Entries for tag "rendering", ordered from most recent. Entry count: 182.
# Creative Use of GPU Fixed-Function Hardware
I recently broke my rule of posting on my blog at least once a month as I had some other topics and problems to handle in my life, but I'm still alive, still doing graphics programming for a living, so I hope to get back to blogging now. This post is more like a question rather than an answer. It is about creative use of GPU fixed-function hardware. Warning: It may be pretty difficult for beginners, full of graphics programming terms you should already know to understand it. But first, here is some background:
I remember the times when graphics cards were only configurable, not programmable. There were no shaders, only a set of parameters that could control pre-defined operations - transform of vertices, texturing and lighting of pixels. Then, shaders appeared. They evolved by supporting more instructions to be executed and a wider variety of instructions available. At some point, even before the invention of compute shaders, the term “general-purpose computing on GPU” (GPGPU) appeared. Developers started encoding some data as RGBA colors of texture pixels and drawing full-screen quads just to launch calculation of some non-graphical tasks, implemented as pixel shaders. Soon after, compute shaders appeared, so they no longer need to pretend anything - they can now spawn a set of threads that can just read and write memory freely through Direct3D unordered access views aka Vulkan storage images and buffers.
GPUs seem to become more universal over time, with more and more workloads done as compute shaders these days. Will we end up with some generic, highly parallel compute machines with no fixed-function hardware? I don’t know. But Nanite technology from the new Unreal Engine 5 makes a step in this direction by implementing its own rasterizer for some of its triangles, in form of a compute shader. I recommend a good article about it: “A Macro View of Nanite – The Code Corsair” (it seems the link is broken already - here is a copy on Wayback Machine Internet Archive). Apparently, for tiny triangles of around single pixel size, custom rasterization is faster than what GPUs provide by default.
But in the same article we can read that Epic also does something opposite in Nanite: they use some fixed-function parts of the graphics pipeline very creatively. When applying materials in screen space, they render a full-screen pass per each material, but instead of drawing just a full-screen triangle, they do a regular triangle grid with quads covering tiles of NxN pixels. They then perform a coarse-grained culling of these tiles in a vertex shader. In order to reject one, they output vertex position = NaN, which makes a triangle incorrect and not spawning any pixels. Then, a more fine-grained culling is performed using Z-test. Per-pixel material identifier is encoded as depth in a depth buffer! This can be fast, as modern GPUs apply “HiZ” - an internal optimization to reject whole groups of pixels that fail Z-test even before their pixel shaders are launched.
This reminded me of another creative use of the graphics pipeline I observed in one game a few years ago. That pass was calculating luminance histogram of a scene. They also rendered a regular grid of geometry in screen space, but with “point list” topology. Each vertex was sampling and calculating average luminance of its region. On the other end, the histogram texture of Nx1 pixels was bound as a render target. Measured luminance of a region was returned as vertex position, while incrementation of the specific place on the histogram was ensured using additive blending. I suspect this is not the most optimal way of doing this, a compute shader using atomics could probably do it faster, but it surely was very creative and took me some time to figure out what that pass is really doing and how is it doing it.
After all, GPUs have many fixed-function elements next to their shader cores. Vertex fetch, texture sampling (with mip level calculation, trilinear and anisotropic filtering), tessellation, rasterization, blending, all kinds of primitive culling and pixel testing, even vertex homogeneous divide... Although not included in the calculation of TFLOPS power, these are real transistors with compute capabilities, just very specialized. Do you know any other smart, creative uses of them?
# VkExtensionsFeaturesHelp - My New Library
I had this idea for quite some time and finally I've spent last weekend coding it, so here it is: 611 lines of code (and many times more of documentation), shared for free on MIT license:
Vulkan Extensions & Features Help, or VkExtensionsFeaturesHelp, is a small, header-only, C++ library for developers who use Vulkan API. It helps to avoid boilerplate code while creating
VkDevice object by providing a convenient way to query and then enable:
The library provides a domain-specific language to describe the list of required or supported extensions, features, and layers. The language is fully defined in terms of preprocessor macros, so no custom build step is needed.
