As we approach August the technical conference season for graphics is finally reaching its apex. NVIDIA and AMD held their events in May and June respectively, and this week the two of them along with the other major players in the GPU space are coming together for the graphics industry’s marquee event: SIGGRAPH 2012.

Outside of individual vendor events, SIGGRAPH is typically the major venue for new technology and standards announcements. And though it isn’t really a gaming conference – the show is about professional usage in both senses of the word – a number of those announcements do end up being gaming related. Overall we’ll see a number of announcements this week, and kicking things off will be the Khronos Group.

The Khronos Group is the industry consortium responsible for OpenGL, OpenCL, WebGL, and other open graphics/multimedia standards and APIs. Khronos membership in turn is a who’s who of technology, and includes virtually every major GPU vendor, both desktop and mobile. Like other industry consortiums the group’s president is elected from a member company, with NVIDIA’s Neil Trevett currently holding the Khronos presidency.

OpenGL ES 3.0 Specification Released

Khronos’s first SIGGRAPH 2012 announcement – and certainly the biggest – is that OpenGL ES 3.0 has finally been ratified and the specification released. As the primary graphics API for most mobile/embedded devices, including both iOS and Android, Khronos’s work on OpenGL ES is in turn the primary conduit for mobile graphics technology development. Khronos and its members have been working on OpenGL ES 3.0 (codename: Halti) for some time now, and while the nitty-gritty details of the specification have been finally been hammered out, the first OpenGL 3.0 ES hardware has long since taped-out and is near release.

OpenGL ES 3.0 follows on the heels of OpenGL ES 2.0, Khronos’s last OpenGL ES API released over 5 years ago. Like past iterations of OpenGL ES, 3.0 is intended to continue the convergence of mobile and desktop graphics technologies and APIs where it makes sense to do so. As such, where OpenGL ES 2.0 was an effort to bring a suitable subset of OpenGL 2.x functionality to mobile devices, OpenGL ES 3.0 will inject a selection of OpenGL 3.x and 4.x functionality into the OpenGL ES API.

Unlike the transition from OpenGL ES 1.x to 2.0 (which saw hardware move from fixed function to programmable hardware), OpenGL ES 3.0 is going to be fully backwards compatible with OpenGL ES 2.0, which will make this a much more straightforward iteration for developers, and with any luck we will see a much faster turnaround time on new software taking advantage of the additional functionality. Alongside an easier iteration of the API for developers, hardware manufacturers are far more in sync with Khronos this time around. So unlike OpenGL ES 2.0, which saw the first mass-market hardware nearly 2 years later, OpenGL ES 3.0 hardware will be ready by 2013. Desktop support for OpenGL ES 3.0 is also much farther along, and while we’ll get to the desktop side of things in-depth when we talk about OpenGL 4.3, it’s worth noting at this point that OpenGL 4.3 will offer full OpenGL ES 3.0 compatibility, allowing developers to start targeting both platforms at the same time.

On that note, OpenGL ES 3.0 will mark an interesting point for the graphics industry. Thanks to its use both in gaming and in professional applications, desktop OpenGL has to serve both groups, a position that sometimes leaves it caught in the middle and generating some controversy in the process. The lack of complete modernization for OpenGL 3.0 ruffled some game developers’ feathers, and while the situation has improved immensely since then, the issue never completely goes away.

OpenGL ES on the other hand is primarily geared towards consumer devices and has little legacy functionality to speak of, which makes it easier to implement but also allows OpenGL ES to be relatively more cutting edge. All things considered, for game developers OpenGL ES 3.0 is going to very nearly be the OpenGL 3.0 they didn’t get in 2008, although geometry shaders will be notably absent. Consequently, while OpenGL 4.x (or even 3.3) is still more advanced than OpenGL ES 3.0, it’s not out of the question that we’ll see a bigger share of OpenGL desktop game development use OpenGL ES as opposed to desktop OpenGL.

What’s New in OpenGL ES 3.0
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  • bobvodka - Monday, August 6, 2012 - link

    Firstly using the Steam Hardware survey, which is the correct metric as we are a AAA games studio I'll grant you, at most, 5% of the market, the majority of which have Intel GPUs, for which the OpenGL implementation has generally been.. sub-par to put it mildly.

    Secondly all console development tools are on the PC and based around Visual Studio as such we work in Windows anyway.

    Thirdly the Windows version generally comes about because we need artists/developer tools . Right now it is also useful for learning about and testing 'next gen' ideas with an API which will be close to the XBox API

    Forthly; we have a windows version working which uses D3D11 and OpenGL offers no compelling reason to scrap all the work. Remember D3D had working compute shaders with a sane integration for some years now - OpenGL has only just got these and before doing the work with OpenCL was like opening a horrible can of worms due to the lack of standardised and required interop extensions which existed (I looked into this at the back end of last year for my own work at home and quickly dispaired at the state of OpenGL and its interop).

    Finally, OSX lags OpenGL development. Currently OSX10.7.3 (as per ) supports GL3.2 and I see no mention of the version being supported in 10.8. Given that OpenGL3.2 was released in 2009 and OSX10.7 was released last year I wouldn't pin my hopes on seeing 4.2 any time 'soon'.

    Now, supporting 'down market' hardware is of course a good thing to do however in D3D11 this is easy (feature levels) in OpenGL different hardware + drivers = different features which again increases engineering work load and the requirements for fallbacks.
    You could mandate 'required features' but at that point you start cutting out market share and that 5% looks smaller and smaller.

