MWC 16: LG G5 Hands-on. Performance and Modularity

Subject: Mobile, Shows and Expos | February 22, 2016 - 05:09 AM |
Tagged: video, snapdragon 820, snapdragon, qualcomm, MWC 2016, MWC, LG, G5

The new LG G5 flagship smartphone offers a unique combination of form factor, performance and modularity that no previous smartphone design has had. But will you want to buy in?

2016-02-22 09.15.37.jpg

I had a feeling that the Snapdragon 820 SoC from Qualcomm would make an impression at Mobile World Congress this year and it appears the company has improved on the previous flagship processor quite a bit. Both Samsung and LG have implemented it into the 2016 models, including the new G5, offering up a combination of performance and power efficiency that is dramatically better than the 810 that was hindered by heat and process technology concerns.

Along with the new processor, the G5 includes 4GB of RAM, 32GB of on-board storage with micro SD expansion, a 2,800 mAh battery and Android 6.0 out of the box. The display is 5.3-in and uses LG IPS technology with a 2560x1440 resolution, resulting in an impressive 554 PPI. LG has updated the USB connection to Type-C, a move that Samsung brushed off as unnecessary at this time.

The phones design is pretty standard and will look very familiar to anyone that has handled a G4 or similar flagship smartphone in recent months. It was bigger in the hand than the iPhone 6s but considering the panel size differences, it was more compact than expected.

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Modularity is the truly unique addition to the G5 though. The battery is replaceable by sliding out a bottom portion of the phone, released with a tab on the left side. This allows LG to maintain the metal body construction but still offer flexibility for power users that are used to having extra batteries in their bag. This mechanism also means LG can offer add-on modules for the phone.

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The first two available will be the LG Cam Plus and the LG Hi-Fi Plus. The Cam Plus gives the phone a camera grip as well as dedicated buttons for the shutter, video recording and zoom. Including an extra 1,200 mAh of battery is a nice touch too. The Hi-Fi Plus module has a DAC and headphone amplifier enbeded in it and can also be used connected to a PC through the USB Type-C connection; a nice touch.

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I was overall pretty impressed with what LG had to offer with the G5. Whether or not the modular design gains any traction will have to be seen; I have concerns over the public's desire to carry around modules or affect the form factor of their phones so dramatically.

MWC 16: Epic Games Unveils ProtoStar Demo on Galaxy S7

Subject: Mobile, Shows and Expos | February 21, 2016 - 05:14 PM |
Tagged: Samsung, epic games, unreal engine 4, vulkan, galaxy s7, MWC, mwc 16

Mobile World Congress starts with a big bang... ... ... :3

Okay, not really; it starts with the formation of a star, which happens on a continual basis across the universe. I won't let facts get in the way of a pun, though.

As for the demo, it is powered by Unreal Engine 4 and runs on a Samsung Galaxy S7 with the Vulkan API. The setting seems to be some sort of futuristic laboratory that combines objects until it builds up into a star. It is bright and vibrant, with many particles, full-scene anti-aliasing, reflections, and other visual effects. The exact resolution when running on the phone was never stated, but the YouTube video was running at 1080p30, and the on-stage demo looked fairly high resolution, too.

epicgames-2016-mwc-vulkan-protostar.jpg

Epic Games lists the features they added to mobile builds of Unreal Engine 4 for this demo:

  • Dynamic planar reflections
  • “Full” GPU particle support, which includes vector fields.
  • Temporal Anti-Alising, which blends neighboring frames to smooth jaggies in motion.
  • ASTC texture compression (created by ARM and AMD for OpenGL and OpenGL ES)
  • Full scene dynamic cascaded shadows
  • Chromatic aberration
  • Dynamic light refraction
  • Filmic tonemapping curve, which scales frames rendered in HDR to a presentable light range
  • Improved static reflections
  • High-quality depth of field
  • Vulkan API for thousands of onscreen, independent objects.

The company has not stated which version of Unreal Engine 4 will receive these updates. I doubt that it will land in 4.11, which is planned for March, but they tend to release a full dot-version every one to three months. They also have early previews for those who wish to try it early, some compiled leading up to launch, and others that need to be built from GitHub.