Any feedback is welcome :)
# Vulkan Memory Types on PC and How to Use Them
Allocation of memory for buffers and textures is one of the fundamental things we do when using graphics APIs, like DirectX or Vulkan. It is of my particular interest as I develop Vulkan Memory Allocator and D3D12 Memory Allocator libraries (as part of my job – these are not personal projects). Although underlying hardware (RAM dice and GPU) stay the same, different APIs expose them differently. I’ve described these differences in detail in my article “Differences in memory management between Direct3D 12 and Vulkan”. I also gave a talk “Memory management in Vulkan and DX12” at GDC 2018 and my colleague Ste Tovey presented much more details in his talk “Memory Management in Vulkan” at Vulkanised 2018.
In this article, I would like to present common patterns seen on the list of memory types available in Vulkan on Windows PCs. First, let me recap what the API offers: Unlike in DX12, where you have just 3 default “memory heap types” (
D3D12_HEAP_TYPE_READBACK), in Vulkan there is a 2-level hierarchy, a list of “memory heaps” and “memory types” inside them you need to query and that can look completely different on various GPUs, operating systems, and driver versions. Some constraints and guarantees apply, as described in Vulkan specification, e.g. there is always some
DEVICE_LOCAL and some
HOST_VISIBLE memory type.
A memory heap, as queried from
vkGetPhysicalDeviceMemoryProperties and returned in
VkMemoryHeap, represents some (more or less) physical memory, e.g. video RAM on the graphics card or system RAM on the motherboard. It has some fixed size in bytes, and current available budget that can be queried using extension VK_EXT_memory_budget. A memory type, as returned in
VkMemoryType, belongs to certain heap and offers a “view” to that heap with certain properties, represented by
VkMemoryPropertyFlags. Most notable are:
VK_MEMORY_PROPERTY_DEVICE_LOCAL_BIT, which always matches flag
VK_MEMORY_HEAP_DEVICE_LOCAL_BIT in the heap it belongs to, informs that the memory is local to the “device” (the GPU in Vulkan terminology). It doesn’t change what you can or cannot do with this memory type. If creating certain buffers or textures was possible only in GPU and not CPU memory, it would be expressed by appropriate bits not set in
DEVICE_LOCAL flag set in a memory type is just a hint for us that resources created in that memory will probably work faster when accessed on the GPU.
VK_MEMORY_PROPERTY_HOST_VISIBLE_BIT. Unlike previous one, this flag changes a lot. It means that you can call
VkDeviceMemory objects allocated from this type and get a raw, CPU-side pointer to its data. In short: you can access this memory directly from the CPU, without a need to launch a Vulkan command for explicit transfer, like
VK_MEMORY_PROPERTY_HOST_CACHED_BIT, which can occur only on memory types that are also
HOST_VISIBLE. This one again is just a hint for us. It changes nothing we can or cannot do with that memory. It just informs us that access to this memory will go through cache (from CPU perspective). As a result, a memory type with this flag should be fast to write, read, and access randomly via mapped pointer. What the lack of this flag means is not clearly defined. Such memory may represent system RAM or even video RAM, but a common meaning (at least on PC) is that accesses are then uncached but write-combined from CPU perspective, which means we should only write to it sequentially (best to do memcpy), never read from it or jump over random places, as it may be slow.
Theoretically, a good algorithm as recommended by the spec, to search for the first memory type meeting your requirements, should be robust enough to work on any GPU, but, if you want make sure your application works correctly and efficiently on a variety of graphics hardware available on the market today, you may need to adjust your resource management policy to a specific set of memory heaps/types found on a user’s machine. To simplify this task, below I present common patterns that can be observed on the list of Vulkan memory heaps and types on various GPUs, on Windows PCs. I also describe their meaning and consequences.
Before I start, I must show you website vulkan.gpuinfo.org, if you don’t already know it. It is a great database of all Vulkan capabilities, features, limits, and extensions, including memory heaps/types, cataloged from all kinds of GPUs and operating systems.
