OpenGL

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guest post by Patrick Cozzi, @pjcozzi.

This isn’t as crazy as it sounds: WebGL has a chance to become the graphics API of choice for real-time graphics research. Here’s why I think so.

An interactive demo is better than a video.

WebGL allows us to embed demos in a website, like the demo for The Compact YCoCg Frame Buffer by Pavlos Mavridis and Georgios Papaioannou. A demo gives readers a better understanding than a video alone, allows them to reproduce performance results on their hardware, and enables them to experiment with debug views like the demo for WebGL Deferred Shading by Sijie Tian, Yuqin Shao, and me. This is, of course, true for a demo written with any graphics API, but WebGL makes the barrier-to-entry very low; it runs almost everywhere (iOS is still holding back the floodgates) and only requires clicking on a link. Readers and reviewers are much more likely to check it out.

WebGL runs on desktop and mobile.

Android devices now have pretty good support for WebGL. This allows us to write the majority of our demo once and get performance numbers for both desktop and mobile. This is especially useful for algorithms that will have different performance implications due to differences in GPU architectures, e.g., early-z vs. tile-based, or network bandwidth, e.g., streaming massive models.

WebGL is starting to expose modern GPU features.

WebGL is based on OpenGL ES 2.0 so it doesn’t expose features like query timers, compute shaders, uniform buffers, etc. However, with some WebGL 2 (based on ES 3.0) features being exposed as extensions, we are getting access to more GPU features like instancing and multiple render targets. Given that OpenGL ES 3.1 will be released this year with compute shaders, atomics, and image load/store, we can expect WebGL to follow. This will allow compute-shader-based research in WebGL, an area where I expect we’ll continue to see innovation. In addition, with NVIDIA Tegra K1, we see OpenGL 4.4 support on mobile, which could ultimately mean more features exposed by WebGL to keep pace with mobile.

Some graphics research areas, such as animation, don’t always need access to the latest GPU features and instead just need a way to visualization their results. Even many of the latest JCGT papers on rendering can be implemented with WebGL and the extensions it exposes today (e.g., “Weighted Blended Order-Independent Transparency“). On the other hand, some research will explore the latest GPU features or use features only available to languages with pointers, for example, using persistent-mapped buffers in Approaching Zero Driver Overhead by Cass Everitt, Graham Sellers, John McDonald, and Tim Foley.

WebGL is faster to develop with.

Coming from C++, JavaScript takes some getting use to (see An Introduction to JavaScript for Sophisticated Programmers by Morgan McGuire), but it has its benefits: lighting-fast iteration times, lots of open-source third-party libraries, some nice language features such as functions as first-class objects and JSON serialization, and some decent tools. Most people will be more productive in JavaScript than in C++ once up to speed.

JavaScript is not as fast as C++, which is a concern when we are comparing a CPU-bound algorithm to previous work in C++. However, for GPU-bound work, JavaScript and C++ are very similar.

Try it.

Check out the WebGL Report to see what extensions your browser supports. If it meets the needs for your next research project, give it a try!

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by Patrick Cozzi, who works on the Cesium WebGL engine.

With the new shader editor in Firefox 27 (available now in Aurora), WebGL tools are taking a big step in the right direction. This article reviews the current state of WebGL debugging and profiling tools with a focus on their use for real engines, not simple demos. In particular, our engine creates shaders dynamically; uses WebGL extensions like Vertex Array Objects; dynamically creates, updates, and deletes 100′s of MB of vertex buffers and textures; renders to different framebuffers; and uses web workers. We’re only interested in tools that provide useful results for our real-world needs.

Firefox WebGL Shader Editor

The Firefox WebGL Shader Editor allows us to view all shader programs in a WebGL app, edit them in real-time, and mouse over them to see what parts of the scene were drawn using them.

What I like most about it is it actually works. Scenes in our engine usually have 10-50 procedurally-generated shaders that can be up to ~1,000 lines. The shader editor handles this smoothly and automatically updates when new shaders are created.

skybox

The skybox shader is shown in the editor and the geometry is highlighted in red. (Click on any image for its full-screen version.)

