Qt Outlines What Their View on Vulkan Support Is

Subject: General Tech | June 7, 2017 - 09:10 PM |
Tagged: Qt, vulkan

During our recent interview, the Khronos Group mentioned that one reason to merge into Vulkan was because, at first, the OpenCL working group wasn’t sure whether they wanted an explicit, low-level API, or an easy-to-use one that hides the complexity. Vulkan taught them to take a very low-level position, because there can always be another layer above them that hides complexity to everything downstream of it. This is important for them, because the only layers below them are owned by OS and hardware vendors.

QtCompany_logo_1200x630.png

This post is about Qt, though. Qt is a UI middleware, written in C++, that has become very popular as of late. The big revamp of AMD’s control panel with Crimson Edition was a result of switching from .NET to Qt, which greatly sped up launch time. They announced their intent to support the Vulkan API on the very day that it launched.

Yesterday, they wrote a blog post detailing their intentions for Vulkan support in Qt 5.10.

First and foremost, their last bulletpoint claims that these stances can change as the middleware evolves, particularly with Qt Quick, Qt 3D, Qt Canvas 3D, QPainter, and similar classes. This is a discussion of their support for Qt 5.10 specifically. As it stands, though, Qt intends to focus on cross-platform, window management, and “function resolving for the core API”. The application is expected to manage the rest of the Vulkan API itself (or, of course, use another helper for the other parts).

This makes sense for Qt’s position. Their lowest level classes should do as little as possible outside of what their developers expect, allowing higher-level libraries the most leeway to fill in the gaps. Qt does have higher-level classes, though, and I’m curious what others, especially developers, believe Qt should do with those to take advantage of Vulkan. Especially when we start getting into WYSIWYG editors, like Qt 3D Studio, there is room to do more.

Obviously, the first release isn’t the place to do it, but I’m curious none-the-less.

Source: Qt

Dawn of War III Vulkan Support on Linux to Add Intel GPUs

Subject: General Tech | June 7, 2017 - 04:54 PM |
Tagged: pc gaming, linux, vulkan, Intel, mesa, feral interactive

According to Phoronix, Alex Smith of Feral Interactive has just published a few changes to the open source Intel graphics driver, which allows their upcoming Dawn of War III port for Linux to render correctly on Vulkan. This means that the open-source Intel driver should support the game on day one, although drawing correctly and drawing efficiently could be two very different things -- or maybe not, we’ll see.

feral-2017-dawnofwar3.png

It’s interesting seeing things go in the other direction. Normally, graphics engineers parachute in to high-end developers and help them make the most of their software for each respective, proprietary graphics driver. In this case, we’re seeing the game studios pushing fixes to the graphics vendors, because that’s how open source rolls. It will be interesting to do a pros and cons comparison of each system one day, especially if cross-pollination results from it.

Source: Phoronix
Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: The Khronos Group

An Data Format for Whole 3D Scenes

The Khronos Group has finalized the glTF 2.0 specification, and they recommend that interested parties integrate this 3D scene format into their content pipeline starting now. It’s ready.

khronos-2017-glTF_500px_June16.png

glTF is a format to deliver 3D content, especially full scenes, in a compact and quick-loading data structure. These features differentiate glTF from other 3D formats, like Autodesk’s FBX and even the Khronos Group’s Collada, which are more like intermediate formats between tools, such as 3D editing software (ex: Maya and Blender) and game engines. They don’t see a competing format for final scenes that are designed to be ingested directly, quick and small.

glTF 2.0 makes several important changes.

The previous version of glTF was based on a defined GLSL material, which limited how it could be used, although it did align with WebGL at the time (and that spurred some early adoption). The new version switches to Physically Based Rendering (PBR) workflows to define their materials, which has a few advantages.

khronos-2017-PBR material model in glTF 2.0.jpg

First, PBR can represent a wide range of materials with just a handful of parameters. Rather than dictating a specific shader, the data structure can just... structure the data. The industry has settled on two main workflows, metallic-roughness and specular-gloss, and glTF 2.0 supports them both. (Metallic-roughness is the core workflow, but specular-gloss is provided as an extension, and they can be used together in the same scene. Also, during the briefing, I noticed that transparency was not explicitly mentioned in the slide deck, but the Khronos Group confirmed that it is stored as the alpha channel of the base color, and thus supported.) Because the format is now based on existing workflows, the implementation can be programmed in OpenGL, Vulkan, DirectX, Metal, or even something like a software renderer. In fact, Microsoft was a specification editor on glTF 2.0, and they have publicly announced using the format in their upcoming products.

