GDC 2017: zSpace Joins OpenXR Working Group

Subject: General Tech | March 3, 2017 - 07:01 AM |
Tagged: zspace, VR, Khronos

About a year before I joined PC Perspective, I acquired a degree in Education, which involved teaching at a local high school. Even though that was just five years after graduating high school, the amount of available technology has exploded in that time. SmartBoards were relevant enough to be taught at my teacher’s college just in case you got one. Contrast this to when I was a high school student, where “overhead projector” was assumed to mean “transparent paper and erasable marker”.

Why do I mention this? Well, basically everyone in the tech industry has been investigating the potential of VR and AR for the last couple of years, and education is a very obvious and practical application of it.

In this case, zSpace reached out and informed that they just joined the Khronos Group’s OpenXR Working Group. They hope to guide the specification from the educational technology perspective. From what I can see on their website, their products are basically like Wacom Cintiqs, except that the pen can function the volume of air in front of the screen, and glasses with markers adjust the output image to make it look like objects are floating between you and the display.

If you’re in the education sector, then be sure to check out what zSpace is doing, if only to be aware of the teaching tools that are available in the world. Every teacher I knew enjoyed browsing Staples, looking through the various bits of stationary for ideas, like recipe cards for cheap, impromptu student polls and challenges.

As for the rest of us? The more mainstream VR and AR is, the more innovation will occur, especially when they contribute back to open standards; win win.

Source: zSpace

GDC 2017: The Khronos Group (re-)Announces OpenXR

Subject: General Tech | March 1, 2017 - 08:12 PM |
Tagged: VR, pc gaming, openxr, Khronos

While the Vulkan update headlines the Khronos Group’s presence at GDC 2017, they also re-announced their VR initiative, now called OpenXR. This specification wraps around the individual SDKs, outlining functionality that is to be exposed to the application and the devices. If a device implements the device layer, then it will immediately support everything that uses the standard, and vice-versa.

khronos-2017-openxr-logo.png

OpenVR was donated by Valve, leading to OpenXR...
... because an X is really just a reflected V, right?

Like OpenGL and Vulkan, individual vendors will still be allowed to implement their own functionality, which I’m hoping will be mostly exposed through extensions. The goal is to ensure that users can, at a minimum, enjoy the base experience of any title on any device.

They are aiming for 2018, but interested parties should contribute now to influence the initial release.

Linked Multi-GPU Arrives... for Developers

The Khronos Group has released the Vulkan 1.0.42.0 specification, which includes experimental (more on that in a couple of paragraphs) support for VR enhancements, sharing resources between processes, and linking similar GPUs. This spec was released alongside a LunarG SDK and NVIDIA drivers, which are intended for developers, not gamers, that fully implement these extensions.

I would expect that the most interesting feature is experimental support for linking similar GPUs together, similar to DirectX 12’s Explicit Linked Multiadapter, which Vulkan calls a “Device Group”. The idea is that the physical GPUs hidden behind this layer can do things like share resources, such as rendering a texture on one GPU and consuming it in another, without the host code being involved. I’m guessing that some studios, like maybe Oxide Games, will decide to not use this feature. While it’s not explicitly stated, I cannot see how this (or DirectX 12’s Explicit Linked mode) would be compatible in cross-vendor modes. Unless I’m mistaken, that would require AMD, NVIDIA, and/or Intel restructuring their drivers to inter-operate at this level. Still, the assumptions that could be made with grouped devices are apparently popular with enough developers for both the Khronos Group and Microsoft to bother.

microsoft-dx12-build15-linked.png

A slide from Microsoft's DirectX 12 reveal, long ago.

As for the “experimental” comment that I made in the introduction... I was expecting to see this news around SIGGRAPH, which occurs in late-July / early-August, alongside a minor version bump (to Vulkan 1.1).

I might still be right, though.