I was very impressed to see the shader editor also work on the Epic Citadel demo, which has 249 shaders, some of which are ~2,000 lines.

citadel

Live editing is, of course, limited. For example, we can’t add new uniforms and attributes and provide data for them; however, we can add new varying variables to pass data between vertex and fragment shaders.

Given that the editor needs to recompile after our edits, attribute and uniform locations could change, e.g., if uniforms are optimized out, which would break most apps (unless the app is querying these every frame, which is a terrible performance idea). However, the editor seems to handle remapping under-the-hood since removing uniforms doesn’t break other uniforms.

Recompiling after typing stops works well even for our large shaders. However, every editor I see like this, including JavaScript ones we’ve built, tends to remove this feature in favor of an explicit run, as the lag can otherwise be painful.

There are some bugs, such as mousing over some shaders causes artifacts or parts of the scene to go away, which makes editing those shaders impossible.

artifacts

Even though this is in a pre-beta version of Firefox, I find it plenty usable. Other than spot testing, I use Chrome for development, but this tool really makes me want to use Firefox, at least for shader debugging.

We planned to write a tool like this for our engine, but I’m glad the Mozilla folks did it instead since it benefits the entire WebGL community. An engine-specific tool will still be useful for some. For example, this editor uses the shader source provided to WebGL. If a shader is procedurally-generated, an engine-specific editor can present the individual snippets, nodes in a shade tree, etc.

A few features that would make this editor even better include:

  • Make boldface any code in #ifdef blocks that evaluate to true. This is really useful for ubershaders.
  • Mouse over a pixel and show the shader used. Beyond debugging, this would be a great teaching aid and tool for understanding new apps. I keep pitching the idea of mousing over a pixel and then showing a profile of the fragment shader as a final project to my students, but no one ever bites. Easy, right?
  • An option to see only shaders actually used in a frame, instead of all shaders in the WebGL context, since many shaders can be for culled objects. Taking it a step further, the editor could show only shaders for non-occluded fragments.

For a full tutorial, see Live editing WebGL shaders with Firefox Developer Tools.

WebGL Inspector

The WebGL Inspector was perhaps the first WebGL debugging tool. It hasn’t been updated in a long time, but it is still useful.

WebGL Inspector can capture a frame and step through it, building the scene one draw call at a time; view textures, buffers, state, and shaders; etc.

The trace shows all the WebGL calls for a frame and nicely links to more info for function arguments that are WebGL objects. We can see the contents and filter state of textures, contents of vertex buffers, and shader source and current uniforms.

ducktrace

ducktexture

One of WebGL Inspector’s most useful features is highlighting redundant WebGL calls, which I use often when doing analysis before optimizing.

redundant

Like most engines, setting uniforms is a common bottleneck for us and we are guilty of setting some redundant uniforms for now.

WebGL Inspector may take some patience to get good results. For our engine, the scene either isn’t visible or is pushed to the bottom left. Also, given its age, this tool doesn’t know about extensions such as Vertex Array Objects. So, when we run our engine with WebGL Inspector, we don’t get the full set of extensions supported by the browser.

The WebGL Inspector page has a full walkthrough of its features.

Chrome Canvas Inspector

The Canvas Inspector in Chrome DevTools is like a trimmed-down WebGL Inspector built right into Chrome. It is an experimental feature but available in Chrome stable (Chrome 31). In chrome://flags/, “Enable Developer Tools experiments” needs to be checked and then the inspector needs to be explicitly enabled in the DevTools settings.

Although it doesn’t have nearly as many features as WebGL Inspector, Canvas Inspector is integrated into the browser and trivial to use once enabled.

canvasinspector

Draw calls are organized into groups that contain the WebGL state calls and the affected draw call. We can step one draw group or one WebGL call at a time (all WebGL tracing tools can do this). The scene is supposed to be shown one draw call at a time, but we currently need to turn off Vertex Array Objects for it to work with our engine. Canvas Inspector can also capture consecutive frames pretty well.

