CasCmdLine - Few Technical Details

Nov 2020

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, CasCmdLine subdirectory. See also the blog post and tutorial about it to learn about its features and the syntax of supported command line parameters.

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:

#if 0
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 IWICImagingFactory, IWICBitmapDecoder, 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.

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