The major new features of Vulkan 1.0.42.0 are implemented as a new classification of extensions: KHX. In the past, vendors, like NVIDIA and AMD, would add new features as vendor-prefixed extensions. Games could query the graphics driver for these abilities, and enable them if available. If these features became popular enough for multiple vendors to have their own implementation of it, a committee would consider an EXT extension. This would behave the same across all implementations (give or take) but not be officially adopted by the Khronos Group. If they did take it under their wing, it would be given a KHR extension (or added as a required feature).

The Khronos Group has added a new layer: KHX. This level of extension sits below KHR, and is not intended for production code. You might see where this is headed. The VR multiview, multi-GPU, and cross-process extensions are not supposed to be used in released video games until they leave KHX status. Unlike a vendor extension, the Khronos Group wants old KHX standards to drop out of existence at some point after they graduate to full KHR status. It’s not something that NVIDIA owns and will keep it around for 20 years after its usable lifespan just so old games can behave expectedly.

khronos-group-logo.png

How long will that take? No idea. I’ve already mentioned my logical but uneducated guess a few paragraphs ago, but I’m not going to repeat it; I have literally zero facts to base it on, and I don’t want our readers to think that I do. I don’t. It’s just based on what the Khronos Group typically announces at certain trade shows, and the length of time since their first announcement.

The benefit that KHX does bring us is that, whenever these features make it to public release, developers will have already been using it... internally... since around now. When it hits KHR, it’s done, and anyone can theoretically be ready for it when that time comes.

Manufacturer: PC Perspective

Living Long and Prospering

The open fork of AMD’s Mantle, the Vulkan API, was released exactly a year ago with, as we reported, a hard launch. This meant public, but not main-branch drivers for developers, a few public SDKs, a proof-of-concept patch for The Talos Principle, and, of course, the ratified specification. This sets up the API to find success right out of the gate, and we can now look back over the year since.

khronos-2017-vulkan-alt-logo.png

Thor's hammer, or a tempest in a teapot?

The elephant in the room is DOOM. This game has successfully integrated the API and it uses many of its more interesting features, like asynchronous compute. Because the API is designed in a sort-of “make a command, drop it on a list” paradigm, the driver is able to select commands based on priority and available resources. AMD’s products got a significant performance boost, relative to OpenGL, catapulting their Fury X GPU up to the enthusiast level that its theoretical performance suggested.

Mobile developers have been picking up the API, too. Google, who is known for banishing OpenCL from their Nexus line and challenging OpenGL ES with their Android Extension Pack (later integrated into OpenGL ES with version 3.2), has strongly backed Vulkan. The API was integrated as a core feature of Android 7.0.

On the engine and middleware side of things, Vulkan is currently “ready for shipping games” as of Unreal Engine 4.14. It is also included in Unity 5.6 Beta, which is expected for full release in March. Frameworks for emulators are also integrating Vulkan, often just to say they did, but sometimes to emulate the quirks of these system’s offbeat graphics co-processors. Many other engines, from Source 2 to Torque 3D, have also announced or added Vulkan support.

Finally, for the API itself, The Khronos Group announced (pg 22 from SIGGRAPH 2016) areas that they are actively working on. The top feature is “better” multi-GPU support. While Vulkan, like OpenCL, allows developers to enumerate all graphics devices and target them, individually, with work, it doesn’t have certain mechanisms, like being able to directly ingest output from one GPU into another. They haven’t announced a timeline for this.

Podcast #428 - Khronos Group, Enterprise SSDs/HDDs, Water-cooled Cases, Mechwarrior

Subject: Editorial | December 8, 2016 - 04:00 PM |
Tagged: podcast, Thrustmaster, thermaltake, tablet, snapdragon, razer, nvidia, microsoft, Mechwarrior, Khronos, Intel, hp, evga, Deepcool, AUKEY

PC Perspective Podcast #428 - 12/8/16

Join us this week as we discuss Khronos Group, Enterprise SSDs, Water cooled cases  and more!