The inspector is nicely integrated into the DevTools so, for example, there are links from a WebGL call to the line in the JavaScript file that invoked it. We can also view the state of resources like textures and buffers, but not their contents or history.

Tools like WebGL Inspector and Canvas Inspector are also useful for code reviews. When we add a new rendering feature, I like to profile and step through the code as part of the review, not just read it. We have found culling bugs when stepping through draw calls and then asking why there are so many that aren’t contributing to any pixels.

For a full Canvas Inspector tutorial, see Canvas Inspection using Chrome DevTools.

Google Web Tracing Framework

The Google Web Tracing Framework (WTF) is a full tracing framework, including support for WebGL similar to WebGL Inspector and Canvas Inspector. It is under active development on github; they addressed an issue I submitted in less than a day! Even without manually instrumenting our code, we can get useful and reliable results.

Here we’re stepping through a frame one draw call at a time:

wtf

For WebGL, WTF has similar trace capability as the above inspectors, combined with all its general JavaScript tracing features. The WebGL trace integrates nicely with the tracks view.

tracks

Above, we see the tracks for frame #53. The four purple blocks are texture uploads using texSubImage2D to load new imagery tiles we received from a web worker. Each call is followed by several WebGL state calls and a drawElements call to reproject the tile on the GPU (see World-Scale Terrain Rendering from the Rendering Massive Virtual Worlds SIGGRAPH 2013 course). The right side of the frame shows all the state and draw calls for the actual scene.

Depending on how many frames the GPU is behind, a better practice would be to do all the texSubImage2D calls, followed by all the reprojection draw calls, or even move the reprojection draw calls to the end of the frame with the scene draw calls. The idea here is to ensure that the texture upload is complete by the time the reprojection draw call is executed. This trades the latency of completing any one for the throughput of computing many. I have not tried it in this case so I can’t say for certain if the driver lagging behind isn’t already enough time to cover the upload.

gc

The tracks view gets really interesting when we examine slow frames highlighted in yellow. Above, the frame takes 27ms! It looks similar to the previous frame with four texture uploads followed by drawing the scene, but it’s easy to see the garbage collector kicked in, taking up almost 12ms.

linkProgram

Above is our first frame, which takes an astounding 237ms because it compiles several shaders. The calls to compileShader are very fast because they don’t block, but the immediate call to linkProgram needs to block, taking ~7ms for the one shown above. A call to getShaderParameter or getShaderInfoLog would also need to block to compile the shader. It is a best practice to wait as long as possible to use a shader object after calling compileShader to take advantage of asynchronous driver implementations. However, testing on my MacBook Pro with an NVIDIA GeForce 650M did not show this. Putting a long delay before linkProgram did not decrease its latency.

For more details, see the WTF Getting Started page. You may want to clear a few hours.

More Tools

The WebGL Report is handy for seeing a system’s WebGL capabilities, including extensions, organized by pipeline stage. It’s not quite up-to-date with all the system-dependent values for the most recent extensions, but it’s close. Remember, to access draft extensions in Chrome, we need to explicitly enable them in the browser now. For enabling draft extensions in Firefox you need to go to “about:config” and set the “webgl.enable-draft-extensions” preference to true.

webglreport

The simple Chrome Task Manager (in the Window menu) is useful for quick and dirty memory usage. Make sure to consider both your app’s process and the GPU process.

taskmanager

Although I have not used it, webgl-debug.js wraps WebGL calls to include calls to getError. This is OK for now, but we really need KHR_debug in WebGL to get the debugging API desktop OpenGL has had for a few years. See ARB_debug_output: A Helping Hand for Desperate Developers in OpenGL Insights.

There are also WebGL extensions that provide debugging info to privileged clients (run Chrome with –enable-privileged-webgl-extensions). WEBGL_debug_renderer_info provides VENDOR and RENDERER strings. WEBGL_debug_shaders provides a shader’s source after it was translated to the host platform’s native language. This is most useful on Windows where ANGLE converts GLSL to HLSL. Also see The ANGLE Project: Implementing OpenGL ES 2.0 on Direct3D in OpenGL Insights.

