Rise of the Vulkans: Khronos Group unveils new graphics API to succeed OpenGL

The logo for Khronos Group, which promises to connect software to silicon.

There’s a lot of movement happening with graphics APIs at the moment. DirectX is poised to become the new standard for current and next-generation hardware, while AMD appear to have pulled the plug on their own offering, Mantle. Now the Khronos Group, the people behind OpenGL, are finally unveiling the long-awaited “Next Generation OpenGL”.

They’ve also given in a snappier new name: Vulkan, and would really like people to stop talking about Next Gen OpenGL.

The statement from Khronos Group is really more of a “watch this space” kind of thing, which isn’t surprising because Valve will be presenting more information on Vulkan in a GDC talk on Thursday, and there will be another session hosted outside of GDC later that day.

Vulkan might be coming late to the API party, but Valve have bet rather heavily on Khronos group.

“Industry standard APIs like Vulkan are a critical part of enabling developers to bring the best possible experience to customers on multiple platforms,” Gabe Newell was quoted as saying in a statement. “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.”

However, is Vulkan really ready for prime-time? One developer we spoke with last week for our DirectX story predicted that the new OpenGL was probably over a year away, given Khronos’ track record to date. While Valve and Khronos are promoting Vulkan heavily this week, a Khronos hint that it might be a while before Vulkan is ready for the wider development community when they say, ““Vulkan initial specifications and implementations are expected later this year”.

Still, Vulkan is showing up to the API party sooner than expected, and with AMD apparently getting out of the way and backing from Valve, Vulkan will probably have no trouble being adopted by developers. Like Mantle and DirectX, Vulkan continues the trend of newer graphics APIs by promising to operate “close-to-the-metal” (basically, speak to GPUs in something closer to their native language, which minimizes the performance hit caused by high driver overhead).