You can subscribe to us through iTunes and you can still access it directly through the RSS page HERE.

The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!

Hosts:  Allyn Malventano, Josh Walrath, Jeremy Hellstrom

Program length: 1:13:35

  1. Join our spam list to get notified when we go live!
  2. Patreon
  3. Win a White Special Edition Corsair RM1000i Power Supply!
  4. Week in Review:
    1. 0:04:16 AUKEY KM-G3 RGB Mechanical Gaming Keyboard Review
    2. 0:08:06 Thrustmaster TMX Review: Budget FFB for Xbox One and PC
    3. 0:15:16 Deepcool GamerStorm GENOME Liquid-Cooled Case Review
    4. 0:23:06 EVGA SuperNOVA 550W G3 Power Supply Review
    5. 0:28:01 Qualcomm and Microsoft Bring Full Windows 10 to Snapdragon Devices
  5. News items of interest:
    1. 0:32:07 Razer Joins The Khronos Group
    2. 0:36:54 Thermaltake Launches Water Cooling Friendly E-ATX Tower 900 Series Case
    3. 0:39:32 Intel Z270 Express and H270 Express Chipsets Support Kaby Lake, More PCI-E 3.0 Lanes
    4. 0:42:12 MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries Announced on Unreal Engine 4
    5. 0:46:10 HP Launches Ruggedized Apollo Lake Powered Convertible Tablet For Students
    6. 0:47:33 Micron Launches 5100 Series Enterprise SSDs - 3D TLC up to 8TB!
    7. 0:52:12 WD and HGST Refresh Enterprise SSDs to Include 8TB, Push HDDs to 12TB and Beyond
    8. 1:02:37 NVIDIA Releases GeForce 376.19 Drivers (and Two Contests)
    9. 1:04:14 The Khronos Group Announces VR Standard Initiative
  6. Hardware/Software Picks of the Week
    1. Ryan: Uber, but boats  … CanUber
    2. Jeremy: PRUSA i3 MK2 printer Store link
    3. Josh: Hitting low cost per GB!
    4. Allyn: iRoller
  7. http://pcper.com/podcast
  8. http://twitter.com/ryanshrout and http://twitter.com/pcper
  9. Closing/outro

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Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: The Khronos Group

Maybe Good that Valve Called their API OpenVR?

Update, December 6th, 2016 @ 2:46pm EST: Khronos has updated the images on their website, and those changes are now implemented on our post. The flow-chart image changed dramatically, but the members image has also added LunarG.

Original Post Below

The Khronos Group has just announced their VR initiative, which is in the early, call for participation stage. The goal is to produce an API that can be targeted by drivers from each vendor, so that applications can write once and target all compatible devices. The current list of participants are: Epic Games, Google, Oculus VR, Razer, Valve, AMD, ARM, Intel, NVIDIA, VeriSilicon, Sensics, and Tobii. The point of this announcement is to get even more companies involved, before it matures.

khronos-2016-vr-members-2.png

Image Credit: The Khronos Group

Valve, in particular, has donated their OpenVR API to Khronos Group. I assume that this will provide the starting point for the initiative, similar to how AMD donated Mantle to found Vulkan, which overcomes the decision paralysis of a blank canvas. Also, especially for VR, I doubt these decisions would significantly affect individual implementations. If it does, though, now would be the time for them to propose edits.

In terms of time-frame, it’s early enough that the project scope hasn’t even been defined, so schedules can vary. They do claim that, based on past experiences, about 18 months is “often typical”.

That’s about it for the announcement; on to my analysis.

khronos-2016-vr-perpectives-2.png

Image Credit: The Khronos Group, modified

First, it’s good that The Khronos Group are the ones taking this on. Not only do they have the weight to influence the industry, especially with most of these companies having already collaborated on other projects, like OpenGL, OpenCL, and Vulkan, but their standards tend to embrace extensions. This allows Oculus, Valve, and others to add special functionality that can be picked up by applications, but still be compatible at a base level with the rest of the ecosystem. To be clear, the announcement said nothing about extensions, but it would definitely make sense for VR, which can vary with interface methods, eye-tracking, player tracking, and so forth.