The Future

The features expected in WebGL 2.0, such as multiple render targets and uniform buffers, will bring us closer to the feature-set OpenGL developers have enjoyed for years. However, API features alone are not enough; we need an ecosystem of tools to create an attractive platform.

Building WebGL tools, such as the Firefox Shader Editor and Chrome Canvas Inspector, directly into the browser developer tools is the right direction. It makes the barrier to entry low, especially for projects with limited time or developers. It helps more developers use the tools and encourages using them more often, for the same reason that unit tests that run in the blink of an eye are then used frequently.

The current segmentation of Google’s tools may appear confusing but I think it shows the evolution. WebGL Inspector was first out of the gate and proved very useful. Because of this, the next generation version is being built into Chrome Canvas Inspector for easy access and into the WTF for apps that need careful, precise profiling. For me, WTF is the tool of choice.

We still lack a tool for setting breakpoints and watch variables in shaders. We don’t have what NVIDIA Nsight is to CUDA, or what AMD CodeXL is to OpenCL. I doubt that browser vendors alone can build these tools. Instead, I’d like to see hardware vendors provide back-end support for a common front-end debugger built into the browser.

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by Patrick Cozzi, a guest blogger

(I was corresponding with Patrick and found he knew way too much about WebGL, so asked him to write something down. – Eric)

Although I am a long-time C++ and OpenGL developer, I’ve been developing full-time in JavaScript and WebGL for the past year and a half on an open-source 3D engine, Cesium, for virtual globes and maps. Here are some of my favorite WebGL resources.

Reading

SIGGRAPH

  • The WebGL BOF, organized by Ken Russell, will have a series of five-minute lighting talks with a focus on demos, including a Cesium demo I’m giving. Last year the room was packed – people standing, sitting on the floor, and crowding around the door. Let’s hope the room is a lot bigger this year.
  • Graphics Programming for the Web is a timely new course by Pushkar Joshi, Mikaël Bourges-Sévenier, Ken Russell, and Zhenyao Mo covering WebGL and other relavant HTML5 techniques. It sounds like it will be pretty broad, which is great for C++ developers like me that recently started to pretend to be web developers.
  • Although not WebGL-specific, I’ll be at the Rest 3D BOF organized by Rémi Arnaud. I’ll even miss part of Beyond Programmable Shading for it. Rest 3D is defining a REST API for accessing 3D content over HTTP. If it gets widespread adoption from content providers, WebGL apps using the API will have access to a ton of content, which is a big win for everyone.

Need to convince management/leads to consider WebGL?

  • WebGL is cross-platform, and doesn’t require an install, plugin, or admin rights. IE doesn’t support WebGL, but there are several options. We’ve found Chrome Frame to be the best because it installs without requiring admin rights, and also brings Chrome’s fast JavaScript engine.
  • WebGL browser support is increasing. Check out the WebGL Stats by Florian Bösch. It currently reports that 65.6% of desktop browsers across all OSes support WebGL. (more stats for Firefox here).
  • JavaScript doesn’t suck that much, really. JavaScript: The Good Parts by Douglas Crockford and his other JavaScript writings are great reads. There are downsides too, of course; for example, I have a much harder time rationalizing about performance in JavaScript than I do in C++. Fortunately, the built-in Chrome profiler is painless to use.

Tools

  • The WebGL Inspector by Ben Vanik allows us to step through WebGL calls or just draw calls, and view textures, buffers, shaders, and the current state – think gDEBugger for WebGL. I like to use it as a sanity check to make sure we are not making too many draw calls or loading too many textures.
  • Our WebGL Report uses a pipeline diagram to display the system’s WebGL capabilities such as maximum texture size and number of texture image units.

Finally, the WebGL wiki has a ton of great resources including a list of frameworks and more.

