The State of OpenGL ES 3.0: Who's Got What
4/11/2013 by: Anshel Sag
OpenGL ES 3.0 is a set of APIs standardized and established by the Khronos Group. This standard of APIs is the most recent update to the Open GL ES standard of APIs which are found in almost all mobile processors, period. Since OpenGL is basically the defacto standard, it is also something that many hardware companies work very hard to adhere to. The same has been with OpenGL ES 3.0, which was announced back in August of 2012 and brought tons of improvements to games to make them not only better looking, but more efficient. This standard has slowly found its way into many hardware companies’ qualification processes and we spent some time asking around to find out exactly who was OpenGL ES 3.0 conformant and with what hardware.
Currently, almost all games are being created using OpenGL ES 2.0, and most hardware supports that set of APIs. However, as hardware companies and OEMs look forward the desire is to have Open GL ES 3.0 support once the games start to employ those features. As usual, there is a chicken and egg problem here as most developers won’t really design any games in Open GL ES 3.0 unless there’s hardware to support it and most hardware manufacturers won’t make hardware unless there are games to use it. As such, we usually find that it is the hardware companies that push the standard first, into their hardware and then give the developers something to develop their applications on. Going from there, we’ve been closely following certain companies’ certifications of OpenGL ES 3.0 compliance with some notable companies missing from the fray.
The latest company that is OpenGL ES 3.0 conformant is ARM. They are conformant in a few of their mobile GPUs. Most notably, they are compliant with the Mali T624 and Mali T604 GPUs. Currently, the T624 is not shipping in any mobile hardware, however, the T604 is. This GPU is located inside of the Samsung Exynos 5 dual core chip, which means Samsung Chromebooks and The Nexus 10 will automatically become OpenGL ES 3.0 conformant.
Nearly every single Nvidia desktop GPU is certified for Open GL ES 3.0 and one mobile notebook GPU, the Quadro 1000. This is really pointless, to be honest since OpenGL ES 3.0 is a mobile API and is really intended for low power SoCs. No mobile SoCs, this is due to the fact that Nvidia decided that they would not make the Tegra 4 OpenGL ES 3.0 conformant, even though it supports many of the APIs within OpenGL ES 3.0. This was a conscious decision by Nvidia as they believe that by the time Tegra 5 comes out, there will actually be demand for hardware supporting OpenGL ES 3.0. The problem with this mentality is that OpenGL ES 3.0 has become one of those specs that people in management look for in an SoC to make it future-proof. While Nvidia’s assertion regarding OpenGL ES 3.0 is likely true, they will have missed out on the Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 design wins as a result of not supporting OpenGL ES 3.0, an unfortunate reality for the company.
Intel is in a somewhat better place with their Intel HD 2500 and HD 4000 GPUs supporting OpenGL ES 3.0. While these GPUs are considered to be ‘mobile’ they still ship inside of desktop and laptop CPUs, not mobile SoCs, until Bay Trail becomes a reality. Bay Trail will be Intel’s first mobile SoC with a 100% Intel solution, meaning it will have an Intel CPU and GPU on the chip, since they licensed IP from Imagination Technologies in the past. Bay Trail was announced today and will ship in tablets and smartphones in the second half of the year in dual core and quad core implementations. The GPU inside of the Bay Trail SoCs will be based on the Intel HD4000 GPUs, which will mean that Bay Trail should be Open GL ES 3.0 conformant.
Qualcomm is also one of the hardware companies conformant with OpenGL ES 3.0, with their APQ8064 mobile chip, which is already found in countless smartphones and uses an Adreno 320 GPU. This means that all phones using the Adreno 320 will also run Open GL ES 3.0, including the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S IV, both of whom will use the Snapdragon 600 (8064T). Qualcomm was actually the first company out of all of the semiconductor manufacturers to qualify their hardware and gain compliance from Khronos. Considering that even older phones like the Optimus G, Droid DNA (HTC Butterfly J) and Nexus 4 also have this GPU, Qualcomm already has a head start on their competitors in the OpenGL ES 3.0 spec war. This head start may also be one of the reasons why we expect to see Qualcomm’s hardware in the new Nexus 7 due out later this year.
Imagination Technologies is also listed on the list of conformant as one of the first ones with their PowerVR Rogue chipset. However, there is currently no mobile hardware shipping using the Rogue chipset, but it is Imagination's chipset for their future GPUs as the PowerVR Rogue represents the 6 series of GPUs from the company, which will likely be found in future Apple, TI, Renesas, MediaTek, and other SoC vendors' chips.
A few companies, however, are missing from Khronos’ list. One notable company is AMD, they are a pretty important one, too. They currently are not competitive in the mobile space, and it remains to be seen if they can be. They aren’t really shipping in any mobile devices in any serious volumes, and OpenGL ES is prominently found in the Android and iOS operating systems as common API. However, even if AMD does not plan for an Android tablet, it would still be beneficial to have for any sort of Linux implementations. We contacted AMD regarding this fact and they stated that, Apple is also not on the list of companies with conformant hardware. This is because they traditionally license their GPU cores from Imagination Technologies. If Imagination has hardware or IP that’s compliant, then they will likely license that or a variant of it to Apple.
We also spoke with another notable GPU vendor, Vivante, which is found in many automotive and mobile SoCS across the world. Vivante has actually been shipping OpenGL ES 3.0 hardware for quite some time and has submitted their hardware for conformance, they are still waiting on approval, but they say that their GPUs have already been shipping in their customers’ products for many months now.
So, that pretty much wraps up our coverage of who’s got OpenGL ES 3.0 and where the industry currently is with adoption. Some companies are further ahead than others, but there is no doubt that the entire industry is quickly moving towards OpenGL ES 3.0 compliance. Hopefully, by the end of this year we will see more applications utilizing OpenGL ES 3.0 beyond demonstrations and benchmarks. From what we’ve seen so far, Open GL ES 3.0 games look to be quite promising and could easily help the latest generation of mobile GPUs make the current generation of consoles look as dated as they really are.
OpenGL, Open GL, OpenGL ES 3.0, OpenGL ES 2.0, OpenGL ES, Khronos, ARM, Apple, Intel, Nvidia, AMD, Vivante, Imagination Technologies, Qualcomm, Samsung
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