The original GLSL material, from glTF 1.0, is available as an extension (for backward compatibility).

A second advantage of PBR is that it is lighting-independent. When you define a PBR material for an object, it can be placed in any environment and it will behave as expected. Noticeable, albeit extreme examples of where this would have been useful are the outdoor scenes of Doom 3, and the indoor scenes of Battlefield 2. It also simplifies asset creation. Some applications, like Substance Painter and Quixel, have artists stencil materials onto their geometry, like gold, rusted iron, and scuffed plastic, and automatically generate the appropriate textures. It also aligns well with deferred rendering, see below, which performs lighting as a post-process step and thus skip pixels (fragments) that are overwritten.

epicgames-2017-suntempledeferred.png

PBR Deferred Buffers in Unreal Engine 4 Sun Temple.
Lighting is applied to these completed buffers, not every fragment.

glTF 2.0 also improves support for complex animations by adding morph targets. Most 3D animations, beyond just moving, rotating, and scaling whole objects, are based on skeletal animations. This method works by binding vertexes to bones, and moving, rotating, and scaling a hierarchy of joints. This works well for humans, animals, hinges, and other collections of joints and sockets, and it was already supported in glTF 1.0. Morph targets, on the other hand, allow the artist to directly control individual vertices between defined states. This is often demonstrated with a facial animation, interpolating between smiles and frowns, but, in an actual game, this is often approximated with skeletal animations (for performance reasons). Regardless, glTF 2.0 now supports morph targets, too, letting the artists make the choice that best suits their content.

Speaking of performance, the Khronos Group is also promoting “enhanced performance” as a benefit of glTF 2.0. I asked whether they have anything to elaborate on, and they responded with a little story. While glTF 1.0 validators were being created, one of the engineers compiled a list of design choices that would lead to minor performance issues. The fixes for these were originally supposed to be embodied in a glTF 1.1 specification, but PBR workflows and Microsoft’s request to abstract the format away from GLSL lead to glTF 2.0, which is where the performance optimization finally ended up. Basically, there wasn’t just one or two changes that made a big impact; it was the result of many tiny changes that add up.

Also, the binary version of glTF is now a core feature in glTF 2.0.

khronos-2017-gltfroadmap.png

The slide looks at the potential future of glTF, after 2.0.

Looking forward, the Khronos Group has a few items on their glTF roadmap. These did not make glTF 2.0, but they are current topics for future versions. One potential addition is mesh compression, via the Google Draco team, to further decrease file size of 3D geometry. Another roadmap entry is progressive geometry streaming, via Fraunhofer SRC, which should speed up runtime performance.

Yet another roadmap entry is “Unified Compression Texture Format for Transmission”, specifically Basis by Binomial, for texture compression that remains as small as possible on the GPU. Graphics processors can only natively operate on a handful of formats, like DXT and ASTC, so textures need to be converted when they are loaded by an engine. Often, when a texture is loaded at runtime (rather than imported by the editor) it will be decompressed and left in that state on the GPU. Some engines, like Unity, have a runtime compress method that converts textures to DXT, but the developer needs to explicitly call it and the documentation says it’s lower quality than the algorithm used by the editor (although I haven’t tested this). Suffices to say, having a format that can circumvent all of that would be nice.

Again, if you’re interested in adding glTF 2.0 to your content pipeline, then get started. It’s ready. Microsoft is doing it, too.

Imagination PowerVR Ray Tracing with UE4 & Vulkan Demo

Subject: Graphics Cards, Mobile | June 2, 2017 - 02:23 AM |
Tagged: Imagination Technologies, PowerVR, ray tracing, ue4, vulkan

Imagination Technologies has published another video that demonstrates ray tracing with their PowerVR Wizard GPU. The test system, today, is a development card that is running on Ubuntu, and powering Unreal Engine 4. Specifically, it is using UE4’s Vulkan renderer.

The demo highlights two major advantages of ray traced images. The first is that, rather than applying a baked cubemap with screen-space reflections to simulate metallic objects, this demo calculates reflections with secondary rays. From there, it’s just a matter of hooking up the gathered information into the parameters that the shader requires and doing the calculations.

The second advantage is that it can do arbitrary lens effects, like distortion and equirectangular, 360 projections. Rasterization, which projects 3D world coordinates into 2D coordinates on a screen, assumes that edges are still straight, and that causes problems as FoV gets very large, especially full circle. Imagination Technologies acknowledges that workarounds exist, like breaking up the render into six faces of a cube, but the best approximation is casting a ray per pixel and seeing what it hits.