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In my previous blog post I mentioned the newly-released book OpenGL Insights. It’s worth a second mention, for a few reasons:

  • The editors and some contributors will be signing their book at SIGGRAPH at the CRC booth (#929) at Tuesday, 2 pm. This is a great chance to meet a bunch of OpenGL experts and chat.
  • Five free chapters, which can be found here. In particular, “Performance Tuning for Tile-Based Architectures” is of use to anyone doing 3D on mobile devices. Most of these devices are tile-based, so have a number of significant differences from normal PC GPUs. Reading this chapter and the (previously-mentioned) slideset Bringing AAA Graphics to Mobile Platforms (PDF version) should give you a good sense of the pitfalls and opportunities of mobile tile-based architectures.
  • The book’s website has an OpenGL pipeline map page (direct link to PDF here). Knowing what happens when can clarify some mysteries and solve some bugs.
  • The website also has a tips page, pointing out some of the subtleties of the API and the shading language.

While I’m at it, here are some other worthwhile OpenGL resource links I’ve been collecting:

  • ApiTrace: a simple set of wrapper DLLs that capture graphics API calls (also works for DirectX). You can replay and examine just about everything – think “PIX for OpenGL”, only better. For example, you can edit a shader in a captured run and immediately see the effect. Also, it’s open-source and as of this writing is actively being developed.
  • ANGLE: software to translate OpenGL ES 2.0 calls to DirectX 9 calls. This package is what both Chrome and Firefox use to run WebGL programs on Windows. Open source, of course. Actually, just assume everything here is open-source unless I say different (which I won’t).
    • Edit: Patrick Cozzi (one of the editors of OpenGL Insights) notes that there are several options for WebGL on IE. “Currently, I think the best option is to use Chrome Frame. It painlessly installs without admin rights, and also brings Chrome’s fast JavaScript engine to IE. We use it on http://cesium.agi.com and I actually demo it on IE (including installing Chrome Frame) by request quite frequently.”
  • Microsoft Internet Explorer won’t support WebGL, so someone else did as a plug-in.
  • Equalizer: a framework for coarse-parallel OpenGL rendering (think multi-display and multi-machine).
  • Oolong and dEngine: OpenGL ES rendering engines for the iPhone and iPad. Good for learning how things work. Oolong is 90% C++, dEngine is pure C. Each has its own features, e.g. dEngine supports bump mapping and shadow mapping.
  • A bit dated (OpenGL ES 1.1), but might be of interest: a readable rundown of the ancient Wolf3D engine and how it was ported to the iPhone.
  • gl2mark: benchmarking software for OpenGL ES 2.0
  • Matrix libraries: GLM is a full-blown matrix library based on OpenGL naming conventions, libmatrix is a template library for vector and matrix transformations for OpenGL, VMSL is a tiny library for providing modern OpenGL with the modelview/projection matrix functionality in OpenGL 1.0.
  • G3D: well, it’s more a user of OpenGL, but worth a mention. It’s a pretty nice C++ rendering engine that includes deferred shading, as well as ray tracing. I use it a lot for OBJ file display.
  • OpenGL works with cairo, a 2D vector-based drawing engine. Funky.

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  • If you can get WebGL running properly on your browser, check out Shader Toy. Coolest thing is that you can edit any shader and immediately try it out.
  • Another odd little WebGL application is a random spaceship maker, with a direct tie-in to Shapeways to buy a 3D version of any model you make.
  • Speaking of Shapeways, I liked their “one coffee cup a day project“. The low-resolution cup is particularly good for computer graphics people, though I’m told that in real life it’s a fair bit more rounded off, due to the way the ceramic sets. Ironic. Also, note that these cups are actually quite small in real life (smaller than even espresso cups), which is too bad. Still, clever.
  • Source code for iOS versions of Castle Wolfenstein and the original DOOM is now available.
  • Patrick Cozzi has a nice rundown of his days at SIGGRAPH this August, with a particular emphasis on OpenGL and mobile. The links for each day are at the bottom of the entry.
  • Nice fractal video generated in near-real time (300 ms/frame) running a GLSL shader using this code. Reddit thread here, about an earlier video now pulled back online.
  • This site gives a darn long list of educational institutions offering videogame design degrees. It’s at least a place to start, if you’re looking for such things. That said, I’ve heard counterarguments from game company professionals to such specialized degrees, “just learn to program well and we’ll teach you the videogames business”.

