Monotype text engine gets hardware acceleration

Shunting work onto the graphics chips is all the rage in computing circles, and Monotype is jumping on board. iType 5 adds effects for zooming, 3D text, and lighting.

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A look at some of the hardware-accelerated effects possible with Edge360 in Monotype Imaging's new iType 5.0.
A look at some of the hardware-accelerated effects possible with Edge360 in Monotype Imaging's new iType 5.0. Monotype Imaging

Monotype Imaging is bringing its font-rendering software a step into the future with hardware acceleration features it expects will help improve readability, add fancy features such as 3D, and offload work from mobile devices' main processors.

The company, while perhaps best known for creating and licensing typefaces, also has a business selling software that lets printers print the text and devices such as e-book readers display it on screens. It's this last category where the company offers its iType product, and the new version 5.0 announced today adds the new hardware acceleration features.

iType 5.0 draws upon the OpenGL ES interface for hardware acceleration using graphics chips, said Satoshi Asari, director of product marketing. Products today of Monotype Imaging font-rendering engine include Amazon's Kindle e-reader line.

On Windows, the OpenGL standard has had a tough time competing with Windows' own DirectX interface, but on mobile devices where Windows has only a small foothold, the ES version of OpenGL is increasingly common. Android and iOS support it, as do several processors.

"Most smartphones and tablets today ship with OpenGL ES hardware. More and more companies in the set-top box and even TV markets are starting to develop with OpenGL as well," Asari said. "That's a graphics technology that appears to be gaining momentum."

iType 5.0 has a feature called Edge360 that can tap into OpenGL ES abilities. With it, developers can create text that fluidly zooms in and out as people change font size; text with effects including shading and lighting reflections; and text with 3D shapes.

One feature you won't see: sub-pixel font rendering, which can smooth the edges of letters on some digital displays such as LCDs.

"There are all kinds of patent issues around sub-pixel rendering," Bob Taylor, manager of display imaging engineering. "Monotype Imaging has patents, Microsoft has patents. That's a limiting factor."

A big draw for the Edge360 software is freeing up a device's main processor, Taylor said.

"Developers and manufacturers like the idea of offloading the work onto the graphics processor," he said. "Traditionally, you're hard-pressed to fit an entire OS and software stack onto the CPU."

The software can be licensed for use in specific applications or, at a lower level, by operating systems that apps can draw upon. Monotype Imaging declined to reveal specifics of pricing other than to say it's typically paid through per-unit royalties.

Updated at 5:50 a.m. PT and 8:19 a.m. PT to note that Amazon licenses Monotype Imaging's font-rendering engine, not necessarily iType specifically, and to remove reference to Barnes & Noble, which only licenses the company's fonts.