OpenCL Extending OpenGL

OpenGL 3.0 was a disappointment to game developers who hoped the API would add some key features that ended up being left behind. With the latest release, Khronos relegated OpenGL to professional and workstation applications like CAD/CAM and 3D content creation software, foregoing the wants and desires of game programmers. While not ideal from our perspective (competition is always good), the move is understandable, as OpenGL hasn't been consistently used by any major game engine developer other than Id software for quite some time. DirectX is seen as the graphics API of choice for game programming, and it looks like it will remain that way for the foreseeable future.

But OpenCL does bring an interesting element to the table. One of the major advancements of DirectX 11 will be the addition of a compute shader to the pipeline. This compute shader will be general purpose and capable of operating on diverse data structures that pixel shaders are not geared towards. It will be capable of things like OpenCL is, though it will be tuned and geared toward doing so in the context of graphics. It is, after all, still DirectX. In DX11, the pixel shader and compute shader will share data via data structures rather than any sort of formal input/output mechanism. Because of the high level of integration, game developers (and other graphics engine developers) will be capable of tightly combining current techniques with more general purpose code that can handle a broader array of algorithms.

OpenGL doesn't have anything like this in the works, but OpenCL fixes that. OpenCL is capable of sharing data with OpenGL. And we aren't talking about copying data back and forth easily, we are talking about physically sharing data structures and memory locations. This essentially adds a compute shader to OpenGL for those who want it. Why is that the case? well, offering OpenCL users a means of using OpenGL images and buffers as OpenCL images and buffers means that OpenGL and OpenCL can share data with no copy or conversion overhead. This means that not only are OpenGL and OpenCL able to work on the same data, but that the method by which they communicate is very similar to what DX11 does to allow the passing of data between pixel an geometry shaders.

While game developers may be intrigued, the professional app developers may have more of a reason to get excited. Sure, this will allow OpenGL game developers to use a compute shader like option, but it gives professional application developers the ability to actually combine the real work of simulation or data manipulation with visualization. With support for double precision in hardware that supports it, this could be useful for applications where a lot of real work needs to be done both on the thing being visualized and the visualization itself. This could speed things up quite a bit and allow fluid realtime visualization and manipulation of much more complicated data sets.

Additionally, this compute shader will work on hardware not specifically designed as DX11 class hardware. DX11, as a strict superset of DX10, will extend some functionality to DX10 hardware, but we aren't yet certain about the specifics of this and it may include CS functionality. On top of this, OpenCL should get drivers in the first quarter of next year. This puts the combination of OpenGL 3.0 plus OpenCL 1.0, for the first time in a long time, ahead of DirectX in terms of technology and capability. This is by no means a result of the sluggish and non-innovative OpenGL ARB. But maybe this will inspire more use of OpenGL, which maybe will inspire more innovation from the ARB. But I'm not going to hold my breath on that one.

In any case, the fact that OpenGL and OpenCL can share data without requiring a copy or conversion is a key feature. Not only will OpenCL allow developers to use the GPU for general purpose computing, but using OpenCL with OpenGL will help build a bridge between data parallel computing and visualization. Existing solutions like CUDA and Brook+ haven't done very well in this area, and using OpenGL or DirectX for data parallel processing makes it difficult to get work done efficiently. OpenCL + OpenGL solves these problems.

And maybe we'll even see things go the other way as well. Maybe developers doing massive amounts of parallel data processing using OpenCL not formerly interested in "seeing" what's happening will find it easy and beneficial to enable advanced visualization of their data or the processing thereof through integration with OpenGL. However they are used together, OpenCL and OpenGL will definitely both benefit from their symbiotic relationship.

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  • melgross - Thursday, January 01, 2009 - link

    It's interesting that while ATI and Nvidia are heavily mentioned with their rapidly depreciating standards, Apple, which after all, developed OpenCL isn't mentioned even once, though it will also likely be the first to implement OpenCL in 10.6 later this year, possibly by March. Even their Logo isn't shown. Very strange! Reply
  • Wwhat - Monday, January 05, 2009 - link

    By march they might (should) not be the first but graphicscard makers should have updated their drivers to support it already, after all they were well aware of OpenCL long before and already announced they would support it, and nvidia said that porting to it would be easy, plus both ATI and nvidia have no problem at all releasing unstable software/drivers, none at all, as we all experienced.
    Oh and nvidia had an OpenGL3 driver out in like 2 days after final specs and ATI a in a few weeks, so that makes you think they can put some steam behind their efforts if they want to.
  • dvinnen - Thursday, January 01, 2009 - link

