Jordi Jordi - 2 months ago 9
C Question

How to generate simple 2D graphics in real time?

For my internship on Brain-Computer Interfacing I need to generate some very fast flickering squares on a CRT monitor (flickering = alternating between two colors). The monitor's refresh rate is 85Hz and we would like this to be the bottleneck, which means that repainting all squares can take at most 1000/85 = 11ms.

My language of preference for GUI/graphics programming is Java, so I tried making a prototype with AWT, because it's synchronous (unlike Swing). I now seem to have two problems: the first is that time measurements show that the repainting of even 9 squares simply takes too long. My algorithm takes the desired frequency and calculates the times at which the system should repaint in advance and then uses a loop (with no sleep/wait delay) that checks everytime if the next 'time' was reached and if so, loops through all the squares to repaint them. The way I implemented it now is that the squares are Panels with background color A and are contained in another Panel with background color B and the flickering happens because the Panels' visibility is changed. I figured that this would be faster than one Panel that has to draw Rectangles all the time.
I don't have a decent profiling tool (can't get Eclipse TPTP or NetBeans profiler to work) so I can't be sure, but I have the feeling that the bottleneck is actually not in the repainting, but in the looping (with conditional checking etc.). Can you recommend anything about what I should do?

The second problem is that it seems like the squares are rendered top-to-bottom. It's like they unroll really fast, but still visibly. This is unacceptable. What I'm wondering though, is what causes this. Is it Java/AWT, or Windows, or just me writing a slow algorithm?

Can you recommend some things for me to try? I prefer to use Java, but I will use C (or something) if I must. In this case, are there any frameworks/libraries/tutorials for this sort of 2D programming that you can recommend?

Answer

I would avoid any kind of high-level "components", like JPanels and the like. Try getting a Graphics2D representing the window's contents, and use its fillRect() method.

Failing that, you could probably do this easy enough in C and OpenGL. rasonly.c is a standard template program that sets up OpenGL to work as a "rasterizer" only, i.e. 2D mode. Using this as a starting point, you should be able to get something running that draws your desired "squares" without too much trouble.

You don't describe your desired scene very well, it sounds from that equation as if you want to draw 100 squares, each having a different color. For maximum performance in OpenGL, you should draw all squares of the same color together, to minimize the "state changes" between drawing calls. This is probably a purely theoretical point though, as drawing 100 2D squares at 85 Hz really shouldn't tax OpenGL.

UPDATE: Oh, so it's been a bunch of years, and nowadays you probably need to take the above with a grain of salt and read some modern tutorial. Things have changed. Look up the Vulkan API.

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