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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  • BenchPress - Monday, August 6, 2012 - link

    S3TC support is not demanded. You can query which formats are supported, and trying to create unsupported ones will fail.

    Of course texture compression is important so the major hardware manufacturers implemented it and pay for it. But this is equally true for OpenGL. They all implement the extension.

    Core Direct3D functionality is royalty free, just like OpenGL. After all, they are just APIs.
  • mczak - Monday, August 6, 2012 - link

    That isn't quite true for DX10 and up. There's very few optional formats, almost everything is mandatory (including the s3tc formats).
    That said, IIRC hw manufacturers did NOT have to pay s3tc license fees due to some licensing deal of MS (if they implemented s3tc for d3d, they still had to pay for OGL).
  • StevoLincolnite - Monday, August 6, 2012 - link

    Direct X is also used on the Xbox 360 which is a games console, the PS3 even has Direct X 9 hardware, albeit without the API. (It uses OpenGL)
    Android, iOS and other mobile OS's can't play AAA games like a PC or Console can, in-fact most games are incredibly simple with decade old level of graphics.

    Steam has what, 30-40 million users? Origin is picking up steam (Pun intended), Ubisoft uPlay probably has a few users.

    So lets go with 40 million PC gamers (Which is probably lower than the true number.) which in turn use Direct X.
    Then add on the Xbox console numbers which makes it 110 million gamers that use Direct X in one form of another.

    Suddenly Direct X doesn't look insignificant.

    If you go back almost a couple decades during the Era of 3dfx, Allot of games actually used multiple API's that you could choose depending on your hardware.
    I remember Unreal Tournament for instance coming with 3dfx Glide, OpenGL, Software Rendering and Direct 3D, so it's not like you can't support multiple API's in a game engine using some wrappers, which may be the path developers may take in the future again.
  • BiggieShady - Monday, August 6, 2012 - link

    Saying things like "PS3 has DX9 hardware but it uses OpenGL" is wrong on so many levels. DirectX and OpenGL are API-s designed to work with different types of hardware with one thing in common - they expose the same hardware functionality. So PS3 and Xbox have different GPU-s that both expose same functionality either for OpenGL or DirectX.
  • wicketr - Monday, August 6, 2012 - link

    There are over 500 Million Mac/Linux/Smartphone/Tablet users that DirectX isn't on. Meaning that a developer using DirectX would miss out on those users.

    ....Or they could use OpenGL and cover 100% of the user base. Currently, it'd be asinine to develop a mobile only game in DirectX, because they'd only reach about 5% of the market.

    The question on the desktop is if DirectX's feature set is THAT much better than OpenGL to warrant it's use. As OpenGL catches up in parity and as more users abandon Windows, the reasoning for using DirectX gets smaller and smaller, especially as developers get more and more comfortable in OpenGL (due to mobile programming).

    The only way DirectX can really survive over the long term (10+ years out), is if Microsoft develops engines compatible for iPhone and Android. Those ecosystems are just WAY to large for Microsoft to use their proprietary engine to push users (and developers) to MS Phones.
  • bobvodka - Monday, August 6, 2012 - link

    DX will survive as long as there is a Windows or XBox market for it to survive in.

    Beyond that developers, like myself, will do what we've always done and use the best API for the target platform.

    Amusingly the only people who really seem to care about which API 'wins' are OS Zealots who want their OS to dominate the world... which, you know, works so well...

    The rest of us doing the real work day in-day out will just use the best tools for the job and won't care who they come from.

    Unfortunately, right now, the ARB doesn't have a track record of 'the best tools' having dropped the ball with the Longs Peak/OGL3.0 debarcle which was, at the time, OpenGL's best chance of 'making a come back' on Windows (this was around the time of Vista/DX10 and the wailing of XP gamers who wanted DX10 features in their games) - when it comes to OpenGL I wouldn't trust the ARB to find their own arses if handed a map.

    Now, OpenGL|ES is another matter, they have handle that well and its a good thing BUT OpenGL|ES is NOT OpenGL (yay marketing!); you do not program these APIs the same way and doing so is going to hurt you which brings us back around to 'the right tools for the job'.

    OpenGL is not, for the majority of the home computer market, the right tool yet.
  • ananduser - Tuesday, August 7, 2012 - link

    The user to which you replied presented some vague numbers representing dedicated gamers and not the install base. You counter that with the totality of non-Win devices ?

    You seem bent on people "abandoning" Windows like it's the plague and it's the right thing to do. You also seem to go to sleep at night wishing DirectX was dead so that EA would develop BF4 for your mac(I presume).

    DX will still be the dominant gaming industry API even 10 years out. Even more so than today.
  • SleepyFE - Monday, August 6, 2012 - link

    DirectX is being used because people think like you (and so far it was better). Most people use Windows so why not use DirectX. NOW you have 110 mill gamers using DirectX because developers used it. If they decided to use OpenGL which also works on Windows and Xbox you would have 110 mill gamers using OpenGL and a few million using DirectX because Microsoft was the developer's partner and they forced them to use it.

    So far using OpenGL was a problem since it had less features and was harder to learn (deep end of the pool). Now is the time to make the switch.

    Also, i do not use Windows because i like it, i like the games that are made for it. If i want to play a game, i am FORCED to have Windows because of DirectX only running on Windows. Using OpenGL does not yet mean it will run everywhere, but it does mean a lot less work to get it working elsewhere. Right now so many people are on Windows that developing the game in both DirectX and OpenGL just doesn't pay. Using only one is the way to go. An OpenGL title right now has a slightly wider audience (a very very very very small increase). But if they keep using DirectX we have to keep using Windows (even if we don't like it).

    Games are the reason most of us use Windows, but with good OpanGL that might change. Ouya is a gaming console with Android and as phones become more and more powerful we might only need a phone some day. A phone with a super fast USB 5.0 that is plugged in to a monitor with more USB ports for a keyboard, mouse, controller... And that phone will probably have Android on it. And to play games you will need OpanGL. At that point it would be good to have a huge selection of games (even if they are old and outdated, nostalgia never goes out of fashion).
  • bobvodka - Monday, August 6, 2012 - link

    The PS3 does not use OpenGL.

    There is a PSGL implimentation but no one who wants any speed out of the thing uses it; GCM is the PS3 API of choice.

    Linux and OSX are the only OSes which use OpenGL exclusively.

    Mobile devices use OpenGL|ES which is a different API completely and, more importantly, can not be used in the same manner as OpenGL. They are moving closer in feature parity however even then I would call anyone who treated a mobile device like a desktop insane.

    Developers also regularly support multi rendering APIs when they produce 360, PS3 and PC titles; right now we (where I work) are producing a game which has support for X360, PS3, D3D11 and early WiiU support.

    In the future, for a short while at least until we can drop it for the older platforms anyway, I suspect we'll have X360, PS3, D3D11, XBox720, PS4, WiiU and iOS support in the renderer (maybe Android too, although I know of no plans personally) - as always we will pick the best API for the platform.
  • wicketr - Monday, August 6, 2012 - link

    The question is what API are you using for Mac users? They are 10% of desktop users, and significantly more than that if you discount the business segment of computers. Surely you're not ignoring a fourth (and growing) of the consumer desktop/laptop market by not even writing your game for Macs.

    If it's OpenGL, then wouldn't it be a greater benefit to "write once, deploy twice" on both OSes? Or are the graphical benefits of DirectX really that much better to write it twice?

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