a number of OpenGL 3.3 and 4.x features to from the desktop to mobile. One of the most important new features in the new spec is support for new texture functionality that brings better texture compression (including the ETC2 and EAC standards) and a number of new hardware-accelerated features like instance rendering, occlusion queries and transform feedback to mobile.

OpenGL ES 3.0: Better Looking Mobile Games And Longer Battery Life

It’s worth noting that many developers currently pack different sets of textures for different devices into one APK. Now, however, they will be able to use the same assets on mobile and the desktop, where the same features are also now part of the spec. Thanks to the improved compression features, those packages should be significantly smaller, which in turn should make downloads faster and reduce the memory footprint of these apps.

For users, the Khronos Group’s president Neil Trevett (who is also the VP of mobile content at NVIDIA) told me last week, this basically means they can look forward to more attractive games and apps with higher frame rates on their favorite mobile devices in the near future (except on Windows Phone, of course, which uses Microsoft’s own Direct X). The gap between what can be done on the desktop and on mobile is slowly closing, though as Trevett also noted, the new mobile specs aren’t just about more powerful graphics but also about improving battery life.

Unlike on the desktop, where NVIDIA is shipping compatible drivers today, it generally takes a bit longer to implement these new features on mobile devices. The Khronos group will ship performance tests before the end of the year and compatible devices should follow soon after that.

The group also announced its new Adaptive Scalable Texture Compression (ASTCTM) LDR extension specification for OpenGL ES and OpenGL today, which brings even more advanced texture compression features to OpenGL. For the time being, this new compression scheme is only available as an extension and is shipping today.

OpenGL 4.3

On the desktop, the Khronos Group today launched OpenGL 4.3. The focus here is on improving performance, but also on bringing a number of effects that weren’t previously possible with OpenGL to the desktop (including different types of blur, for example). In addition, developers will now be able to use their OpenGL skills to use compute shaders to offload more tasks to the GPU without having to use (or knowing how to use) the OpenCL. For users, this means, developers will be able to program better physics and AI simulations into their game without having to use more CPU power.

OpenVL: A New Standard For Vision And Sensor Processing

In addition to OpenGL, the Khronos group is also launching new specs for its increasingly popular COLLADA 3D assets standard and, maybe even more interestingly, a new API for vision and sensor processing. The idea here is basically that having the ability use input from the various sensors on our mobile devices is quickly becoming just as important as being able to render high-end graphics. The new standard wants to give developers an easy and consistent way to use this data in, for example, augmented reality apps. OpenVL’s primary goal, the organization says, is to enable real-time vision apps on mobile and embedded systems that will allow developers to go beyond the relatively limited AR apps we see today.

Khronos is also working with a number of companies to develop a new standard (StreamInput) for accessing sensor data on mobile devices.