    The logo picture was taken from their site Reply
  • rdbrown - Friday, January 02, 2009 - link

    On the the Khronos website right above the "Logos" Apple is the one who initially proposed the working group, Apple is also mentioned in the list of companies. They must not of posted Apple's logo knowing that everyone who knows anything about Open CL knows that it is Apple's technology, Heck Apple even owns the trademark rights. Reply
  • melgross - Thursday, January 01, 2009 - link

    At least they should have been mentioned in the article. Reply
  • yyrkoon - Thursday, January 01, 2009 - link

    And to say what ? That Apple feeling left out in the cold has made efforts to take the next obvious step and standardize GPU processing( very late in the game )? That is, assuming what you're saying is true.

    Gee, how very innovative of them.
  • hakime - Saturday, January 03, 2009 - link

    Shut up you are trolling!! You don't know what you are talking about, period.

    The fact that there is not reference of Apple in the article is a serious drawback. Apple invented and designed Open CL as mush as SGI invented and designed Open GL, ignoring it is simply wrong. Credit to who is deserved for, and Apple deserved the credit for inventing Open CL, you have to admit it either you like Apple or not.

    Apple has taken the industry of HPC upside down with Open CL, for the first time there is one single state of the art API and environment for high performance, multi-core and GPU programing, which is also OS and hardware independent. Open CL goes well beyond Direct X, as the latter is not only limited to what you can do for GPGPU, but also it is only designed for GPU (Microsoft is very late in the world of GPGPU, Apple has been targeting the GPU for high performance processing for a while now with Core Image and Core Video).

    Open CL offers an unique interface for both CPU and GPU, which in other words means that it brings together different technologies like Open MP or CUDA, this is unique in the industry, Apple deserves the credit for having created this single interface.

    Open CL is designed to target a large set of devices like CPU, GPU, Cell chips, DSPs, Direct X can't do that. Open CL targets small factor devices like the iPhone, Direct X does not and can not.

    Not only the author of the article fails to recognize this unique aspect of Open CL, but he also fails to comment on the effort made by Apple in creating Open CL. Again you like Apple or not, that does not matter, give the credit to who it is deserved for and get the facts right.

    Please correct the article and make it more interesting on what Open CL is really for, not the general bla, bla which is written.

  • ltcommanderdata - Thursday, January 01, 2009 - link

    Which part isn't true? That Apple developed OpenCL and then submitted to Khronos? Since even Khronos admits that is true.">

    "Apple has proposed the Open Computing Language (OpenCL) specification to enable any application to tap into the vast gigaflops of GPU and CPU resources through an approachable C-based language."

    Apple's Aaftab Munshi was also the chairman of the OpenCL working group.

    And how is OpenCL late in the game? I'm pretty sure that DirectX 11 is the only standardized GPGPU implementation across multiple vendors, but it's still in beta. In comparison OpenCL has been ratified, in record time compared to OpenGL 3.0, probably due to Apple's pressure to get it ready for Snow Leopard. And nVidia has already released OpenCL drivers for Windows and Linux.">
  • yyrkoon - Thursday, January 01, 2009 - link

    Oh, and sorry, my original point was something like this. While the true innovative companies are squabbling about whose product is superior, Apple sneaks up behind them, and claims to have invented the internet. In other words, whether Apple participated or not, an open standard would have been made. Reply
  • melgross - Friday, January 02, 2009 - link

    You're not very knowledgeable. You ARE very anti-Apple apparently.

    And why do gamers have to be the most beneficial parties? What's so great about gaming? Besides, OpenCL will benefit them, as well as parties that won't be benefitted by DirectX. Is that a bad thing? To you, it seems to be.

    If MS had developed this, you would be jumping up and down, and claiming that it was the next step beyond the now old DirectX methodology, and far more useful.

    Like it or not, this IS a major innovation, otherwise, so many companies of note wouldn't be signing on so quickly.

    Whether Windows users benefit from this, or are left out of it is up to MS, who seems only interested in destroying standards that don't result in MS's increasing dominance. Too bad for them! That doesn't work too well anymore.

    You know nothing about innovation at all. That's sad. Just go on being blinded by your prejudices, we all see it for what it is.

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