Understanding PowerVR Series5XT: PowerVR GPUs and graphics API standards adoption

On March 15th, Samsung announced their flagship Galaxy S4 smartphone – powered by their own Samsung Exynos 5 Octa SoC with a PowerVR SGX544MP3 GPU core. Samsung’s return to PowerVR should be no surprise given the defining role played by the SGX540 in the original Galaxy and for Imagination,  it’s simply a continuation of the remarkable success story of this Series5XT GPU IP core.

There have been other recent announcements related to our PowerVR Series5XT GPUs. For example, Allwinner is among the few silicon vendors to release the Android 4.2.2 firmware across all their platforms. This means that all A31 and A31s-based devices like the Onda v812, the Archos Platinum 80, 97 and 116, Teclast P88, ICOO ICOU10GT and many others will soon be updated to the latest version of the Android operating system. These are affordable platforms with a PowerVR SGX544MP2 GPU and usually come with an open file system, making them ideal for app development and debugging.

MediaTek’s OEM partners have recently previewed a number of Android 4.2 devices powered by PowerVR Series5XT-based platforms too, such as the BLU Life Series smartphones or the 7.9″ Acer Iconia A1 tablet, which follows in the footsteps of the extremely popular Acer Iconia B1 tablet.

PowerVRGPU Samsung Galaxy S4 PowerVR SGX544MP3

The Exynos 5 Octa processor inside the Samsung Galaxy S4 uses a PowerVR SGX544MP3 GPU

In my previous article, I’ve discussed how the market leading feature set of our Series5XT GPU IP cores has allowed us to provide a full and complete OpenGL ES 2.0 implementation. However, not all products use the standard Khronos OpenGL ES APIs to enable graphics software development.

PowerVR Series5XT offers full support for Microsoft’s DirectX9_3 feature level

Microsoft uses their own DirectX API interface for their range of Windows operating systems, deploying it across a wide range of devices from mobile phones (Windows Phone 8) to entry-level tablets (Windows RT) or tablets, hybrids, ultrabooks and desktop PCs (Windows 8).

Imagination Technologies fully supports the requirements of all these different flavours of Windows, covering both the wide range of performance as well as the required feature levels. Our PowerVR SGX544 Series5XT design goes all the way up to the DirectX9_3 feature level, which exposes the most critical fundamental functionality required by any modern era, shader based graphics core.

PowerVR Series5XT GPU Riptide GP Windows 8 DirectX

Riptide GP is a popular game running under Windows 8

By supporting not only Khronos OpenGL ES 2.0 but also the Microsoft DirectX API, our customers benefit from even wider compatibility. And even though consumers were unaware of these requirements at the time of development of this graphics architecture, it allowed our products to be ready for the requirements of today’s operating systems – which at that time were just future points on a Microsoft roadmap.

Again most of our GPU competitors, in-house or IP licensed, failed to recognise this requirement resulting in SoCs unable to take advantage of the new revenue opportunities offered by the Windows Phone and the WindowsRT/8 market segments.

The PowerVR SGX544 feature set however turned out to be spot on, allowing our customers to take advantage of all market opportunities, driven both by Khronos and Microsoft APIs.

PowerVR Series5XT goes beyond OpenGL ES 2.0 with a near OpenGL ES 3.0 implementation

The market never stands still and will always continue to evolve to satisfy the never ending drive for faster and better products. Of course, this drive is equally matched by APIs. New API standards always carry the risk of obsoleting GPU technology but for a forward looking vendor they also offer a chance to drive API evolution and enable product differentiation.

Imagination Technologies, as a founder member of the Khronos Group, is heavily involved in the creation and adoption of new graphics standards – including the latest OpenGL ES 3.0 standard. OpenGL ES 3.0 introduced many new features focussed mostly on performance and power efficiency – a perfect alignment with our hardware design philosophy as I’ll explain later.

The first step taken was to mandate that all ‘optional’ OpenGL ES 2.0 features would become ‘mandatory’ – a great evolution for our PowerVR SGX544 as it already fully supports the complete standard. Additionally, the PowerVR SGX544 support for DirectX9_3 means that many other features introduced by OpenGL ES 3.0 are also already supported including advanced effects such as Multiple Render Targets and Instancing.

VeniceScene demo: PowerVR Series5XT running OpenGL ES 2.0

All in all, this evolution has been a great opportunity for Imagination to offer its customers even more value for money. We’ve therefore chosen to expose all this OpenGL ES 3.0 functionality through a series of OpenGL ES 2.0 extensions. Not only does this extend the relevance of SoCs already in the market but it also offers developers a cost effective transition opportunity.

Waiting for OpenGL ES 3.0 devices to amass critical volume (software developers always need a sufficiently large ecosystem to be profitable) can take several years but by exposing a near full OpenGL ES3.0 feature set on existing PowerVR SGX544 devices today this critical volume will already be achieved by the end of 2013.

PowerVR SGX OpenGL ES 2.0 with extensions vs basic OpenGL ES 2.0

The performance gains of using our near OpenGL ES 3.0 extensions vs. an OpenGL ES 2.0-only implementation in the Shrine demo

Once again this proves to be a win-win situation for Imagination, its SoC licensees, the OEMs, software developers and consumers.

In the next blog post, I will discuss how PowerVR SGX was one of the first mobile GPU architectures to support GPU compute APIs like OpenCL 1.1 EP and Renderscript Compute/Filterscript.

If you have any questions or feedback about Imagination’s graphics IP, please use the comments box below. To keep up to date with the latest developments on PowerVR, follow us on Twitter (@GPUCompute, @PowerVRInsider and @ImaginationTech) and subscribe to our blog feed.

‘Understanding PowerVR’ is an on-going, multi-part series of blog posts from Kristof Beets, Imagination’s Senior Business Development Manager for PowerVR. These articles not only focus on the features that make PowerVR GPUs great, but also provide a detailed look at graphics hardware architectures and software ecosystems in mobile markets.

If you’ve missed any of the posts, here are some backlinks:

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