Mobile Graphics | News

OpenGL ES 3.1 Adds 3D Capabilities, Integrated GPU Computing

The Khronos Group this week released an update to the royalty-free OpenGL ES specification — a widely adopted OpenGL specification designed specifically for mobile devices supported by mobile hardware heavyweights like ARM, Nvidia, Qualcomm and Intel. OpenGL ES 3.1, according to the OpenGL ES working group, offers new high-end features from the desktop OpenGL specification that can be implemented on current mobile hardware.

Some of the enhancements include:

  • Compute shaders, allowing the GPU to perform general computing tasks;
  • Independent vertex and fragment shader stage programming, allowing apps to "mix and match vertex and fragment programs without an explicit linking step";
  • New texture features, including "multisample textures, stencil textures and texture gather";
  • Improvements to shading language;
  • Per-sample shading; and
  • Support for advanced blending modes.

"OpenGL ES 3.1 provides the most desired features of desktop OpenGL 4.4 in a form suitable for mobile devices," said Tom Olson, chair of the OpenGL ES working group and director of graphics research at ARM, in a prepared statement. "It provides developers with the ability to use cutting-edge graphics techniques on devices that are shipping today."

"The OpenGL family of APIs including OpenGL ES, OpenGL and WebGL have [proved] themselves as the foundation for 3D graphics on mobile devices, PCs and the Web — this OpenGL ES release is yet another graphical milestone that will enable billions of users to experience new levels of realism and interactivity on pervasive, mainstream devices," said Neil Trevett, president of the Khronos Group and vice president of mobile ecosystem at Nvidia, also in a prepared statement.

"Intel has been actively involved with Khronos in the development of the new OpenGL ES 3.1 specification and is excited that specification has reached this key milestone," said Upendra Kulkarni, vice president at Intel. "Intel is excited about the innovation this will unleash for developers and is committed to supporting OpenGL ES 3.1 starting with the Bay Trail and Merrifield platforms. Support for OpenGL ES 3.1 on shipping Bay Trail and Merrifield platforms enables Intel to be ready immediately when the API is supported in Android."

"Upcoming mobile applications will require integrated GPUs to concurrently render graphics and perform general computing tasks within the power constraints of mobile devices," said Tim Leland, senior director of product management at Qualcomm Technologies. "We are pleased to have worked with Khronos to develop appropriate APIs in OpenGL ES 3.1 for compute shaders and indirect draw commands in order to enable new experiences on mobile devices that use Snapdragon processors."

OpenGL ES 3.1 is backward-compatible with OpenGL ES 2.0 and 3.0.

Complete documentation on the new specification can be found on the Khronos Group's site.

About the Author

David Nagel is editorial director of 1105 Media's Education Technology Group and editor-in-chief of THE Journal and STEAM Universe. A 25-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art and business publications.

He can be reached at You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at or follow him on Twitter at @THEJournalDave (K-12) or @CampusTechDave (higher education).

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