Source: Epic Games

MWC 2016: LG Announces the G5 Smartphone

Subject: Mobile | February 21, 2016 - 02:52 PM |
Tagged: snapdragon 820, smartphone, qualcomm, MWC 2016, MWC, modular phone, LG G5, LG, ips, G5, Android

LG has officially unveiled their newest flagship Android handset, and in addition to high-end specs the G5 features a unique modular construction.

lg_g5.jpg

The LG G5

The G5 is powered by the new Snapdragon 820 SoC, and offers a 5.3-inch, 2560x1440 IPS display (making slightly smaller than the earlier G4, which was a 5.5-inch device with the same resolution). And while the G5 looks every bit a sleek Android flagship, there’s more going on here than the typical sealed handset. LG has implemented a modular design, where optional components can be added from a port on the bottom of the phone.

modules.jpg

The LG Cam Plus (left) and Hi-Fi Plus (right)

The first of two announced modules is the LG Cam Plus, which is a camera grip that also adds 1200 mAh to the battery capacity (for a total of 4000 mAh). The second is the LG Hi-Fi Plus, which adds a high-resolution DAC and headphone amp to the phone. The headphone amp is “tuned by B&O”, and the DAC supports up to 32-bit / 384 kHz. The Hi-Fi Plus can also be used as a standalone USB device.

lg-g5-infographic.png

(Image via Android Police)

One of the features that had leaked ahead of the announcement was an always-on display, leading to speculation about the use of an OLED panel. But this is LG we are talking about, and they have implemented a high-DPI (554) IPS display instead. So how does this always-on display feature avoid aggressively draining your battery? The post from ComputerBase offers this analysis:

“Instead, the company opted for an optimization of display drivers and power management in order to realize the permanent display of notifications, time, date and other information on the large main screen. The adjustments for example it is possible to limit the backlight to a part of the screen. According to LG, the activated always-on function consumes thanks to the optimizations per hour 0.8 percent of the battery charge.”

Specs via Android Central:

  • Display: 5.3-inch IPS quad-HD quantum display (2560x1440, 554 dpi)
  • Processor: Snapdragon 820
  • Storage: 32GB UFS ROM, microSD up to 2TB
  • RAM: 4GB LPDDR4
  • Rear camera: 16MP main, 8MP wide-angle (135 degrees)
  • Front camera: 8MP
  • Battery: 2800 mAh removable
  • Modules: LG Cam Plus (camera grip with 1100 mAh), LG Hi-Fi Plus with B&O Play
  • Dimensions: 149.4 x 73.9 x 7.7mm
  • Weight: 159 grams
  • Networks: LTE/3G/2G
  • Connectivity: Wifi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, USB Type C, NFC, Bluetooth 4.2
  • Colors: Silver/Titan/Gold/Pink
  • Operating system: Android 6.0.1

There were three additional accessories announced with the phone: The 360 VR (a VR headset) 360 CAM (for creating 360-degree movies and photos) and something called the Rolling Bot (a Wi-Fi connected sphere equipped with a camera, mic, and speaker).

Ryan had hands-on time with the G5 from LG's booth at MWC 2016:

No specific pricing or release date have been announced yet, but we should know more next month when LG is expected to provide more release details.

MWC 2016: Lenovo Announces YOGA 710 and 510 Laptops

Subject: Systems, Mobile | February 21, 2016 - 01:00 PM |
Tagged: YOGA 710, YOGA 510, yoga, windows 10, notebook, MWC 2016, MWC, Lenovo, laptop, ips, convertible tablet, 2-in-1

Lenovo has announced a pair of new convertible laptop options with the YOGA 710 and YOGA 510, and each of these new models are available in two sizes.

YOGA 710 11.jpg

First we have the YOGA 710, which is available in both an 11-inch and a 14-inch version. The smaller 11-inch model is limited to an Intel Core m5 processor, while the 14-inch version offers a 6th-gen (Skylake) Intel Core i7 CPU. Here's a look at the available specs:

YOGA 710, 11-inch:

  • Screen: 11.6” FHD 1920x1080 IPS Touch; 300
  • CPU: Up to Intel 6th Gen Core M5 CPU
  • Memory: Up to 8GB LP-DDR3 
  • Storage: Up to 256GB SSD
  • Graphics: Integrated Intel
  • Audio: Stereo speakers with Dolby Audio certification
  • Battery: 40Whr; up to 8 hours
  • Webcam: 1MP Fixed Focus CMOS camera (720p)
  • Connectivity: 1x1 or 2x2 A/C WiFi + Bluetooth 4.1
  • Ports: 1x always-on USB 3.0, Micro-HDMI, audio combo jack
  • OS: Windows 10 Home

YOGA 710, 14-inch:

  • Screen: 14” FHD 1920x1080 IPS Touch; 300 nits
  • CPU: Up to Intel 6th Gen Core i7 CPU
  • Memory: Up to 8GB DDR4
  • Storage: Up to 256GB SSD
  • Graphics: Optional NVIDIA GFX GeForce 940MX
  • Audio: JBL Speakers with Dolby Audio certification
  • Battery: Up to 52.5Whr; up to 8.5 hours local HD video playback @200nits 
  • Webcam: 1MP Fixed Focus CMOS camera (720p)
  • Connectivity: 2x2 A/C WiFi + Bluetooth 4.1
  • Ports: 1x always-on USB 3.0, 1x USB 3.0, Micro-HDMI, SDXC Reader, Display Port (combo with HDMI), audio combo jack
  • OS: Windows 10 Home

Next we have the YOGA 510, which is available in both 14-inch and 15-inch versions, and promises up to 8.5 hours of battery life.

YOGA 510 14.jpg

Specs on these models include:

  • Screen: 14” & 15” FHD 1920x1080 IPS Touch; 250 nits
  • CPU: Up to Intel 6th Gen Core i7 CPU or Pentium
  • Memory: Up to 8GB DDR4
  • Storage: Up to 1TB HDD or up to 256GB SSD
  • Graphics: 14: Up to AMD Radeon R5 M430; 15: Up to AMD Radeon R7 M460 2GB
  • Audio: Stereo Speakers with Audio by Harmon Kardon
  • Keyboard: Optional Backlit keyboard
  • Battery: Up to 52.5 Whr; up to 8.5 hours local HD video playback @200nits
  • Webcam: 1MP Fixed Focus CMOS camera (720p)
  • Connectivity: 1x1 A/C WiFi + Bluetooth 4.1, GIGA LAN
  • Ports: 1x always-on USB 2.0, 2x USB 3.0, HDMI, SDXC Card Reader, audio combo jack
  • OS: Windows 10 Home

These new YOGA models will be available in July, and pricing was announced as follows:

  • Yoga 710 11-inch $499; 14-inch $799
  • Yoga 510 14-inch $599; 15-inch $699
Source: Lenovo

MWC 2016: Lenovo MIIX 310 2-in-1 Convertible Tablet

Subject: Systems, Mobile | February 21, 2016 - 01:00 PM |
Tagged: x5 Z8300, windows 10, tablet, MWC 2016, MWC, MIIX 310, Lenovo, ips, intel atom, convertible tablet, 2-in-1

The Lenovo ideapad MIIX 310 is a 2-in-1 that combines a 10.1-inch tablet with a detachable keyboard, and when you consider the specs Lenovo is pricing this very aggressively at $229 - including the keyboard.

MIIX 310_05_.jpg

“This 10-inch tablet is one of the most affordable devices that not only combines both tablet and PC in one, but unlike many of its rivals, comes with a detachable keyboard as standard. The ideapad MIIX 310 boasts an optional FHD display, making movie marathons that much more immersive.”

The $229 retail is a starting price, and the 1920x1080 IPS screen option will cost you more (just how much is not yet known). Beyond the display the MIIX 310 is powered by an Intel Atom x5-Z8300, a quad-core processor that operates at up to 1.84 GHz. Memory is limited to 2 GB, with up to 128 GB of eMMC storage available.

MIIX 310_07_.jpg

Here’s a look at the specifications:

  • CPU: Intel Atom x5 Z8300 CPU
  • Graphics: Integrated Intel
  • Screen: 10.1” up to FHD (1920x1080) IPS, 300 nits
  • Cameras: 2MP front & 5MP rear camera
  • Battery: Up to 10 hours local video playback
  • Memory: 2GB RAM
  • Storage: Up to 128GB eMMC
  • Audio: Stereo Speakers
  • Connectivity: 802.11 B/G/N + BT 4.0 4G
  • LTE Support: Optional
  • OS: Windows 10 Home

MIIX 310_08.jpg

As mentioned above, the ideapad MIIX 310 will start at $229, with availability set for June.

