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The OpenGL Pipeline Newsletter - Volume 004

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Climbing OpenGL Longs Peak, Camp 3: An OpenGL ARB Progress Update

Long PeaksLongs Peak – 14,255 feet, 15th highest mountain in Colorado. Mount Evans is the 14th highest mountain in Colorado. (Therefore, we have at least 13 OpenGL revisions to go!)

Since the last edition of OpenGL Pipeline we’ve increased our efforts even more. We held a face-to-face meeting in March and another face-to-face meeting at the end of May. Currently we’re on track to meet face-to-face six times this year, instead of the usual four! The ARB recognizes it is extremely important to get OpenGL Longs Peak and Mount Evans done. We also still meet by phone five times per week. This is a big commitment from our members, and I’m very happy and proud to see the graphics industry working together to make OpenGL the best graphics platform!

A lot has happened since the last edition of Pipeline. Below follows a brief summary of the most important advances. Other articles in this edition will go into more detail on some of the topics. Happy reading!

Maximize vertex throughput using buffer objects. Just like in OpenGL 2.1, an application can map a buffer object in OpenGL Longs Peak. Mapping a buffer object returns a pointer to the application which can be used to write (or read) data to (or from) the buffer object. In OpenGL Longs Peak the mapping is made more sophisticated, with the end result that maximum parallelism can be achieved between the application writing data into the buffer object and the GL implementation reading data out of it. Read more about this cool feature in an article later in this newsletter.

More context creation options are available. In the previous edition of OpenGL Pipeline I described how we are planning on handling interoperability of OpenGL 2.1 and Longs Peak code. As a result, the application needs to explicitly create an OpenGL Longs Peak or OpenGL 2.x context. To aid debugging, it is also possible to request the GL to create a debug context. A debug context is only intended for use during application development. It provides additional validation, logging and error checking, but possibly at the cost of performance.

The object handle model is fleshed out. We finalized all the nitty-gritty details of the object model that have to do with object and handle creation and deletion, attachment of an object to a container object, and the behavior of these operations across contexts. Here is a brief summary:

  1. The GL creates handles, not the application, as can be the case in OpenGL 2.1. This is done in the name of efficiency.
  2. Object creation can be asynchronous. This means that it is possible that the creation of an object happens later in time than the creation of the handle to the object. A call to an object creation routine will return the handle to the caller immediately. The GL server might not get to the creation of the actual object until later. This is again done for performance reasons. The rule that all commands are executed in the order issued still applies (within a given context). Thus, asynchronous object creation might mean that a later request to operate on an object will have to block until the object is created. Fences and queries can help determine if this will be the case.
  3. Object use by the GL is reference counted. Once the “refcount” of an object goes to zero, the GL implementation is free to delete the storage of the object. Object creation sets the refcount to 1.
  4. The application does not delete an object, but instead invalidates the object handle. The invalidation decrements the object’s refcount.
  5. An object’s refcount is incremented whenever it is “in use.” Examples of “in use” include attaching an object to a container object, or binding an object into the context.
  6. Once a handle is invalidated, it cannot be used to refer to its underlying object anymore, even if the object still exists.

Most context state will be moved into an object. We are currently pondering which state stays in the context, and which context state is moved into an object. One interesting set of state I want to highlight is the state for the per-fragment operations, described in Chapter 4 of the OpenGL 2.1 specification. This state actually applies per sample, not per fragment. Think of state such as alpha test, stencil test, depth test, etc. We expect that some time in the future hardware will be available that makes all these operations programmable. Once that happens, we’ll define another program object type, and would like to be able to just “drop it in” to the framework defined in OpenGL Longs Peak. Therefore, we are working on defining a sample operation state object that contains all this state.

We’re also working on fleshing out the draw commands as well as display lists. Good progress was made defining what the draw calls will look like. We decided to keep it simple, and largely mirror what is done in OpenGL 2.1. There will be DrawArrays, DrawElements, etc. commands that take vertex indices. In order to actually render, at least a program object, a vertex array object, and an FBO need to be bound to the context. Possibly a sample operation state object, as describe above, will also need to be bound.

You can meet the designers behind OpenGL Longs Peak and Mount Evans at Siggraph 2007 in August. The traditional OpenGL BOF (Birds of a Feather) will likely be on Wednesday evening, August 8th, from 6:00pm – 8:00pm. I hope to see you there!

In the remainder of this issue you’ll find an update from the OpenGL ES Working Group, a discussion of Longs Peak buffer object improvements, a look at the Longs Peak object model with source code samples, and an article showing how to use gDEBugger as a window exposing what’s happening within the GL.

Barthold Lichtenbelt, NVIDIA
Khronos OpenGL ARB Steering Group chair

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