1. The Intel way
Intel manufactures integrated graphics (although they also released a discrete card recently). As GPU integrated into CPU, it shares the same memory. It then makes sense to expose following memory types in Vulkan (example: Intel(R) UHD Graphics 600):
Heap 0: DEVICE_LOCAL
Size = 1,849,059,532 B
Type 0: DEVICE_LOCAL, HOST_VISIBLE, HOST_COHERENT
Type 1: DEVICE_LOCAL, HOST_VISIBLE, HOST_COHERENT, HOST_CACHED
What it means: The simplest and the most intuitive set of memory types. There is just one memory that represents system RAM, or a part of it that can be used for graphics resources. All memory types are
DEVICE_LOCAL, which means GPU has fast access to them. They are also all
HOST_VISIBLE – accessible to the CPU. Type 0 without
HOST_CACHED flag is good for writing through mapped pointer and reading by the GPU, while type 1 with
HOST_CACHED flag is good for writing by the GPU commands and reading via mapped pointer.
How to use it: You can just load your resources directly from disk. There is no need to create a separate staging copy, separate GPU copy, and issue a transfer command, like we do with discrete graphics cards. With images you need to use
VK_IMAGE_TILING_OPTIMAL for best performance and so you need to
vkCmdCopyBufferToImage, but at least for buffers you can just map them, fill the content via CPU pointer and then tell GPU to use that memory – an approach which can save both time and precious bytes of memory.
# States and Barriers of Aliasing Render Targets
In my recent post “Initializing DX12 Textures After Allocation and Aliasing” I said that when you use Direct3D 12, you have a render-target or depth-stencil texture “B” aliasing with some other resources “A” in memory and want to use it, you need to initialize it properly every time: 1. issue a barrier of type
D3D12_RESOURCE_BARRIER_TYPE_ALIASING, 2. fully initialize its content using Clear, Discard, or Copy, so that garbage data left from previous usage of the memory as overwritten.
That is actually not the full story. There is a third thing that you need to take care of: a transition barrier for this resource. This is because functions:
ClearDepthStencilView require a texture to be in a correct state –
D3D12_RESOURCE_STATE_DEPTH_WRITE. A question arises here: How does resource state tracking interact with memory aliasing?
If you look at error and warning messages from D3D Debug Layer or PIX, you notice that states are tracked per resource, no matter if they alias in memory. This gives us some clue of how we should handle it correctly to tame the Debug Layer and make things formally correct, but it is still not that obvious where to put the barrier. Let's assume the last usage of our texture B is
D3D12_RESOURCE_STATE_PIXEL_SHADER_RESOURCE – the texture is used for sampling. Where should we put the barrier to transition it to
D3D12_RESOURCE_STATE_RENDER_TARGET, required to do the initializing Discard or Clear after aliasing? I can see 3 solutions here:
1. None at all – skip this barrier, just do the Discard/Clear as if the texture was in the correct RT/DS state. It obviously generates Debug Layer error, but it seems to work fine. My thinking about why this may be fine is: If the Discard/Clear requires the texture to be in the correct RT/DS state and it completely overwrites its content, then it shouldn’t care what initial state the texture is in. Its data are garbage anyway. It will most probably leave the texture initialized properly as for RT/DS state, no matter what.
2. Between the aliasing barrier and Discard/Clear. This would please the Debug Layer, but I have some doubts whether it is correct or necessary. It may not be correct because if the barrier does some transformations of the data, it would transform garbage data left after aliasing, which could be an undefined behavior leading to some persisting corruptions or even to GPU crash. It may not be necessary because we are going to re-initialize the whole content of the texture in a moment anyway with Discard/Clear.
3. After finished working with the texture in the previous frame. The idea is to leave each RT/DS texture that can alias with some other resource in a state that makes it ready for the initializing Discard/Clear next time we want to grab it from the common memory. This will work and will be formally correct, but it also sounds like a well-known and sub-optimal idea of reverting textures to some “base state” after each use. Additional problem appears when your last usage of the texture occurs on the compute queue, because there you cannot transition it to
Conclusion: While this is a tricky question that has no one simple answer, I would recommend to use  if you want to be 100% formally correct or  if you want maximum efficiency.
Update 2023-11-16: New Enhanced barriers in D3D12 solve this whole problem by offering discard operation as part of a state transition barrier, similarly to Vulkan.
# CasCmdLine - Few Technical Details
As part of my job, I've written a small console program CasCmdLine with a purpose of testing AMD's FidelityFX Contrast Adaptive Sharpening (CAS) shader on an image from disk, e.g. a screenshot from your game. You can find binary and source code on github.com/GPUOpen-Effects/FidelityFX-CAS/, CasCmdLine subdirectory. See also the blog post and tutorial about it to learn about its features and the syntax of supported command line parameters.
