What Are OpenGL® Computer Graphics?

G. Wiesen

OpenGL® computer graphics are images displayed through the use of OpenGL® software rather than other types of computer graphic imagery (CGI) programs. These are displayed through the use of computer coding much like the development of computer software. Rather than using this coding to instruct a program on how to operate, however, the programming is used to instruct a graphics engine on what and how to render out various two-dimensional (2D) or three-dimensional (3D) objects. OpenGL® computer graphics have certain advantages over other programs, in that they can be used with multiple operating systems (OS) and various platforms.

OpenGL® computer graphics may require a high-end graphics card.
OpenGL® computer graphics may require a high-end graphics card.

There are a number of different settings in which OpenGL® computer graphics can be used, including the creation of computer aided design (CAD) and video game programs. Different landscapes, scenes, and objects can be created through the use of this type of software. For architectural or design purposes, OpenGL® computer graphics can be used to create digital models of buildings as demonstrations for a client, or to create a digital mockup of a product. In video game design, these types of graphics are often used to create scenes and objects that are easily rendered by many different types of hardware and software.

The case must be removed from a computer before a new graphics card can be installed.
The case must be removed from a computer before a new graphics card can be installed.

Both two-dimensional, or 2D, and three-dimensional, or 3D, graphics can be created through the use of OpenGL® software, and these images can then be easily rendered and displayed by computer systems. OpenGL® computer graphics are basically created through the use of computer programming, much like that used to create new software or to design and develop a website. Software then executes the code that has been written, and as it does so it generates different types of objects consisting of lines and polygons. These types of OpenGL® computer graphics are developed through mathematics, as each point in an object is indicated in the code.

OpenGL is an open source standard and abstract programming interface (API) for programming three-dimensional (3D) graphics in computer programs.
OpenGL is an open source standard and abstract programming interface (API) for programming three-dimensional (3D) graphics in computer programs.

Points in space, also called vertices, and lines are used to create 2D OpenGL® computer graphics. A triangle, for example, can be created through code that indicates three particular points, and then instructs the software to connect those points with lines to make a total shape. 3D graphics, however, are somewhat more complex and require a great deal of coding to create. These objects are created as OpenGL® computer graphics through multiple shapes called polygons, which are connected together to form the surface of a 3D object. This is then textured through additional programming and can be manipulated in numerous ways through more code.

Open GL computer graphics are created through computer programming, much like developing new software or a website.
Open GL computer graphics are created through computer programming, much like developing new software or a website.

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Discussion Comments

Vincenzo

@Melonlity -- A problem, though, is that the advancements of OpenGL have forced hardware to keep up with the most current versions of it. If you have a graphics card that can handle an older version of OpenGL, what happens if a new version comes out and your graphics card can't handle it? You might have a problem as games and graphics packages come out that are built for the new version.

At least when graphics were proprietary to operating systems or even hardware, there was some thought given to backward compatibility. We don't seem as concerned about that as OpenGL advances, and forced obsolescence is a real drag.

Melonlity

The development of OpenGL is critical to the unified development of graphics hardware. The importance of it can't be overstated.

Here's what I mean. Having that graphics standard around makes it easier for programmers to create games that will run under various operating systems. Linux? Windows? Mac? The operating system doesn't much matter in terms of graphics if you have a set standard and that is what OpenGL provides.

Compare that to the old days when someone might create a game for a specific computer and have to totally redo the graphics for another platform. That was common back when graphics were fairly simple, but things have changed. It simply wouldn't be feasible to rewrite all the graphics code considering how complex things are these days. OpenGL makes it possible to port graphics pretty easily, and that means developers can make games and graphics programs available for more than one platform.

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