Bonus thing: Draw a curve of your data for a number of years and see what it most closely correlates. Peculiar.

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Inspired by Bing (a person, not a search engine) and by the acrobatics I saw tonight in Shanghai, time for a blog post.

So what’s up with graphics APIs? I’ve been working on a project for a fast 3D graphics system for Autodesk for about 4 years now; the base level (which hides the various flavors of DirectX and OpenGL) is used by Maya, Max, AutoCAD, Inventor, and other products. There are various higher-level optimizations we’ve added (and why Microsoft’s fxc effect compiler suddenly got a lot slower is a mystery), with some particularly nice work by one person here in the area of multithreading. Beyond these techniques, minimizing the raw number of calls to the API is the primary way to increase performance. Our rule of thumb is that you get about 1000-1500 calls a frame (CAD isn’t held to a 60 FPS rule, but we still need to be interactive). The usual tricks are to sort by state, and to shove as much geometry and processing as possible into a single draw call and so avoid the small batch problem. So, how silly is that? The best way to make your GPU run fast is to call it as little as possible? That’s an API with a problem.

This is old news, Tim Sweeney railed against API limitations 3 years ago (sadly, the article’s gone poof). I wrote about his ideas here and added my own two cents. So where are we since then? DirectX 11 has been out awhile, adding three more stages to the pipeline for efficient tessellation of higher-order surfaces. The pipeline’s feeling a bit unwieldy at this point, with a lot of (admittedly optional) stages. There are still some serious headaches for developers, like having to somehow manage to put lighting and material shading in the same pixel shader (one good argument for deferred lighting and similar techniques). Forget about optimization; the arcane API knowledge needed to get even a simple rendering on the screen is considerable.

I haven’t heard anything of a DirectX 12 in the works (except maybe this breathless posting, which I feel obligated to link to since I’m in China this month), nor can I imagine what they’d add of any significance. I expect there will be some minor XBox 72o (or whatever it will be called) -related tweaks specific to that architecture, if and when it exists. With the various CPU+GPU-on-a-chip products coming out – AMD’s Fusion family, NVIDIA’s Tegra 2, and similar from other companies (I think I counted 5, all totaled) – some access costs between the two processors become much cheaper and so change the rules. However, the API still looks to be the bottleneck.

Marketwise, and this is based entirely upon my work in scapulimancy, I see things shifting to mobile. If that isn’t at least the 247th time you’ve heard that, you haven’t been wasting enough time on the internet. But, it has some implications: first, DirectX 12 becomes mostly irrelevant. The GPU pipeline is creaky and overburdened enough right now, PC games are an important niche but not the focus, and mobile (specifically, iPad and other tablets) is fine with the functionality defined thus far by existing APIs. OpenGL ES will continue to evolve, but I doubt we’ll see for a good long while any algorithmically (vs. data-slinging) new elements added to the API that the current OpenGL 4.x and DX11 APIs don’t offer.

Basically, API development feels stalled to me, and that’s how it should be: mobile’s more important, PCs are a (large but slowly evolving) niche, and the current API system feels warped from a programming standpoint, with peculiar constructs like feeding text strings to the API to specify GPU shader effects, and strange contortions performed to avoid calling the API in order to coax the GPU to run fast.

Is there a way out? I felt a glimmer while attending HPG 2011 this year. The paper “High-Performance Software Rasterization on GPUs” by Samuli Laine and Tero Karras was one of my (and many attendees’) favorites, talking about how to efficiently implement a basic rasterizer using CUDA (code’s open sourced). It’s not as fast as dedicated hardware (no surprise there), but it’s at least in the same ball-park, with hardware being anywhere from 1.5x to 8.1x faster for their test cases, median being 3.6x. What I find exciting is the idea that you could actually program the pipeline, vs. it being locked away. They discuss ideas for optimization such as loosening the “first in, first out” rule for triangles currently enforced by all APIs. With its “yet another language” dependency, I can’t say I hope GPGPU is the future (and certainly CUDA isn’t, since it cuts out non-NVIDIA hardware vendors, but from all reports it’s currently the best way to experiment with GPGPU). Still, it’s nice to see that the fixed-function bits of the GPU, while important, are not an insurmountable limit in considering more flexible and general interactive rasterization programming models. Or, ray tracing – always have to stick that in there.

