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OpenGL ES 3.0 Logo

At the first day of Siggraph 2012, which is taking place at the Los Angeles Convention Center, Khronos group announced the new iterations of OpenGL API for conventional computers and consoles (OpenGL), as well as mobile devices (OpenGL ES).

The new versions of popular OpenGL API (Application Programming Interface) are more important than ever, since they represent a baseline for the next-generation of console and mobile devices, as well as computers. All of the major players are a part of Khronos group, which resurrected the OpenGL after Microsoft's DirectX pushed it from the limelight. However, by working as a group, it takes extraordinary amount of time and consensus to 'get things done', which is the reason why for example, the last version of OpenGL for embedded systems came in 2007. Given the time it takes to develop the mobile hardware to spec, the first ES 2.0 hardware only appeared in 2009/10 timeframe.

Last year, we started to see real high-end demos and applications using OpenGL ES 2.0 to its full extent, and the need for new API appeared. With ARM Mali T604, Qualcomm Adreno 300 and Nvidia Tegra 4 hardware all featuring unified shaders, OpenCL 1.1 – it was obvious that the next generation hardware requires a next generation API.

OpenGL ES 3.0

As the name implies, OpenGL for Embedded Systems 3.0 is a new API with support for contemporary and future hardware. Closely developed in collaboration between hardware vendors such as AMD, Apple, ARM, Broadcom, Ericsson, Freescale, Imagination, Intel, Nokia, Nvidia, Qualcomm, ST, Texas Instruments and software firms like Epic Games, Google, Transgaming and Unity – key focus for the OpenGL ES 3.0 was the slide below:

This also explains why we are seeing such an influx of software vendors into Khronos group, and interactivity between hardware and software vendors. There are several key features to which Khronos paid special attention, with the perhaps most important being support for new textures. OpenGL ES 3.0 now supports 32 textures, multiple channel textures (R, RG), support for 3D textures and texture arrays as well as Depth textures. In order to keep the texture budget appropriate to mobile GPUs, key focus is set on texture compression.

You can now have tightly compressed textures with alpha support (ASTC extension, ETC2/EAC), expanding game development capabilities from OpenGL ES to WebGL and back. This should resolve what is now considered as a major problem for game developers who want to create content for the all platform (iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Xbox OS, Linux, Windows).

Scene drawing is now enhanced with Primitive Restart, Instanced Rendering and Transform Feedback (capturing transformed geometry into a buffer). More importantly, there are several new rendering features which cater to the advanced graphics coming to mobile chips. Anti-aliased rendering to textures i.e. Multi-sampled Framebuffer Objects. MRT is now supported with at least four rendering targets, which brings new level of realism on 3D scenes. According to Khronos representatives, implemented technologies stay true to needs of game developers, targeting shorter time of production for higher quality applications.

Kishonti GLBenchmark 3.0 and RightWare Basemark

In order to demonstrate just what OpenGL ES 3.0 is capable of, for the first time we are seeing the release of not one, but two benchmarks. Kishonti released GLBenchmark 3.0, while Rightware released Basemark ES 3.0.


As you can see from the screenshots above, both companies made quite impressive graphics demonstrations which remind us of 2007 demos for ATI Radeon HD 3800. Given that those chips consumed about 150-200 Watts, and the demos here run on 1-2 Watt chips, it is obvious that the mobile platform is the next frontier for the graphics industry. In case screenshots don't make up for your curiosity, we have a half a minute video of GLBenchmark 3.0 on YouTube.

The future for OpenGL ES Brings Reemergence of Windows Platform

Maybe the most interesting part of the presentation wasn't tied to OpenGL ES 3.0 at all, rather its competing API. As we all know, Microsoft's DirectX and the Windows Phone OS is currently occupying a miniscule part of the mobile market. However, according to Khronos themselves, they expect that Microsoft will capture up to 20% of mobile market.

If Microsoft really manages to stage a comeback, it probably won't be because of Windows Phone 7. However, if Nokia's lineup of Windows Phone 8 devices strikes black oil, that might reverse the said trend.

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