    Now, we ARE putting engineering effort into OpenGL|ES as mobile devices are an important corner stone from a business stand point thus the cost can be justified.

    In short; there is no compelling business nor technical reason at this junction to drop D3D11 in favor of OpenGL to capture a fragment of the 5% AAA 'home computer' market when there are no side benefits and only cost.
  • powerarmour - Monday, August 6, 2012 - link

    Yes because Carmack is always 100% right about everything, and the id Tech 5 engine is the greatest and most advanced around.
  • SleepyFE - Monday, August 6, 2012 - link

    id Tech 5 is awesome!! I don't like shooters (except for Prey) but i played Rage just to see how much "worse" OpenGL is. The game looks GREAT. I can't tell it from any other AAA game from the graphics alone. And that means OpenGL is good enough and should be used more. Screw what someone says, try it yourself then tell me OpenGL can't compete.
  • bobvodka - Monday, August 6, 2012 - link

    False logic - games are as good as their art work.

    OpenGL has shaders, so yes with good art work it can do the same as D3D - however the API itself, the thing the programmers have to work with - isn't as good AND up until now it was lacking feature parity with D3D11.

    Feature wise OpenGL is there.
    API/usability wise - it isn't.

    FYI; I used OpenGL for around 8 years from around 1.3 until 3.0 came out and, like a few, was so fed up of the ARB at this point that I gave up on GL and moved to a modern API, speaking from an interface design point of view.
  • Penti - Friday, August 10, 2012 - link

    Game engines are perfectly fine supporting different graphics API's. Obviously non Windows platforms won't run D3D. Microsoft does not license it. So while they do license stuff like ActiveSync/Exchange, exFAT (which should have been included in the SDXC spec under FRAND-terms but isn't), NTFS, remote desktop protocols, OpenXML, binary document formats, sharepoint protocols, some of the .NET environment etc most of the vital tech is against payed licensing. They don't even specifies the Direct3D API's for implementation for none hardware vendors. It's simply not referenced at all. OpenGL is thoroughly referenced in comparison.

    Even though PS3 isn't OGL (PSGL is OGLES based) you could still do Cg shaders, or convert HLSL or GLSL shaders or vise versa so it's not like skills are lost. Tools should be written against the game engines and middleware any way.

    Plus the desktop OGL is compatible with OGLES when it comes to the newer releases such as 4.1 and 4.3. Albeit with some tricks/configuration/compatibility modes. Then implementations sucks, but that will also be true for some graphics chips support for DX.
  • inighthawki - Monday, August 6, 2012 - link

    The tessellation feature you're referring to is a brand-specific hardware extension, and not the same class that DirectX's tessellation is. The tessellation hardware introduced for DX11 is a completely programmable pipeline that offers more flexibility. DirectX does not add support for hardware specific features for good reason.
  • djgandy - Tuesday, August 7, 2012 - link

    Tessellation was only added to the GL pipeline in 4.0. It was another one of those 'innovations' where GL copied DX, just like pretty much every other feature GL adds.

    What GL needs to do is copy DX when they remove stuff from the API. Scratch this stupid core/compatibility model, which just adds even more run-time configurations, remove all the old rubbish and do not allow mixing of new features with the old fixed function pipeline.
  • bobvodka - Tuesday, August 7, 2012 - link

    There was, 4 years ago, a plan to do just what you described in your second paragraph - Longs Peak was the code name and it was a complete change and clean up of the API with a modern design and it was a change universally praised by those of us following the ARB's news letters and design plans.

    In July 2007 they were 'close' to a release; in October they had 'some issues' to work out - they then went into radio silence and 6 months later, without bothering to tell anyone what was going on, they rolled out 'OpenGL3.0' aka 2.2 where all the grand API changes, worked on for 2 years, were thrown out the window, extensions bolted on again and no functionality removed.

    At this point myself, and quite a few others, made a loud noise and departed OpenGL development in favour of D3D10 and then D3D11.

    Four years on the ARB are continuing down the same path and I wouldn't bet my future on them seeing sense any time soon.
  • djgandy - Tuesday, August 7, 2012 - link

    The ARB think they are implementing features that developers want, and maybe they are, but AFAIK they have very few big selling developers anyway.

    It seems the ARB is unable to see the reason behind this, maybe because they are so concerned about the politics of backwards compatibility or least certain members of it are. For me this is the hardest part to understand, since it is not even real breaking of compatibility, it is simply ring fencing new features from old features thus saving a ton of driver writing hell (i.e what DX did). Instead you can still use begin end with your glsl arb and geometry shaders with a bit of fixed function fog over the top. How useful.

    I find it hard to even consider the GL API as an abstraction layer with the existing extension hell and the multiple profiles a driver can opt to support. The end result of this "compatibility" is anyone actually wanting to sell software using OpenGL has to pick the lowest common denominator...whatever that actually is, because you don't even know what you are getting till run time with the newer API, so then you just pick the ancient version of the API because at least you have a 99% chance that a GL 3.0 driver will be installed with all the old fixed function crud that you don't actually need, but glVertex3f is nice right?

    IMO GL's only hope is for a company like Apple to put it into a high volume product and actually deliver a good contract to developers (core profile only, limited extensions, and say GL 4.0).
  • bobvodka - Tuesday, August 7, 2012 - link

    Unfortunately Apple isn't very on the ball when it comes to OpenGL support.

    OSX10.7, released last year, only supports OpenGL 3.2, a spec released in 2009 and had Windows support within 2 months.

    Apple are focusing on mobile it would seem, where OpenGL|ES is saner and rules the roost.

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