If extensions end up being a thing, this controlled competition allows the standard as a whole to evolve. If an extension ends up being popular, that guides development of multi-vendor extensions, which eventually may be absorbed into the core specification. On the other hand, The Khronos Group might decide that, for VR specifically, the core functionality is small and stable enough that extensions would be unnecessary. Who knows at this point.

Second, The Khronos Group stated that Razer joined for this initiative specifically. A few days ago, we posted news and assumed that they wanted to have input into an existing initiative, like Vulkan. While they still might, their main intentions are to contribute to this VR platform.

Third, there are a few interesting omissions from the list of companies.

microsoft-2016-hololens-hero.png

Microsoft, who recently announced a VR ecosystem for Windows 10 (along with the possibly-applicable HoloLens of course), and is a member of the Khronos Group, isn’t part of the initiative, at least not yet. This makes sense from a historical standpoint, as Microsoft tends to assert control over APIs from the ground up. They are, or I should say were, fairly reluctant to collaborate, unless absolutely necessary. This has changed recently, starting with their participation with the W3C, because good God I hope web browsers conform to a standard, but also their recent membership with the Khronos Group, hiring ex-Mozilla employees, and so forth. Microsoft has been lauding how they embrace openness lately, but not in this way yet.

Speaking of Mozilla, that non-profit organization has been partnered with Google on WebVR for a few years now. While Google is a member of this announcement, it seems to be mostly based around their Daydream initiative. The lack of WebVR involvement with whatever API comes out of this initiative is a bit disappointing, but, again, it’s early days. I hope to see Mozilla and the web browser side of Google jump in and participate, especially if video game engines continue to experiment with cross-compiling to Web standards.

It's also surprising to not see Qualcomm's name on this list. The dominant mobile SoC vendor is a part of many Khronos-based groups including Vulkan, OpenCL, and others, so it's odd to have this omission here. It is early, so there isn't any reason to have concern over a split, but Qualcomm's strides into VR with development kits, platform advancements and other initiatives have picked up in recent months and I imagine it will have input on what this standard becomes.

And that’s all that I can think of at the moment. If you have any interests or concerns, be sure to drop a line in the comments. Registration is not required.

Razer Joins The Khronos Group

Subject: General Tech | December 2, 2016 - 12:58 AM |
Tagged: VR, razer, osvr, Khronos

The Khronos Group is the standards body that maintains OpenGL, Vulkan, OpenCL, along with several other APIs and formats. They are made up of several members, which include companies of various sizes along with educational institutions, with a couple of tiers where members of the higher level, Promoter, get board nomination rights.

khronos-group-logo.png

The lower level, Contributor, has just received a new member: Razer. The Khronos Group published a little statement to their front page, but didn’t provide a way to permanently link it and the Read More just directs to Razer’s homepage. Also, Razer didn’t provide a press release on their website, at least by the time this news was published, so I included the statement below to prevent it from getting buried in a few days:

The Khronos Group is proud to announce that Razer has joined as a Contributor Member. Razer is a world leader in connected devices and software for gamers. Its award-winning design and technology span systems, peripherals, audio and wearable technologies. Razer co-founded OSVR, an open-source platform that integrates VR, AR and mixed reality hardware and software APIs that support a universal VR ecosystem.

Based on this, it’s easy to speculate that Razer is looking to have a say and a vote in how graphics APIs evolve, nudging it as needed for OSVR, their co-founded virtual reality platform. Basically every other VR developer worth mentioning is already a member, including Google, Microsoft, Oculus VR, Samsung, Sony, and Valve. Likewise, Vulkan is undergoing rapid development, and the next version, codenamed Vulkan Next, has VR as one of its “top priorities”. It seems like a good time for Razer to get involved.

