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Chapter 5: Programming Hints
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[Up] Introduction

The topics covered in this chapter are intended to give you some helpful programming hints as you begin to develop your OpenGL applications. Note that these hints are specific to HP's implementation of OpenGL. For further information on OpenGL programming hints that are not HP specific, see Appendix G in the OpenGL Programming Guide and section 6.6 "Maximizing OpenGL Performance" in the OpenGL Programming for the X Window System manual.

The programming hints in this chapter are covered in these sections:

[Up] OpenGL Correctness Hints

Hints provided in this section are intended to help you correctly use HP's implementation of OpenGL.

[Up] 4D Values

When specifying 4D values, such as vertices, light positions, etc, if possible supply a w value that is not near the floating point limits of MINFLOAT or MAXFLOAT. Using w values near the floating point limits increases the likelihood of floating point precision errors in calculations such as lighting, transformations, and perspective division.

Also, performance will be best when 4D positions are normalized such that w is 1.0.

For best accuracy and performance, if you want to specify some 4D position like (0.0, 0.0, 5e10, 1.5e38), instead use the equivalent normalized position (0.0, 0.0, 3.33e-28, 1.0).

If a light position must be specified with a w value that is near the floating point limits, consider setting

to ensure that lighting occurs in Eye Space. This will eliminate an extra transformation of the light position, giving the best possible solution.

[Up] Texture Coordinates

When using non-orthographic projection, keep in mind the texture coordinates will be divided by w as an intermediate calculation. HP's implementation of OpenGL estimates that for VMD, the texture coordinates used in perspective projections will have only five significant digits of precision. Therefore, when you have texturing close to a window edge and the decomposition of the primitive causes the vertices to have very closely-spaced texture coordinates after perspective projection, you may see loss of texturing precision. This loss of precision may make the texture primitive seem locally smeared.

[Up] OpenGL Performance Hints

Hints provided in this section are intended to help improve your applications performance when using HP's implementation of OpenGL.

[Up] Display List Performance

The topics covered here are areas where you can gain substantial improvements in program performance when using OpenGL display lists. Here is a list of the topics that are covered:

[Up] Geometric Primitives

Geometric primitives will typically be faster if put in a display list. As a general rule, larger primitives will be faster than smaller ones. Performance gains here can be dramatic. For example, it is possible that a single GL_TRIANGLES primitive with 20 or so triangles will render three times faster than 20 GL_TRIANGLES primitives with a single triangle in each one.


Due to the pre-processing of the display list, and execution performance enhancements, creating a display list using the GL_COMPILE_AND_EXECUTE mode will reduce program performance. If you need to improve your programs performance, do not create a display list using the GL_COMPILE_AND_EXECUTE mode. You will find that it is easier and faster to create the display list using the GL_COMPILE mode, and then execute the list after it is created.

[Up] Textures

If calls to glTexImage are put into a display list, they may be cached. Note that if you are going to use the same texture multiple times, you may gain better performance if you put the texture in a display list. Another solution would be to use texture objects. Since 3D textures can potentially become very large, they are not cached.

[Up] State Changes and their Effects on Display Lists

If there are several state changes in a row, it is possible, in some circumstances, for the display list to optimize them.

It is more efficient to put a state change before a glBegin, than after it. For example, this is always more efficient:

    ... many more vertices ...
than this:
    ... many more vertices ...

[Up] Regular Primitive Data

If the vertex data that you give to a display list is regular (i.e. every vertex has the same data associated with it), it is possible for the display list to optimize the primitive much more effectively than if the data is not regular.

For example if you wanted to give only a single normal for each face in a GL_TRIANGLES primitive, the most intuitive way to get the best performance would look like this:

    glVertex3fv(&p1); glVertex3fv(&p2); glVertex3fv(&p3);
    glVertex3fv(&p1); glVertex3fv(&p2); glVertex3fv(&p3);
In immediate mode, this would give you the best performance. However, if you are putting these calls into a display list, you will get much better performance by duplicating the normal for each vertex, thereby giving regular data to the display list:
    glNormal3fv(&v); glVertex3fv(&p1);
    glNormal3fv(&v); glVertex3fv(&p2);
    glNormal3fv(&v); glVertex3fv(&p3);
The reason this is faster is the display list can optimize this type of primitive into a single, very efficient structure. The small cost of adding extra data is offset by this optimization.

[Up] Texture Downloading Performance

This section includes some helpful hints for improving the performance of your program when downloading textures.

[Up] Selection Performance

To increase the performance of selection (glRenderMode GL_SELECTION) it is recommended that the following capabilities be disabled before entering the selection mode.

[Up] State Change

OpenGL state setting commands can be classified into to two different categories. The first category is vertex-data commands. These are the calls that can occur between a glBegin/glEnd pair:
The processing of these calls is very fast. Restructuring a program to eliminate some vertex data commands will not significantly improve performance.

