OpenGL 1

Graphics hardware is getting better for mobile devices. But the software that makes use of that hardware is just as important when it comes to getting outstanding polygonal images to run on a wide variety of devices. That’s why a new graphics standard from a consortium called the Khronos Group is important, which should lead to consumers seeing better-looking zombies on their iPhone or Android tablets.

Khronos is revealing the OpenGL ES 3.0 specification today at the at the Siggraph 2012 graphics conference, hoping to take mobile 3D graphics to a new level. Coupled with hardware advances such as new chips, also being announced later today, the software standard will enable console-like imagery on simple smartphones and tablets that could barely run stick-figure graphics five years ago. Imagination Technologies, a member of the Khronos Group, predicted today that a billion OpenGL ES 3.0 devices will be shipped by 2014.

The OpenGL ES 3.0 standard matters because it allows game developers to create titles that are compatible with its applications programming interface (API) and can run on any device that complies with the standard. That makes games more universal with no royalty payment required.

OpenGL 2If a game has access to fancy graphics chips from Nvidia, ARM, or Apple, it can tap into that hardware through the compatibility layer. For developers, this all means it will cost less to produce great 3D effects on all kinds of devices, and for players, it means impressive, console-like games. The public first saw OpenGL ES 2.0 in 2007, and it led to a generation of cool 3D apps that exploited graphics hardware. Khronos’ 3.0 version is compatible with 2.0.

OpenGL 3“OpenGL ES 3.0 draws on proven functionality from OpenGL 3.3 and 4.2 and carefully balances the introduction of leading-edge technology with addressing the real-world needs of developers,” said Tom Olson, chairman of the OpenGL ES Working Group and director of graphics research at ARM.

The new standard enables graphical improvements that ordinary folks won’t understand, like enhancements to the rendering pipeline, occlusion queries, transform feedback, instanced rendering, and support for four-or-more rendering targets. That basically means that graphics in mobile games will be prettier to the human eye.

Tatsuo Yamamoto, CEO of graphic-core manufacturer Digital Media Professionals (DMP), said that the new standard will be dominant in graphics optimized for smartphones, tablets, and consumer electronics. Neil Trevett, vice president of mobile content at graphics-chip maker Nvidia, said his firm fully supports the evolution of the 3D API, as does Qualcomm, ZiiLABS, and many other companies.

In another move, the Khronos Group also released the OpenGL 4.3 spec for cross-platform 2D and 3D graphics, and it released a new generation of royalty-free texture compression technology, allowing for greater memory efficiency in 3D-graphics applications. Trevett said the new texture-compression technology is the biggest leap in many years within the space. The advancement will be important for 3D animations that run inside web browsers with no software downloads needed.

[Image credits: Kishonti, RightWare]