So it’s “forward to the past”, looking at traditional algorithms like rasterization and ray tracing and how to gain efficiency (both in raw speed and in development time) on various modern architectures. That’s ultimately what it’s about for me, at least: spending lots of time fighting the API, gluing together strings to make shaders, and all the other craziness is a distraction and a time-waster. That said, there’s a cost/benefit calculation implicit in all of this. For example, using C# or Java is way more productive than C++, I’d say about 2x, mostly because you’re not tracking down memory problems like leaks and access uninitialized or non-existent values. But, there’s so much legacy C++ code around that it’s still the language of graphics, as previously discussed here. Which means I expect none of the API weirdness to change for a solid decade, at the minimum. Please do go ahead and prove me wrong – I’d be thrilled!

Oh, and acrobatics? Hover your cursor over the image. BTW, the ERA show in Shanghai is wonderful, unlike current APIs.

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The call for participation for the “OpenGL Insights” book ends in a month. If you have a good tutorial or technique about OpenGL that you’d like to publish, please send on a proposal to them for consideration.

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Last month I mentioned gDEBugger being free and the joys of cppcheck. Here are some others that have crossed my path for one reason or another. Please do let me know (and so let us all know) about any worthwhile tools and libraries I haven’t blogged about – part of the reason for putting out this list is in hopes of learning of tools I haven’t heard of yet.

  • There is now a free version of AQTime, a commercial application that finds memory leaks and performance bottlenecks.
  • The Intel Graphics Performance Analyzers are supposed to be good stuff, and free – you just sign up for the Visual Adrenaline Program. I haven’t used them, but know people that have (hey, there’s Dan Baker on Intel’s page – nice).
  • Intel’s Parallel Inspector, despite its name, is particularly strong at finding memory leaks in any programs. Free month trial.
  • NVIDIA’s Parallel Nsight, also despite its name and focus of its advertising, is not just for CUDA and DirectCompute debugging and analysis, it also works on DirectX 10 and 11 shaders – you’ll need two machines networked together, one to run the shader and the other to control it. The Standard version is free, though when you sign up for it you also get a time-limited “we hope you get hooked” Professional license. Due to a currently-goofy pair of machines in my office (on different networks, and one’s a Mac I use purely as a Windows box), I haven’t gotten to try it out yet, but the demos look pretty great.
  • The Windows Performance Analysis Tools are evidently worthwhile for checking coarse-grained performance and bottlenecks for Windows programs. Again, free. I’ve heard that a number of groups have used xperf to good effect.
  • On an entirely different subject, HLSL2GLSL does a good job of translating most DirectX 9 (only) HLSL shaders to – wait for it – GLSL. Open source, and more info here, which discusses related efforts (like Mojoshader) and translation in the other direction.
  • Not really a tool per se, but still cool to see: here’s a way to find out how much free GPU memory is left for your OpenGL application. Anyone know any way to do this sort of thing with DirectX and Vista/Windows 7?
  • Will WebGL take off? Beats me, but it’s nice to see there’s an inspector, similar to gDEBugger and PIX.
  • GLM is a C++ math library particularly well-suited for use with (but not at all dependent on) OpenGL.
  • Humus points out that the old workhorse PIX now has new functionality that lets you assign names to objects, making debugging easier.
  • While I was messing with his binvox and viewvox programs, Patrick Min pointed out there’s a free 3DS file format library out there, lib3ds. I tried it out and it did the job well, taking very little time for me to integrate into my own private copy of binvox.

