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Khronos announces the OpenGL ES 3.0 specification

August 7, 2012

The OpenGL ES 2.0 specification has been finalized since 2007, but we didn’t get to use it in smartphones until 2009, when the iPhone and Android phones started supporting it in hardware. It still feels like a long time for the OpenGL ES specification to be updated, though. But the wait is over, as Khronos, the group responsible for OpenGL, OpenCL, OpenVL (augmented reality) and other open standards, has finally announced that the OpenGL ES 3.0 specification has been ratified.

The OpenGL ES 3.0 specification is largely an implementation of the desktop version of OpenGL 3.3, with some other features taken from OpenGL 4.x. Compared to DirectX, it’s somewhere between DirectX 9.3c and DirectX10, mainly because of the lack of geometry shaders, which were probably omitted because focusing on geometry shaders this early in the development of mobile GPU’s would use too much battery life.

However, considering that next year we should start seeing mobile GPU’s that are already more powerful than current-gen consoles, I expect Khronos to release the OpenGL ES 4.0 standard with geometry shaders a lot sooner than having to wait another 5 years. My guess is that we’ll see OpenGL ES 4.0 in 2014, or 2015 at most. Since OpenGL 4.0 supports tessellation, I wouldn’t be surprised if they added that feature in OpenGL ES 4.0 as well.

But the focus of OpenGL ES will always remain power consumption, as I’m sure nobody will want their mobile device to run out of battery after 2 hours of playing a game, no matter how impressive the graphics are. And actually, since there are already hundreds of millions of OpenGL ES devices on the market, and there will be billions soon thanks to Android and iOS, I think we’ll see indie developers port their mobile games to the desktop in OpenGL ES form, rather than the full OpenGL. The newly announced OpenGL 4.3 fully supports OpenGL ES 3.0, so all desktop chips will support OpenGL ES 3.0.

We should start seeing mobile GPUs that support OpenGL ES 3.0 coming out this year, including the Mali T604 and Adreno 320 GPU’s. Benchmark suits for OpenGL ES 3.0 should also start appearing by the end of the year.