The demo was originally for GDC 2017, back in February, but the videos have just been released.

Podcast #451 - New Surface Pro, Analog Keyboards, Water Cooled PSUs and more!

Subject: General Tech | May 25, 2017 - 11:12 AM |
Tagged: vulkan, video, Surface Pro, SolidScale, seasonic, ps4 pro, podcast, opencl, micon, macbook pro, Khronos, fsp, Eisbaer, Chromebook, Alphacool, aimpad

PC Perspective Podcast #451 - 05/25/17

Join us for talk about the wew Surface Pro, analog keyboards, water cooled PSUs and more!

You can subscribe to us through iTunes and you can still access it directly through the RSS page HERE.

The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!

Hosts: Ryan Shrout, Jeremy Hellstrom, Josh Walrath, Allyn Malventano

Peanut Gallery: Alex Lustenberg, Jim Tanous, Ken Addison

Program length: 1:39:25

Podcast topics of discussion:

  1. Week in Review:
  2. Casper!
  3. News items of interest:
  4. Hardware/Software Picks of the Week
  5. Closing/outro

Subscribe to the PC Perspective YouTube Channel for more videos, reviews and podcasts!!

Manufacturer: The Khronos Group

The Right People to Interview

Last week, we reported that OpenCL’s roadmap would be merging into Vulkan, and OpenCL would, starting at some unspecified time in the future, be based “on an extended version of the Vulkan API”. This was based on quotes from several emails between myself and the Khronos Group.

Since that post, I had the opportunity to have a phone interview with Neil Trevett, president of the Khronos Group and chairman of the OpenCL working group, and Tom Olson, chairman of the Vulkan working group. We spent a little over a half hour going over Neil’s International Workshop on OpenCL (IWOCL) presentation, discussing the decision, and answering a few lingering questions. This post will present the results of that conference call in a clean, readable way.

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First and foremost, while OpenCL is planning to merge into the Vulkan API, the Khronos Group wants to make it clear that “all of the merging” is coming from the OpenCL working group. The Vulkan API roadmap is not affected by this decision. Of course, the Vulkan working group will be able to take advantage of technologies that are dropping into their lap, but those discussions have not even begun yet.

Neil: Vulkan has its mission and its roadmap, and it’s going ahead on that. OpenCL is doing all of the merging. We’re kind-of coming in to head in the Vulkan direction.

Does that mean, in the future, that there’s a bigger wealth of opportunity to figure out how we can take advantage of all this kind of mutual work? The answer is yes, but we haven’t started those discussions yet. I’m actually excited to have those discussions, and are many people, but that’s a clarity. We haven’t started yet on how Vulkan, itself, is changed (if at all) by this. So that’s kind-of the clarity that I think is important for everyone out there trying to understand what’s going on.

Tom also prepared an opening statement. It’s not as easy to abbreviate, so it’s here unabridged.

Tom: I think that’s fair. From the Vulkan point of view, the way the working group thinks about this is that Vulkan is an abstract machine, or at least there’s an abstract machine underlying it. We have a programming language for it, called SPIR-V, and we have an interface controlling it, called the API. And that machine, in its full glory… it’s a GPU, basically, and it’s got lots of graphics functionality. But you don’t have to use that. And the API and the programming language are very general. And you can build lots of things with them. So it’s great, from our point of view, that the OpenCL group, with their special expertise, can use that and leverage that. That’s terrific, and we’re fully behind it, and we’ll help them all we can. We do have our own constituency to serve, which is the high-performance game developer first and foremost, and we are going to continue to serve them as our main mission.

So we’re not changing our roadmap so much as trying to make sure we’re a good platform for other functionality to be built on.

Neil then went on to mention that the decision to merge OpenCL’s roadmap into the Vulkan API took place only a couple of weeks ago. The purpose of the press release was to reach OpenCL developers and get their feedback. According to him, they did a show of hands at the conference, with a room full of a hundred OpenCL developers, and no-one was against moving to the Vulkan API. This gives them confidence that developers will accept the decision, and that their needs will be served by it.

Next up is the why. Read on for more.

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: The Khronos Group

It Started with an OpenCL 2.2 Press Release

Update (May 18 @ 4pm EDT): A few comments across the internet believes that the statements from The Khronos Group were inaccurately worded, so I emailed them yet again. The OpenCL working group has released yet another statement:

OpenCL is announcing that their strategic direction is to support CL style computing on an extended version of the Vulkan API. The Vulkan group is agreeing to advise on the extensions.