Source: Lenovo

MWC 2016: Lenovo Announces VIBE K5 and K5 Plus Smartphones

Subject: Mobile | February 21, 2016 - 01:00 PM |
Tagged: VIBE K5 Plus, VIBE K5, Snapdragon 616, Snapdragon 415, smartphone, qualcomm, MWC 2016, MWC, Lenovo, Android

Lenovo has announced a new pair of smartphones in their VIBE series, and these offer very impressive specs considering the asking price.

K5 Family.jpg

The VIBE K5 will retail for $129, with the K5 Plus slightly higher at $149. What does this get you? Both are 5-inch devices, with a modest 1280x720 resolution on the standard K5, or FHD 1920x1080 on the K5 Plus. The phones are both powered by Qualcomm SoCs, with a Snapdragon 415 in the K5 (quad-core 1.4 GHz), and the faster Snapdragon 616 (8-core 1.7 GHz) in the K5 Plus.

Here’s a look at the specifications for these phones:

  • Screen: 5.0” HD (1280x720) display (K5) or IPS Full HD (1920x1080) (K5 Plus)
  • Processor: Qualcomm snapdragon 415 octa-core (K5) or 616 octa-core processor (K5 Plus)
  • Storage: 2GB LP DDR3 RAM | 16GB eMCP built-in storage | up to 32GB microSD expandable storage support
  • Graphics: Adreno 405: up to 550MHz 3D graphics accelerator 

  • Camera: Rear: 13MP with 5-piece lens and FHD video recording, Front: 5MP fixed-focus with 4-piece lens
  • 
Connectivity: Dual SIM slots with 4G LTE connectivity + BT 4.1; WLAN: Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Wi-Fi hotspot 

  • Battery: 2750mAh interchangeable battery 

  • Audio: 2 x speakers, 2 x mics, 3.5 mm audio jack, Dolby Atmos
  • Thickness: 8.2 mm (.32 in)
  • Weight: 142 g (5 oz)
  • OS: Android 5.1, Lollipop

K5_Silver.jpg

On paper these smartphones present a compelling value reminiscent of the ASUS Zenfone 2, with the K5 Plus easily the better bargain with a 1920x1080 IPS display and octa-core processor for $149. We’ll have to wait to pass judgment until the UI performance and camera have been tested, but these new VIBE K5 phones certainly looks like a promising option.

The VIBE K5 and K5 Plus will be available in March.

Source: Lenovo

MWC 2016: Qualcomm adds new partners to the Snapdragon Wear 2100 Platform

Subject: Mobile | February 21, 2016 - 12:56 PM |
Tagged: MWC, MWC 2016, qualcomm, snapdragon, snapdragon wear

Earlier this month, Qualcomm announced the creation of the Snapdragon Wear platform and the Snapdragon Wear 2100 SoC, the very first in a new family of products built to address consumer wearables market. Even though the Snapdragon 400 series of processors had already found its way into a large majority (65% according to Qualcomm) of all of the currently shipping Android Wear watches, Qualcomm hopes that the improvements in the Snapdragon Wear 2100 will further the company's market share and improve on the experiences that users have with wearable products.

Snapdragon Wear 2100 offers several advantages over the Snapdragon 400 series of SoCs:

Utilizing Qualcomm Technologies’ expertise in connectivity and compute, the Snapdragon Wear platform consists of a full suite of silicon, software, support tools, and reference designs to allow mobile, fashion, and sports customers to bring a diverse range of full-featured wearables to customers quickly. Available in both tethered (Bluetooth® and Wi-Fi®) and connected (4G/LTE and 3G) versions, Snapdragon Wear 2100 innovates along four wearables core vectors:

  • Smaller Size – 30 percent smaller than the popular Snapdragon 400, Snapdragon Wear 2100 can help enable new, thinner, sleeker designs
     
  • Lower Power – 25 percent lower power than the Snapdragon 400 across both tethered and connected use cases, allowing for longer day of use battery life
     
  • Smarter Sensors – With an integrated, ultra-low power sensor hub, Snapdragon Wear 2100 enables richer algorithms with greater accuracy than the Snapdragon 400
     
  • Always Connected – Next-generation LTE modem with integrated GNSS, along with low power Wi-Fi and Bluetooth delivers an always connected experience

There is no direct mention of comparative performance though, something I am looking to get answered this week.

