OpenGL 1.4 unveiled

The biggest multi-platform graphics standard gets an upgrade, adding technology to exploit the latest graphics hardware. And Nokia says it will bring OpenGL to mobile phones

Silicon Graphics (SGI) and a group of other major players in the computer graphics industry have released the latest specification for the OpenGL application programming interface, OpenGL 1.4. The new version includes a number of improvements designed to better take advantage of the latest 3D graphics hardware.

SGI and Nokia also said that they are planning to work on a version of OpenGL for mobile phones, handheld computers and other portable devices.

OpenGL has been largely superseded for gaming on the Windows platform by Microsoft's DirectX, but is also widely used on other platforms, including Mac OS X, Linux and Unix. A number of best-selling 3D games, including Doom and Quake, also rely on OpenGL, but it is more widely used for technical computing such as simulations or building visualisations of buildings and landscapes, and for computer-aided industrial design.

Major new additions in OpenGL 1.4 include depth textures and shadow textures, which enable real-time shadow rendering; a vertex programming framework, which gives developers greater control over geometry, lighting and shading programs; and automatic texture mipmap generation, which provides filtering for dynamic textures, according to SGI.

"We are... pleased that the ARB (Architectural Review Board) is delivering on its intention to provide a new specification every year, and OpenGL 1.4 is the latest proof point," said Shawn Underwood, director of marketing for SGI, in a statement.

SGI also said that it and Nokia have agreed to develop a 3D standard for all embedded mobile devices, based on OpenGL. The standard will tie into a similar project from Khronos Group, and will complement a mobile Java 3D standard currently in development.

Many companies are working to implement 3D in mobile devices, but an OpenGL-based standard would make it easier for developers already familiar with the OpenGL environment to get their feet wet in the embedded arena. Embedded devices include anything that isn't a PC, from handheld computers to Web tablets to mobile phones.

SGI originally created OpenGL, but the development of the Application Programming Interface is now controlled by the OpenGL Architectural Review Board, which includes as voting members such industry heavyweights as Nvidia, ATI, HP, IBM, Intel and Microsoft.

Some industry observers believe the OpenGL specification is in danger of being thrown off course by Microsoft patent claims. At the ARB's most recent meeting, Microsoft said it believed it had patents covering vertex programming and a technology called fragment shading. Microsoft is asking for a cross-licensing agreement with other OpenGL licensees in order to make vertex programming part of the OpenGL specification, but this arrangement could alter the "open" nature of the API and tip the balance against smaller licensees.

Microsoft said that licensing terms have not been finalised, but a representative promised that the company "isn't requiring anything over what any other members require" to make their technology a part of OpenGL.

Nevertheless, other ARB members, such as IBM and 3DLabs, were wary of giving Microsoft too much control over the specification.

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