In other words, this article was and is accurate. The Khronos Group are converging OpenCL and Vulkan into a single API: Vulkan. There was no misinterpretation.

Original post below

Earlier today, we published a news post about the finalized specifications for OpenCL 2.2 and SPIR-V 1.2. This was announced through a press release that also contained an odd little statement at the end of the third paragraph.

We are also working to converge with, and leverage, the Khronos Vulkan API — merging advanced graphics and compute into a single API.

khronos-vulkan-logo.png

This statement seems to suggest that OpenCL and Vulkan are expecting to merge into a single API for compute and graphics at some point in the future. This seemed like a huge announcement to bury that deep into the press blast, so I emailed The Khronos Group for confirmation (and any further statements). As it turns out, this interpretation is correct, and they provided a more explicit statement:

The OpenCL working group has taken the decision to converge its roadmap with Vulkan, and use Vulkan as the basis for the next generation of explicit compute APIs – this also provides the opportunity for the OpenCL roadmap to merge graphics and compute.

This statement adds a new claim: The Khronos Group plans to merge OpenCL into Vulkan, specifically, at some point in the future. Making the move in this direction, from OpenCL to Vulkan, makes sense for a handful of reasons, which I will highlight in my analysis, below.

Going Vulkan to Live Long and Prosper?

The first reason for merging OpenCL into Vulkan, from my perspective, is that Apple, who originally created OpenCL, still owns the trademarks (and some other rights) to it. The Khronos Group licenses these bits of IP from Apple. Vulkan, based on AMD’s donation of the Mantle API, should be easier to manage from the legal side of things.

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The second reason for going in that direction is the actual structure of the APIs. When Mantle was announced, it looked a lot like an API that wrapped OpenCL with a graphics-specific layer. Also, Vulkan isn’t specifically limited to GPUs in its implementation.

Aside: When you create a device queue, you can query the driver to see what type of device it identifies as by reading its VkPhysicalDeviceType. Currently, as of Vulkan 1.0.49, the options are Other, Integrated GPU, Discrete GPU, Virtual GPU, and CPU. While this is just a clue, to make it easier to select a device for a given task, and isn’t useful to determine what the device is capable of, it should illustrate that other devices, like FPGAs, could support some subset of the API. It’s just up to the developer to check for features before they’re used, and target it at the devices they expect.

If you were to go in the other direction, you would need to wedge graphics tasks into OpenCL. You would be creating Vulkan all over again. From my perspective, pushing OpenCL into Vulkan seems like the path of least resistance.

The third reason (that I can think of) is probably marketing. DirectX 12 isn’t attempting to seduce FPGA developers. Telling a game studio to program their engine on a new, souped-up OpenCL might make them break out in a cold sweat, even if both parties know that it’s an evolution of Vulkan with cross-pollination from OpenCL. OpenCL developers, on the other hand, are probably using the API because they need it, and are less likely to be shaken off.

What OpenCL Could Give Vulkan (and Vice Versa)

From the very onset, OpenCL and Vulkan were occupying similar spaces, but there are some things that OpenCL does “better”. The most obvious, and previously mentioned, element is that OpenCL supports a wide range of compute devices, such as FPGAs. That’s not the limit of what Vulkan can borrow, though, although it could make for an interesting landscape if FPGAs become commonplace in the coming years and decades.

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Personally, I wonder how SYCL could affect game engine development. This standard attempts to guide GPU- (and other device-) accelerated code into a single-source, C++ model. For over a decade, Tim Sweeney of Epic Games has talked about writing engines like he did back in the software-rendering era, but without giving up the ridiculous performance (and efficiency) provided by GPUs.

Long-time readers of PC Perspective might remember that I was investigating GPU-accelerated software rendering in WebCL (via Nokia’s implementation). The thought was that I could concede the raster performance of modern GPUs and make up for it with added control, the ability to explicitly target secondary compute devices, and the ability to run in a web browser. This took place in 2013, before AMD announced Mantle and browser vendors expressed a clear disinterest in exposing OpenCL through JavaScript. Seeing the idea was about to be crushed, I pulled out the GPU-accelerated audio ideas into a more-focused project, but that part of my history is irrelevant to this post.

