Google to bung next-gen Vulkan 3D graphics spec into Android

But says OpenGL ES will live long and prosper

Mr. Spock goes full 3D

Vid Google on Monday said it will support the Khronos Group's Vulkan 3D graphics API in a future version of Android, although it's not clear when mobile game developers will be able to actually use it.

Vulkan, a successor to OpenGL, has been in the works for a while now, but the Khronos Group only announced the name at the Game Developers Conference in March.

At the Siggraph 2015 conference taking place in Los Angeles this week, Google said it will add new Vulkan API tests to its Android Compatibility Test Suite (CTS), and it will also contribute them to the Khronos Group for use in the open source Vulkan Conformance Test Suite.

"This will enable Khronos to test Vulkan drivers across platforms and hardware, and improve the 3D graphics ecosystem as a whole," Google's Android group said in a blog post.

Vulkan is being drafted as an alternative to the 22-year-old OpenGL spec that gives developers more direct control over the GPU via a simplified graphics driver. The idea is to reduce CPU overhead for rendering 3D graphics – which in turn reduces power consumption – making it more feasible to render sophisticated scenes on smartphones and other mobile devices.

Also on Monday, Imagination Technologies showed off video demonstrating how its Vulkan driver outperforms its OpenGL ES 3.0 driver running on an Intel-based Nexus Player Android device, which includes Imagination's PowerVR G6430 GPU.

PowerVR Rogue GPUs running Gnome Horde demo (Vulkan prototype)

Keep your eye on the gnome: Vulkan drivers on the left, OpenGL ES on the right

"One advantage of Vulkan over OpenGL ES is that the developer has more visibility of the memory that needs to be allocated," Imagination developer Ashley Smith explained. "With OpenGL ES the driver handles most of the allocation and hides it away from the developer. With Vulkan the memory that the driver allocates is very minimal and the developer can use different memory allocation strategies."

Both Google and Imagination say, however, that they will also continue to support OpenGL ES for the foreseeable future. Android developers will be able to choose whichever one works best for their particular application.

As for when, that remains to be seen. Vulkan is still under development at Khronos, but the specs, tools, and compatibility tests will all eventually be made available at the project's website, here. ®

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