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Just noticed this on Morgan McGuire’s twitter feed. I don’t know why, but gDEBugger, sort of the PIX equivalent for OpenGL, is now free, go here for a license. They’ll be putting out a newer free version (5.8) by the end of the year, so it’s not like they’re discontinuing the product. Maybe it’s the “get them hooked” business model. Also, there’s talk that the current version doesn’t work that well with OpenGL 3.2 and above. Nonetheless, it’s an excellent product overall. Anyway, screen shots here.

To quote their literature: gDEBugger is an OpenGL, OpenGL ES, and OpenCL Debugger, Profiler and memory analyzer. It traces application activity on top of the OpenGL API to provide the application behavior information you need to find bugs and to optimize application performance. gDEBugger transforms the debugging task of graphic application from a “Black box” into a White box model; using gDEBugger you can peer inside the OpenGL usage to see how individual commands affect the graphic pipeline implementation. gDEBugger has a lot of “standard debugger” abilities, but also contains many special features for graphics software developers: view render context state variables, view allocated textures, textures properties and image data, Shaders programs and source code, break on OpenGL errors. In addition, using its profiling abilities, gDEBugger enables you to pinpoint easily the exact location of the application’s graphic pipeline performance bottleneck to let you optimize the application performance.

Update: Jari Komppa wrote, “This may shed some light on things: http://www.export.gov.il/Eng/_Articles/Article.asp?CategoryID=461&ArticleID=12274

Full text:

AMD to buy Israel’s Graphic Remedy company

The American chip manufacturer AMD is buying Israel’s Graphic Remedy company, the Calcalist financial website reports.

It appears that AMD – Intel’s competitor in manufacturing PC and server chips – will pay a relatively low amount for Graphic Remedy, some $4-5 million.

Graphic Remedy, founded six years ago, is a small company with seven employees. It gained renown for its series of simulation and debugging applications for graphic programs and computer games and became dominant among Cronus’ [sic - they mean Khronos Group's] Open GL platform developers.

According to Calcalist, AMD seems to be buying Graphic Remedy in an attempt to expand its presence in the home and business graphic
processors market.

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Here at RTR HQ we like to consider ourselves trailing edge, covering all the stories that have already been slashdotted and boingboinged, not to mention Penny Arcaded. My last post included the simulated 6502 project. The madness/brilliance of this ALU simulator boggles my mind. Yes, Minecraft is awesome, and for the low low price of $13.30 it’s had me in its terrible grasp for the past week, e.g. this.

I wanted to run through a few graphical bits about it. First, the voxel display engine is surprisingly fast for something that runs in the browser. Minecraft uses the Lightweight Java Game Library to drive OpenGL. Max McGuire figures that the program tracks the visible faces, i.e. all those between air and non-air, and then brute-force displays all these faces (using backface culling) within a given distance. The file format keeps track of 16x16x128 (high) chunks, so just the nearby chunks need display. I don’t know if the program’s using frustum culling on the chunks (I’d hope so!). Looks like no occlusion culling is done currently. The lighting model is interesting and nicely done, we haven’t quite figured it out; the game’s author, “Notch” (Markus Persson), notes that it was one of the trickier elements to make work efficiently.

Me, I’ve been looking at voxelization programs out there, to see if there’s a good one for turning models into voxel building plans (it’s a sickness, seriously). Patrick Min’s binvox (paired with his viewvox viewer) looks promising, since Patrick’s a good programmer (e.g., his CalcuDoku app), the program’s been around 6 years, and it’s open-source. Binvox uses the GPU to generate the voxel views, so it’s quite fast. It supports both parity counting and “carving”, and can also remove fully-interior voxels after processing. Parity count is for “watertight” models (closed and manifold, i.e. the polygon mesh correctly defines a solid object without gaps or self-intersections, etc.). Carving is taking 6 views and recording the closest occupied voxel from each direction. It won’t give you holes or crevices you can’t see from the 6 directions, but is otherwise good for polygonal models that are just surfaces, i.e., that don’t properly represent solids. See his page for references to all techniques he uses. I found a bug in Patrick’s OBJ reader yesterday and he fixed it overnight (fast service!), so I’m game to give it another go tonight.

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