Update 2021-07-25: Links above are broken, as the tool became a standalone repository, which now supports CAS as well as the new FidelityFX Super Resolution (FSR) shader: FidelityFX-CLI.
Here I would like to point to three aspects of its implementation that allowed me to make it small and simple. They might interest you if you are a C++/Windows/graphics programmer.
1. To execute a compute shader like CAS, I needed to use a graphics API - Direct3D 11, 12, or Vulkan, as all of them are supported by the effect. I chose D3D11 as the easiest one. What’s interesting is that the API is used without creating a window or swap chain. There are no render frames, no calls to
Present, no depth-stencil texture, no message loop.
D3D11CreateDevice is used to initialize DirectX rather than
D3D11CreateDeviceAndSwapChain. The program just initializes all necessary machinery, does its job, and exits. It is perfectly possible to write a program this way, which may be a good idea for any application that needs to do some GPU-accelerated computations rather than interactive graphics like games do. I suspect this mode of operation would work even on server systems that have no monitor attached, as long as there is a GPU and graphics driver installed. See file “CasCmdLine.cpp” to find out how this is implemented.
2. There is always a question in every graphics app about how to load shaders. Surely, compiling them from HLSL/GLSL source code is the worst option, as it requires the user to have shader compiler installed or attach the compiler to your program. It also takes more time than loading shaders precompiled to the intermediate binary format. But even in this format they need to be loaded from somewhere, whether individual files or some custom compressed archive, like games tend to do. In CasCmdLine I did it differently. I attached precompiled shaders directly to the program binary. To do that, I used command line parameter
/Fh of the "fxc.exe" shader compiler, like this:
fxc.exe /T cs_5_0 /E mainCS /O3 /Fh CompiledShader.h ShaderSource.hlsl
Instead of a binary file, the compiler called with this parameter generates a text file in a format compatible with C/C++ that contains the data of the compiled shader in form of an array, like this:
Shader metadata and assembly is put here, as commented out code...
const BYTE g_mainCS =
68, 88, 66, 67, 8, 233,
11, 94, 141, 165, 83, 251,
50, 166, 219, 219, 84, 109,
128, 23, 1, 0, 0, 0,
Such file can be
#include-d in a C++ code and used to create a D3D shader directly from this data. See files "Shaders/CompiledShader_*.h" to find out how they really look like.
3. The program needs to load and save image files in JPEG, PNG, and preferably other formats. Of course, these formats are very complex, support various pixel formats, involve some compression algorithms etc., so handling them manually would require an enormous amount of work. There are libraries for this, like the official libpng and libjpeg for handling PNG/JPEG formats, respectively, or a multi-format, multi-platform library DevIL.
If the developed program is intended only for Windows, it turns out that no third-party libraries are needed. Native Windows API contains a part called Windows Imaging Component (WIC) that can load and save image files in many formats, including BMP, PNG, JPEG, TIFF, GIF, ICO, WMP, DDS. It can also do some image operations, like rescaling. It is a COM API that involves interfaces like
IWICBitmapFrameDecode, and many more. This is what I used in the program described here. I might write a tutorial about WIC someday... For now, I would just say if you figure out its API, it looks quite powerful. It might be useful for any graphics Windows app that needs to load textures. It is also what Microsoft's DirectXTex library uses under the hood.
# Bezier Curve as Easing Function
Bézier curves are named after Pierre Bézier, and primary used is geometry modeling. They are good at describing various shapes in 2D and 3D. A Bézier curve is a function x(t), y(t) - it gives points in space (x, y) for some parameter t = 0..1. But nowadays they are also used in computer graphics for animation, as easing functions. There, we need to evaluate y(x), because x is the time parameter and y is the evaluated variable.
How does the formula of a Bézier curve look like as y(x)? What constraints do the 4 control points need to meet for this function to be correct - to have only one value of y for each x, with no loops or arcs? Finally, how can this function be approximated to store it in computer memory and evaluate it efficiently in modern game engines? These sound like fundamental questions, but apparently no one researched this topic thoroughly before, so it became the subject of the Ph.D. thesis of my friend Łukasz Izdebski.
