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OpenGL & Mobile Devices

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When it comes to games, visualization, and even video-stream processing, OpenGL is the de facto standard for cross-platform real-time 3D graphics. So when I first heard that OpenGL was being adapted for things like cell phones and PDAs, I was, well, skeptical. After being spoiled by workstation-class 3D graphics, going back to software rendering on a display half the size of a note card was underwhelming, to say the least.

Two things changed my mind—Sony's PSP and Nintendo's GameBoy DS. When I saw their displays, I knew 3D hardware in handheld devices was a reality. For the first time, I had a real reason to dive into OpenGL ES, a royalty-free, cross-platform API for full-function 2D and 3D graphics for the "embedded space" (www.khronos.org/opengles). About the same time I was working to incorporate OpenGL ES into my OpenGL class at Full Sail (www.fullsail.com), I was also working with Software Bisque (www.bisque.com) on some OpenGL-based astronomy projects. NVidia heard what we were up to and contacted us about moving TheSky Pocket Edition to OpenGL ES-enabled platforms. NVidia supplied me with a development kit (developer.nvidia.com/page/handheld.html), which included the Gizmondo handheld gaming unit. Alas, the company behind the unit is gone, but the Gizmondo still proved to be a valuable prototyping and evaluation tool. Getting something running on the Gizmondo was straightforward because it runs on Windows CE, which lets me use Microsoft's Embedded Visual C++.

The Gizmondo is not a Pocket PC or PDA — it was solely intended as a handheld gaming device—so there are a few hurdles most PDA developers are spared. For instance, I had to use a special "Developers" version of the USB driver to form a regular partnership with the device and copy files back and forth to protected areas. There was also a special program that had to be integrated into Embedded Visual C++'s build steps to digitally sign the executables, or the Gizmondo would not execute them.

The Gizmondo unit contains a 400-MHz ARM9 CPU, and has 64 MB of RAM. The 320×240, 16-bit color (5-6-5 dither) display was driven by a 72-MHz NVidia GoForce 4500 3D GPU, which supports OpenGL ES 1.0 with some extensions. This is more power than was available when 3D games first came to PCs, and I was eager to see my first 3D program running on a handheld device.

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