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What's next for OpenGL for the desktop, mobile devices, and the web?

Next-gen standards effort aims to rewrite OpenGL for the modern world

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Siggraph 2014 Graphics standards body the Khronos Group has called on industry players to help draft the next generation of the OpenGL spec, a major rewrite that's expected to help unify the OpenGL development model for desktop PCs, mobile devices, and the web.

"Fast-paced work on detailed proposals and designs are already underway, and any company interested to participate is strongly encouraged to join Khronos for a voice and a vote in the development process," the group said in a press release on Monday.

In a phone conversation last week, Khronos president Neil Trevett told The Reg that one reason why OpenGL needs a radical revamp is because the hardware landscape is dramatically different today than when the standard was first conceived.

"OpenGL is 20 years old, and back in the day, RealityEngine hardware from Silicon Graphics was the typical target for the first generation of OpenGL," Trevett said. "Obviously hardware has significantly changed, even on mobile devices. You see multiple-core CPUs, quite advanced GPUs, shared memory ... it's a different world."

Mobile devices are much on everyone's mind in the industry these days, with console-quality gaming on mobile phones just around the corner. But Trevett sees the demand for OpenGL broadening even further.

"More and more platforms are becoming 3D capable," Trevett told The Reg. "It's not just desktop gaming PCs and workstations anymore. It is mobile devices, and it is web browsers, and it is cloud rendering, feeding across the web to clients. It's embedded markets. There's quite a big market selling GPUs into automotive.

"My microwave oven is about to be 3D enabled," he added, though he admitted this last example was probably a little farther off.

One goal for the next-gen OpenGL standardization effort, then, will be to simplify the OpenGL ecosystem and make it easier to develop applications for a wider range of targets.

For example, currently Khronos maintains the full OpenGL spec for desktop PCs – version 4.5 was announced on Monday – and the separate OpenGL ES spec for use on mobile devices. Trevett hopes that under the new standard, this division will no longer be necessary.

Also, subtle inconsistencies in how individual vendors implement the OpenGL ES spec can mean overall application performance can vary from device to device, something the new standard aims to address.

"Khronos has definitely taken it on board and internalized that we need to, for this generation, not just focus on the spec but focus on how we're going to make it even more reliable across multiple vendors," Trevett said. "And we're attacking that problem at a very fundamental level."

The new standard should have a more streamlined API so that it's easier to implement consistently, Trevett said, and it should also have a standardized intermediate language (IL) that's decoupled from the hardware acceleration that's available on each platform.

Khronos also plans to improve its conformance testing methodology so that implementation problems can be spotted before they go to market. The group is even considering releasing its conformance tests as open source so that interested parties can help improve them, although it hasn't committed to this yet.

Trevett said work on the next generation of OpenGL is already well underway and progress is moving rapidly. The effort has also sparked interest from unusual quarters, with "triple-A" game makers like Blizzard, EA, and Epic joining the typical hardware and tool vendors at the table for the first time.

"Out of all of the APIs we've ever designed at Khronos, including the original OpenGL ES, this is the most positive energy and momentum that I've ever seen," Trevett said. ®

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