Skip to content or navigation


The Future of Graphics: Introducing Vulkan—Heir Apparent to OpenGL / OpenGL ES

Khronos Group, the stewards of computer industry open standards like OpenGL and WebGL, have announced the Vulkan, a next-generation graphics API system and replacement to industry-standard and leading OpenGL and OpenGL ES.

Advertisement

The future of computer graphics today will be greeted by a new prince. Introducing Vulkan, the next-generation high-efficiency API (application programming interface) destined and planned to replace the aging and somewhat limited OpenGL and its mobile equivalent OpenGL ES.

Today The Khronos™ Group, an open consortium of leading hardware and software companies, has announced the availability of technical previews of the new Vulkan™ open standard API for high-efficiency access to graphics and compute on modern GPUs (graphics processing units) used in a wide variety of devices.

Bold New Ground-Up Design

Previously referred to as the Next Generation OpenGL Initiative, Vulkan is a ground-up new design that provides applications direct control over GPU acceleration for maximum performance and predictability, and uses Khronos’ new SPIR-V™ specification for shading language flexibility.

Vulkan’s initial specifications and implementations are expected later this year and any company may participate in Vulkan’s ongoing development by joining Khronos. Industry feedback, is very welcome says the consortium.

01 - Vulkan(tm) is the latest graphics and compute combined future API for GPUs across all devices.

01 – Vulkan(tm) is the latest graphics and compute combined future API for GPUs across all devices.

“Industry standard APIs like Vulkan are a critical part of enabling developers to bring the best possible experience to customers on multiple platforms,” said Valve’s Gabe Newell. “Valve and the other Khronos members are working hard to ensure that this high-performance graphics interface is made available as widely as possible and we view it as a critical component of SteamOS and future Valve games.”

Vulkan Technical Previews at GDC in San Francisco

Timed for the Gaming Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco this week, the Khronos Group will be providing a technical preview of the new graphics API system. The two sessions are noted below:

  • Vulkan: The Future of High Performance Graphics — noted by Valve:  Thursday, March 5 at 10-11 AM in Room 2006 in the West Hall of the GDC Conference. In this session a technical preview will be shown with advanced techniques of the API and live demos of real-world applications running on Vulkan drivers and hardware
  • Vulkan: the Next Generation Graphics and Compute API — Thursday, March 5 at 12 – 1:30 PM. Venue: SF Green Space at 657 Mission Street, Suite 200. Five minutes walk from GDC. Vulkan overview, demos and direct interaction with the working group members. No GDC pass required, however seating is limited so please register if you plan to attend.

Industry Support and Key Achievements

Readers may be wondering what is happening to OpenGL and OpenGL ES, the version of OpenGL designed for mobile platforms like the ARM architecture platforms behind the iPhone. The short answer is they will be maintained fully alongside Vulkan giving developers optionality for how to target GPUs for both compute and graphics, within the context of an expanding universe of connected digital devices with graphics-based interfaces. ¹

Neil Trevett, president of the Khronos Group and vice president at NVIDIA, spoke to Architosh at length days ago ahead of the announcement about what Vulkan truly means for the future of graphics and compute using GPUs. For readers interested in the technical details about Vulkan we will be sharing many details in a companion feature. What is key to know about Vulkan now is that it will develop alongside OpenGL and OpenGL ES.

02 - Vulkan provides developers more direct connection and control of the GPU hardware. Our technical feature on Vulkan explains in detail many more differences. (image: courtesy Khronos Group. All rights reserved.)

02 – Vulkan provides developers more direct connection and control of the GPU hardware. Our technical feature on Vulkan explains in detail many more differences. (image: courtesy Khronos Group. All rights reserved.)

“Vulkan expands the family of Khronos 3D API’s, and complements OpenGL and OpenGL ES,” says Neil Trevett, “that between them, provide access to billions of GPUs today, and will continue to be evolved and maintained to meet industry needs.”

The biggest industry hardware players are behind the Vulkan API, including Apple, AMD, ARM, Imagination, Intel, Nokia, NVIDIA, Samsung, Sony, Qualcomm, and Vivante. But importantly, as our feature article on this announcement discusses, it was the game engine companies, such as EPIC Games, that helped initiate the push the Vulkan initiative.

Industry Support and What Vulkan Means

“With direct influence on several generations of hardware and software architectures for milliwatt to kilowatt platforms, OpenGL is undeniably the industry’s most successful 3D Graphics API,” said Raja Koduri, corporate vice president, Visual and Perceptual Computing, AMD. “Vulkan is a transformation to OpenGL that brings forth exciting low-overhead capabilities to enable compelling increases in performance and power efficiency while maintaining developer productivity.”

03 - The working group participants include the biggest names in the computer industry—including Apple, ARM, AMD, Nvidia, Imagination and more. (image: courtesy Khronos Group. All rights reserved)

03 – The working group participants include the biggest names in the computer industry—including Apple, ARM, AMD, Nvidia, Imagination and more. (image: courtesy Khronos Group. All rights reserved)

“Since helping found Khronos, ARM has strived to improve the efficiency of standards and deliver compelling graphics to mobile devices with minimum energy consumption,” said Jem Davies, vice president of technology, media processing group, ARM. “Vulkan is a big step forward in enabling our ecosystem of developers to unleash the capabilities of the latest ARM GPU technology.”

“The Vulkan API is a groundbreaking rethink of graphics software technology,” said Dan Baker, co- founder, Oxide Games. “The efficiency and threading abilities are profound leaps forward that enable Oxide Games to create entirely new game genres on a variety of platforms.”

Learning More

To learn more go to Khronos online here.  To understand additional items as they related to Apple perhaps, read some of the posted comments below. One reader asked about Apple’s new Metal API for graphics. We address that below in the comments. [edit. note: this paragraph was added after original publication, 11:56 AM EDT. 3 Mar 2015]

Footnotes

1 – This sentence was uncorrected stated earlier as that “ultimately OpenGL and OpenGL ES were meant to be phased out.” That is not correct, entirely. Khronos will continue to develop and advance both OpenGL and OpenGL ES alongside Vulkan, giving developers options, as the market demands.