The second category is modal state-setting commands, or sometimes referred to as "mode changes." These are the commands that:

These calls cannot occur between a glBegin/glEnd pair. Examples of such commands are:
Changes to the modal state are significantly more expensive to process than simple vertex-data commands. Also, application performance can be optimized by grouping modal-state changes, and by minimizing the number of modal-state changes:

[Up] Lighting Space

OpenGL specifies that lighting operations should be done in Eye Coordinate space. However, if the modelview matrix is isotropic, equivalent lighting calculations can be performed in Object Coordinate Space, by transforming stored light positions to Object Coordinates. If there are many vertices between modelview-matrix changes, Object Coordinate Space lighting is faster than Eye Coordinate Space lighting since the transformation of vertices and normals from object to Eye Coordinates can be skipped.

Whether or not Object Coordinate lighting is faster than Eye Coordinate lighting depends on the command mode (immediate mode vs. execution of a display list or vertex array) as well as the number of vertices between modelview-matrix changes.

The selection of a lighting space occurs at the start of the next primitive (glBegin or vertex array) after any GL calls that could affect the choice of lighting space. The choice of lighting space can be affected by those GL calls that:

If the modelview matrix is anisotropic, lighting must be done in Eye Coordinates. Lighting will also be done in eye coordinates when fogging and spherical-texture-coordinate generation are done in Eye Coordinates.

If none of the above conditions which force Eye Coordinate Lighting are true, then HP's implementation of OpenGL chooses the lighting space depending on how OpenGL commands are being executed at the time a choice must be made. If commands are being executed in immediate mode, Eye Space Lighting is chosen. If commands are being executed from a display list or if a vertex array is being executed, object space lighting is chosen.

Eye Space Lighting works well when commands are executed in immediate mode, and Object Space Lighting works well when:

You can override the above lighting space selection rules by setting the environment variable HPOGL_LIGHTING_SPACE. To set this environment variable, execute the following command:
when any of the following are true: It is appropriate to use
when: and any of the following are true: When tuning an application, first use just the default-lighting-space selection (do not set HPOGL_LIGHTING_SPACE). If the application matches the conditions listed above that indicate the need for setting HPOGL_LIGHTING_SPACE, then experiment with setting the environment variable.

[Up] Optimization of Lighting

HP's implementation of OpenGL optimizes the lighting case such that the performance degradation from one light to two or more lights is linear. Lighting performance does not degrade noticeably when you enable a second light. In addition, the GL_SHININESS material parameter is not particularly expensive to change.

[Up] Occlusion Culling

The proper use of HP's occlusion culling extension can dramatically improve rendering performance. This extension defines a mechanism for determining the non-visibility of complex geometry based on the non-visibility of a bounding geometry. This feature can greatly reduce the amount of geometry processing and rendering required by an application, thereby, increasing the applications performance. For more information on occlusion culling, see the section "Occlusion Extension" found in Chapter 1.

[Up] Rescaling Normals

When normal rescaling is enabled, a new operation is added to the transformation of the normal vector into eye coordinates. The normal vector is rescaled after it is multiplied by the inverse modelview matrix and before it is normalized.

The rescale factor is chosen so that in many cases, normal vectors with unit length in object coordinates will not need to be normalized as they are transformed into eye coordinates.

As of Release 1.05 of HP's implementation of OpenGL 1.1, the GL_RESCALE_NORMAL_EXT token is supported. It is accepted by the <cap> parameter of glEnable, glDisable, and glIsEnabled, and by the <pname> parameter of glGetBooleanv, glGetIntegerv, glGetFloatv, and glGetDoublev.

Normals that have unit length when sent to the GL, have their length changed by the inverse of the scaling factor after transformation by the model-view inverse matrix when the model-view matrix represents a uniform scale. If rescaling is enabled, then normals specified with the Normal command are rescaled after transformation by the ModelView Inverse.

Normals sent to the GL may or may not have unit length. In addition, the length of the normals after transformation might be altered due to transformation by the model-view inverse matrix. If normalization is enabled, then normals specified with the glNormal3 command are normalized after transformation by the model-view inverse matrix and after rescaling if rescaling is enabled. Normalization and rescaling are controlled with glEnable and glDisable with the target equal to NORMALIZE or RESCALE_NORMAL. This requires two bits of state. The initial state is for normals not to be normalized or rescaled.

Therefore, if the modelview matrix is M, the transformed plane equation is:

the rescaled normal is

and the fully transformed normal is


If rescaling is disabled, f is 1, otherwise f is computed as follows:

Let mij denote the matrix element in row i and column j of M-1, numbering the topmost row of the matrix as row 1, and the leftmost column as column 1. Then

Alternatively, an implementation my chose to normalize the normal instead of rescaling the normal. Then

If normalization is disabled, then the square root in equation 2.1 is replaced with 1; otherwise, it is calculated as dictated by the OpenGL Spec. If both normalize and rescale are enabled, HP's implementation skips the rescale and does only the normalize.

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