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This week's announcement from Qualcomm is the addition of three new partners for the Snapdragon Wear platform, on top of the launch partner LG. The new names might not be household brands but they will offer a strong growth segment for Qualcomm as more vendors enter the wearables markets through ODMs.

  • Borqs – A global leader in software and products for IoT providing customizable, differentiated and scalable Android-based smart connected devices and cloud service solutions, Borqs is offering connected (3G/4G) and tethered (Wi-Fi®/Bluetooth®) smartwatch and kid watch reference designs based on Snapdragon Wear 2100.
     
  • Compal – A global manufacturer of notebook PCs, smartphone, tablet and display products and smart wearable devices, Compal is delivering reference designs and device production based on Snapdragon Wear 2100 supporting both Android Wear and Android operating systems and targeting connected (3G/4G) and tethered (Wi-Fi/Bluetooth) use cases.
     
  • Infomark – An early innovator in the emerging kid watch segment, where the company has previously launched two generations of products (JooN1, JooN2) based on Qualcomm Technologies, Infomark is offering a reference design based on Snapdragon Wear 2100 targeting kid and elderly watch segments.

I should be getting hands-on with hardware built on the Snapdragon Wear 2100 SoC from LG and these three new partners this week while at Mobile World Congress 2016, so stayed tuned for more coverage!

Source: Qualcomm

MWC 2016: Qualcomm Announces Vulkan API Support for Snapdragon 820, other SoCs

Subject: Mobile | February 21, 2016 - 12:18 PM |
Tagged: MWC, MWC 2016, qualcomm, vulkan, snapdragon, snapdragon 820, adreno 530

As we prepare for the onslaught of new mobile devices and technologies being announced at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the low-level Vulkan API begins its campaign to take hold in the PC and mobile spaces, superceding the OpenGL standard that exists today in hopes of providing a more efficient use of compute resources across the industry.

Vulkan_500px_Mar15.jpg

Qualcomm announced official support for the Vulkan API on its Adreno 530 GPU and the Snapdragon 820 processor. Vulkan API support will be coming for upcoming other unannounced Adreno 5xx series GPUs and currently shipping Adreno 4xx GPUs, allowing us to wonder if Vulkan support will find its way into currently shipping handsets.

As Qualcomm points out in its press release on the news, the Vulkan API will bring some important and groundbreaking changes to the mobile space.

  • Explicit control over GPU operation, with minimized driver overhead for improved performance;
     
  • Multi-threading-friendly architecture to increase overall system performance;
     
  • Optimal API design that can be used in a wide variety of devices including mobile, desktop, consoles, and embedded platforms;
     
  • Use of Khronos’ new SPIR-V intermediate representation for shading language flexibility and more predictable implementation behavior;
     
  • Extensible layered architecture that enables innovative tools without impacting production performance while validating, debugging, and profiling;
     
  • Simple drivers for low-overhead efficiency and cross vendor portability.

Vulkan API support is being added to Qualcomm's development tools suite this week as well.

“We are pleased to have contributed to the definition of Khronos’ new Vulkan API. Qualcomm Technologies will be among the first to ship conformant Vulkan drivers, starting with Snapdragon 820’s embedded Adreno 530 GPU, and subsequently with our Adreno 4xx series GPUs. Vulkan enables the next generation of graphics performance by adding multi-threaded command buffer generation and explicit control of advanced graphics capabilities within Adreno GPUs,” said Micah Knapp, director of product management, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. “In the coming days, we anticipate supporting Vulkan in the Snapdragon developer tools including Snapdragon Profiler and the Adreno SDK, to help application developers take advantage of this outstanding new API when creating graphics and compute applications for smartphones, tablets, VR HMDs and a variety of other types of devices that use Snapdragon processors.”

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A quick look at the Khronos page listing companies with Vulkan conformant drivers shows Qualcomm on the short list, meaning it has provided the standards body with a driver that has passed its first level of certification. With its emphasis on efficiency, the Vulkan API and Qualcomm's early integration could be the most important place that the API ends up. In a technology field where battery life and performance must balance unlike anywhere else, getting this new implementation of graphics and compute could push mobile devices forward quickly.