Otherwise? Not much to speak of here. Razer is a fairly big company that wants to be active in technology development, and it can easily afford the Khronos Group membership fee. I mean, the amount they spent on USB ports with a specific shade of green would cover about twenty years of membership to the Khronos Group, so it seems within their reach.

Podcast #387 - ASUS PB328Q, Samsung 750 EVO SSD, the release of Vulkan and more!

Subject: General Tech | February 18, 2016 - 02:16 PM |
Tagged: x16 LTE, vulkan, video, ssd, Samsung, qualcomm, podcast, pb328q, opengl, nvidia, micron, Khronos, gtx 950, asus, apple, 840 evo, 750ti, 750 evo, 3d nand

PC Perspective Podcast #387 - 02/18/2016

Join us this week as we discuss the ASUS PB328Q, Samsung 750 EVO SSD, the release of Vulkan and more!

You can subscribe to us through iTunes and you can still access it directly through the RSS page HERE.

The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!

Hosts: Ryan Shrout, Jeremy Hellstrom, Josh Walrath, and Allyn Malventano

Program length: 1:34:18

  1. Week in Review:
  2. 0:35:00 This episode of the PC Perspective Podcast is brought to you by Audible, the world's leading provider of audiobooks with more than 180,000 downloadable titles across all types of literature including fiction, nonfiction, and periodicals. For your free audiobook, go to audible.com/pcper
  3. News items of interest:
  4. 1:07:00 This episode of PC Perspective Podcast is brought to you by Braintree. Even the best mobile app won’t work without the right payments API. That’s where the Braintree v.0 SDK comes in. One amazingly simple integration gives you every way to pay. Try out the sandbox and see for yourself at braintree­payments.com/pcper
  5. Hardware/Software Picks of the Week
  6. Closing/outro

Subscribe to the PC Perspective YouTube Channel for more videos, reviews and podcasts!!

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.

Vulkan API Slips to 2016

Subject: Graphics Cards | December 21, 2015 - 07:25 AM |
Tagged: vulkan, Mantle, Khronos, dx12, DirectX 12

The Khronos Group announced on Friday that the Vulkan API will not ship until next year. The standards body was expecting to launch it at some point in 2015. In fact, when I was first briefed on it, they specifically said that 2015 was an “under-promise and over-deliver” estimate. Vulkan is an open graphics and compute standard that was derived from AMD's Mantle. It, like OpenCL 2.1, uses the SPIR-V language for compute and shading though, which can be compiled from subsets of a variety of languages.

khronos-vulkan-logo.png

I know that most people will be quick to blame The Khronos Group for this, because industry bodies moving slowly is a stereotype, but I don't think it applies. When AMD created Mantle, it bore some significant delays at all levels. Its drivers and software were held back, and the public release of its SDK was delayed out of existence. Again, it would be easy to blame AMD for this, but hold on. We now get to Microsoft. DirectX 12, which is maybe even closer to Mantle than Vulkan is due to its shading language, didn't roll out as aggressively as Microsoft expected, either. Software is still pretty much non-existent when they claimed, at GDC 2014, that about 50% of PC games would be DX12-compatible by Holiday 2015. We currently have... ... zero (excluding pre-release).

Say what you like about the three examples individually, but when all three show problems, then there might just be a few issues that took longer than expected to solve. Again, this is a completely different metaphor of translating voltages coming through a PCI Express bus into fancy graphics and GPU compute, and create all of the supporting ecosystems, too.

Speaking of ecosystems, The Khronos Group has also announced that Google has upgraded their membership to “Promoter” to get more involved with Vulkan development. Google has been sort-of hostile towards certain standards from The Khronos Group on Android in the past, such as disabling OpenCL on Nexus devices, and trying to steer developers into using Android Extension Pack and Renderscript. They seem to want to use Vulkan proper this time, which is always healthy for the API.

I guess look forward to Vulkan in 2016... hopefully early.