A part of his research has just been published as paper "Bézier Curve as a Generalization of the Easing Function in Computer Animation" in Advances in Computer Graphics, 37th Computer Graphics International Conference, CGI 2020, Geneva, Switzerland. We want to share an excerpt of his findings online as an article: Bezier Curve as Easing Function.
# Why Not Use Heterogeneous Multi-GPU?
There was an interesting discussion recently on one Slack channel about using integrated GPU (iGPU) together with discrete GPU (dGPU). Many sound ideas were said there, so I think it's worth writing them down. But because I probably never blogged about multi-GPU before, few words of introduction first:
The idea to use multiple GPUs in one program is not new, but not very widespread either. In old graphics APIs like Direct3D 11 it wasn't easy to implement. Doing it right in a complex game often involved engaging driver engineers from the GPU manufacturer (like AMD, NVIDIA) or using custom vendor extensions (like AMD GPU Services - see for example Explicit Crossfire API).
New generation of graphics APIs – Direct3D 12 and Vulkan – are lower level, give more direct access to the hardware. This includes the possibility to implement multi-GPU support on your own. There are two modes of operation. If the GPUs are identical (e.g. two graphics cards of the same model plugged to the motherboard), you can use them as one device object. In D3D12 you then index them as Node 0, Node 1, ... and specify
NodeMask bit mask when allocating GPU memory, submitting commands and doing all sorts of GPU things. Similarly, in Vulkan you have VK_KHR_device_group extension available that allows you to create one logical device object that will use multiple physical devices.
But this post is about heterogeneous/asymmetric multi-GPU, where there are two different GPUs installed in the system, e.g. one integrated with the CPU and one discrete. A common example is a laptop with "switchable graphics", which may have an Intel CPU with their integrated “HD” graphics plus a NVIDIA GPU. There may even be two different GPUs from the same manufacturer! My new laptop (ASUS TUF Gaming FX505DY) has AMD Radeon Vega 8 + Radeon RX 560X. Another example is a desktop PC with CPU-integrated graphics and a discrete graphics card installed. Such combination may still be used by a single app, but to do that, you must create and use two separate Device objects. But whether you could, doesn't mean you should…
First question is: Are there games that support this technique? Probably few… There is just one example I heard of: Ashes of the Singularity by Oxide Games, and it was many years ago, when DX12 was still fresh. Other than that, there are mostly tech demos, e.g. "WITCH CHAPTER 0 [cry]" by Square Enix as described on DirectX Developer Blog (also 5 years old).
iGPU typically has lower computational power than dGPU. It could accelerate some pieces of computations needed each frame. One idea is to hand over the already rendered 3D scene to the iGPU so it can finish it with screen-space postprocessing effects and present it, which sounds even better if the display is connected to iGPU. Another option is to accelerate some computations, like occlusion culling, particles, or water simulation. There are some excellent learning materials about this technique. The best one I can think of is: Multi-Adapter with Integrated and Discrete GPUs by Allen Hux (Intel), GDC 2020.
However, there are many drawbacks of this technique, which were discussed in the Slack chat I mentioned:
Conclusion: Supporting heterogeneous multi-GPU in a game engine sounds like an interesting technical challenge, but better think twice before doing it in a production code.
BTW If you just want to use just one GPU and worry about the selection of the right one, see my old post: Switchable graphics versus D3D11 adapters.
# Improving the quality of the alpha test (cutout) materials
This is a guest post from my friend Łukasz Izdebski Ph.D.
Today I want to share with you a trick which my collage from previews work mentioned to me a long time ago. It's about alpha tested (also known as cutout) materials. This technique which I want to share with you consists of two neat tricks that can improve the quality of alpha tested (cutout) materials.
Alpha test is an old technique used in computer graphics. The idea behind it is very simple. In a very basic form, a material (shader) of a rendered object can discard processed pixels based on the alpha channel of RGBA texture. When shaded pixel’s final alpha value is less than this threshold value (threshold value is constant for the instance of the material and a typical value is 50%), it is clipped (discarded) and will not land in the shaders output framebuffer. These types of materials are commonly used to render vegetation, fences, impostors/billboards, etc.
Alpha tested materials have some, I will say a little issue. It can be noticed when rendered object (with this material) is far away from the camera. Let the following video below be an example of this issue.