Source: Qualcomm
Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Apple

It's Easier to Be Convincing than Correct

This is a difficult topic to discuss. Some perspectives assume that law enforcement have terrible, Orwellian intentions. Meanwhile, law enforcement officials, with genuinely good intentions, don't understand that the road to Hell is paved with those. Bad things are much more likely to happen when human flaws are justified away, which is easy to do when your job is preventing mass death and destruction. Human beings like to use large pools of evidence to validate assumptions, without realizing it, rather than discovering truth.

Ever notice how essays can always find sources, regardless of thesis? With increasing amounts of data, you are progressively more likely to make a convincing argument, but not necessarily a more true one. Mix in good intentions, which promotes complacency, and mistakes can happen.

apple-2016-iphonenot.png

HOPEFULLY NOT...

But this is about Apple. Recently, the FBI demanded that Apple creates a version of iOS that can be broken into by law enforcement. They frequently use the term “back door,” while the government prefers other terminology. Really, words are words and the only thing that matters is what it describes -- and it describes a mechanism to compromise the device's security in some way.

This introduces several problems.

The common line that I hear is, “I don't care, because I have nothing to hide.” Well... that's wrong in a few ways. First, having nothing to hide is irrelevant if the person who wants access to your data assumes that you have something you want to hide, and is looking for evidence that convinces themselves that they're right. Second, you need to consider all the people who want access to this data. The FBI will not be the only one demanding a back door, or even the United States as a whole. There are a whole lot of nations that trusts individuals, including their own respective citizens, less than the United States. You can expect that each of them would request a backdoor.

You can also expect each of them, and organized criminals, wanting to break into each others'.

Lastly, we've been here before, and what it comes down to is criminalizing math. Encryption is just a mathematical process that is easy to perform, but hard to invert. It all started because it is easy to multiply two numbers together, but hard to factor them. The only method we know is dividing by every possible number that's smaller than the square root of said number. If the two numbers are prime, then you are stuck finding one number out of all those possibilities (the other prime number will be greater than the square root). In the 90s, numbers over a certain size were legally classified as weapons. That may sound ridiculous, and there would be good reason for that feeling. Either way, it changed; as a result, online banks and retailers thrived.

Apple closes their letter with the following statement:

While we believe the FBI’s intentions are good, it would be wrong for the government to force us to build a backdoor into our products. And ultimately, we fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect.

Good intentions lead to complacency, which is where the road to (metaphorical) Hell starts.

Manufacturer: PC Perspective

Caught Up to DirectX 12 in a Single Day

The wait for Vulkan is over.

I'm not just talking about the specification. Members of the Khronos Group have also released compatible drivers, SDKs and tools to support them, conformance tests, and a proof-of-concept patch for Croteam's The Talos Principle. To reiterate, this is not a soft launch. The API, and its entire ecosystem, is out and ready for the public on Windows (at least 7+ at launch but a surprise Vista or XP announcement is technically possible) and several distributions of Linux. Google will provide an Android SDK in the near future.

khronos-2016-vulkan-why.png

I'm going to editorialize for the next two paragraphs. There was a concern that Vulkan would be too late. The thing is, as of today, Vulkan is now just as mature as DirectX 12. Of course, that could change at a moment's notice; we still don't know how the two APIs are being adopted behind the scenes. A few DirectX 12 titles are planned to launch in a few months, but no full, non-experimental, non-early access game currently exists. Each time I say this, someone links the Wikipedia list of DirectX 12 games. If you look at each entry, though, you'll see that all of them are either: early access, awaiting an unreleased DirectX 12 patch, or using a third-party engine (like Unreal Engine 4) that only list DirectX 12 as an experimental preview. No full, released, non-experimental DirectX 12 game exists today. Besides, if the latter counts, then you'll need to accept The Talos Principle's proof-of-concept patch, too.

