Direct3D is a 3D graphics API for Windows computers and Xbox game consoles. It is part of the DirectX API suite that allows game developers to use a common set of commands to control hardware from many different manufacturers. Developers can use Direct3D to create 3D graphics and animations, including advanced shaders and lighting effects. It is one of the most widely-used 3D graphics APIs, along with Vulkan (the successor to OpenGL) and Apple's Metal API (exclusive to macOS and iOS devices).

The Direct3D API provides an abstraction layer between the game software and the GPU hardware. A developer includes a standard API command in their game's source code to perform a function— for example, applying a specific texture to a 3D object or changing the brightness of a light source. The API passes that command on to the GPU's driver, which translates it into the complicated machine code that the GPU uses to render the correct image. The developer does not need to write the code to control the GPU directly, saving them significant time and allowing their game to run on any compatible hardware. Every GPU that supports Windows includes Direct3D-compatible drivers.

Direct3D and the rest of the DirectX suite were first introduced as a feature of Windows 95 and have received regular updates ever since. Important features added to Direct3D over the years include pixel shaders, multithreaded rendering, and the ability to run non-graphical compute operations on GPU hardware. Direct3D 12, released as part of a Windows 10 update, is the first low-level version of Direct3D. It provides more direct control over a GPU and its resources, allowing games to run more efficiently but requiring more careful work by the developers to deal with the extra complexity.

Updated October 19, 2023 by Brian P.

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