The reason for bringing up this anecdote is because, if OpenCL is moving into Vulkan, and SYCL is still being developed, then it seems likely that SYCL will eventually port into Vulkan. If this is the case, then future game engines can gain benefits that I was striving toward without giving up access to fixed-function features, like hardware rasterization. If Vulkan comes to web browsers some day, it would literally prune off every advantage I was hoping to capture, and it would do so with a better implementation.

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More importantly, SYCL is something that Microsoft cannot provide with today’s DirectX.

Admittedly, it’s hard to think of something that OpenCL can acquire from Vulkan, besides just a lot more interest from potential developers. Vulkan was already somewhat of a subset of OpenCL that had graphics tasks (cleanly) integrated over top of it. On the other hand, OpenCL has been struggling to acquire mainstream support, so that could, in fact, be Vulkan’s greatest gift.

The Khronos Group has not provided a timeline for this change. It’s just a roadmap declaration.

GeForce Experience 3.6 Has Vulkan and OpenGL

Subject: Graphics Cards | May 10, 2017 - 03:53 AM |
Tagged: vulkan, ShadowPlay, opengl, nvidia, geforce experience

The latest version of GeForce Experience, 3.6, adds video capture (including screenshots and live streaming) support for OpenGL and Vulkan games. The catalog of titles support by ShadowPlay, which I’m pretty sure NVIDIA wants to call Share now, despite referring to it by its old name in the blog post, now includes No Man’s Sky, DOOM, and Microsoft’s beloved OpenGL title: Minecraft.

The rest of the update focuses on tweaking a few interface elements, including its streaming panel, its video and screenshot upload panel, and its gallery. Access to the alternative graphics APIs was the clear headline-maker, however, opening the door to several large gaming groups, and potentially even more going forward.

GeForce Experience 3.6 is available now.

Source: NVIDIA

Vulkans on the Fury Road

Subject: Graphics Cards | April 3, 2017 - 03:15 PM |
Tagged: mad max, linux, kepler, maxwell, pascal, NVIDA, vulkan, opengl

With Vulkan support being added to Mad Max, at least in beta form, Phoronix decided to take advantage of the release to test the performance of a wide variety of NVIDIA cards on the API.  They grabbed over a dozen cards encompassing three different architectures, from the GTX 680 through to the GTX 1080 Ti, so you get a very good look at the change in performance of NVIDIA on Vulkan.  The results are clear, in every case Vulkan was superior to OpenGL and in many cases framerate more than doubled.  Drop by for a look at what some predicted was a DOA API.

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"Yesterday game porter firm Feral Interactive released a public beta of Mad Max that features a Vulkan renderer in place of its OpenGL API for graphics rendering on Linux. In addition to Radeon Vulkan numbers, I posted some NVIDIA Mad Max Linux benchmarks with both renderers. Those results were exciting on the few Pascal cards tested so I have now extended that comparison to feature a line-up of 14 NVIDIA GeForce graphics cards from Kepler, Maxwell, and Pascal families while looking at this game's OpenGL vs. Vulkan performance."

Here are some more Graphics Card articles from around the web:

Graphics Cards

Source: Phoronix

Unity 5.6 Released with Vulkan Support

Subject: General Tech | April 1, 2017 - 07:54 PM |
Tagged: Unity, pc gaming, vulkan

If you are a perpetual license holder for Unity 5.x, then your last free update has just arrived. Unity 5.6 brings Vulkan for Windows, Linux, and Android. I just installed the new version and checked to see which graphics APIs it uses on Windows when you uncheck the auto box, and the list comprises of DirectX 11 and DirectX 9. It’s possible that auto could be choosing Vulkan, but I’m not going to query which process is loading which DLL under a variety of conditions. If you’re interested in Unity development, go to File -> Build Settings -> Player Settings -> Other Settings and choose the load order of your APIs, using the + button to add one that’s not there by default.

unity-logo-rgb.png

The lighting system should be more impressive, though. In Unreal Engine 4, I’m used to having dynamic lighting until I stop everything and start a lighting bake. When it’s done, I have static lighting until I invalidate it with a change (and the level is set to invalidate light maps on changes). In Unity 5.6’s case, though, it will just slowly replace the light maps as they are calculated, getting progressively higher quality. Since you can notice problems at low quality, you only need to wait as long as it’s required to see the errors, which speeds up development.

In terms of platforms, Unity 5.6 adds Daydream, Cardboard, Nintendo Switch, and WebAssembly.

Unity 5.6 is available now. The preview of Unity 2017, the next version, should arrive this month.

Source: Unity