But again, that could change. While today's launch speaks well to the Khronos Group and the API itself, it still needs to be adopted by third party engines, middleware, and software. These partners could, like the Khronos Group before today, be privately supporting Vulkan with the intent to flood out announcements; we won't know until they do... or don't. With the support of popular engines and frameworks, dependent software really just needs to enable it. This has not happened for DirectX 12 yet, and, now, there doesn't seem to be anything keeping it from happening for Vulkan at any moment. With the Game Developers Conference just a month away, we should soon find out.

khronos-2016-vulkan-drivers.png

But back to the announcement.

Vulkan-compatible drivers are launching today across multiple vendors and platforms, but I do not have a complete list. On Windows, I was told to expect drivers from NVIDIA for Windows 7, 8.x, 10 on Kepler and Maxwell GPUs. The standard is compatible with Fermi GPUs, but NVIDIA does not plan on supporting the API for those users due to its low market share. That said, they are paying attention to user feedback and they are not ruling it out, which probably means that they are keeping an open mind in case some piece of software gets popular and depends upon Vulkan. I have not heard from AMD or Intel about Vulkan drivers as of this writing, one way or the other. They could even arrive day one.

On Linux, NVIDIA, Intel, and Imagination Technologies have submitted conformant drivers.

Drivers alone do not make a hard launch, though. SDKs and tools have also arrived, including the LunarG SDK for Windows and Linux. LunarG is a company co-founded by Lens Owen, who had a previous graphics software company that was purchased by VMware. LunarG is backed by Valve, who also backed Vulkan in several other ways. The LunarG SDK helps developers validate their code, inspect what the API is doing, and otherwise debug. Even better, it is also open source, which means that the community can rapidly enhance it, even though it's in a releasable state as it is. RenderDoc, the open-source graphics debugger by Crytek, will also add Vulkan support. ((Update (Feb 16 @ 12:39pm EST): Baldur Karlsson has just emailed me to let me know that it was a personal project at Crytek, not a Crytek project in general, and their GitHub page is much more up-to-date than the linked site.))

vulkan_gltransition_maintenance1.png

The major downside is that Vulkan (like Mantle and DX12) isn't simple.
These APIs are verbose and very different from previous ones, which requires more effort.

Image Credit: NVIDIA

There really isn't much to say about the Vulkan launch beyond this. What graphics APIs really try to accomplish is standardizing signals that enter and leave video cards, such that the GPUs know what to do with them. For the last two decades, we've settled on an arbitrary, single, global object that you attach buffers of data to, in specific formats, and call one of a half-dozen functions to send it.

Compute APIs, like CUDA and OpenCL, decided it was more efficient to handle queues, allowing the application to write commands and send them wherever they need to go. Multiple threads can write commands, and multiple accelerators (GPUs in our case) can be targeted individually. Vulkan, like Mantle and DirectX 12, takes this metaphor and adds graphics-specific instructions to it. Moreover, GPUs can schedule memory, compute, and graphics instructions at the same time, as long as the graphics task has leftover compute and memory resources, and / or the compute task has leftover memory resources.

This is not necessarily a “better” way to do graphics programming... it's different. That said, it has the potential to be much more efficient when dealing with lots of simple tasks that are sent from multiple CPU threads, especially to multiple GPUs (which currently require the driver to figure out how to convert draw calls into separate workloads -- leading to simplifications like mirrored memory and splitting workload by neighboring frames). Lots of tasks aligns well with video games, especially ones with lots of simple objects, like strategy games, shooters with lots of debris, or any game with large crowds of people. As it becomes ubiquitous, we'll see this bottleneck disappear and games will not need to be designed around these limitations. It might even be used for drawing with cross-platform 2D APIs, like Qt or even webpages, although those two examples (especially the Web) each have other, higher-priority bottlenecks. There are also other benefits to Vulkan.

khronos-2016-vulkan-middleware.png

The WebGL comparison is probably not as common knowledge as Khronos Group believes.
Still, Khronos Group was criticized when WebGL launched as "it was too tough for Web developers".
It didn't need to be easy. Frameworks arrived and simplified everything. It's now ubiquitous.
In fact, Adobe Animate CC (the successor to Flash Pro) is now a WebGL editor (experimentally).

Open platforms are required for this to become commonplace. Engines will probably target several APIs from their internal management APIs, but you can't target users who don't fit in any bucket. Vulkan brings this capability to basically any platform, as long as it has a compute-capable GPU and a driver developer who cares.

Thankfully, it arrived before any competitor established market share.