Firefox Video Goes Up To 11

So, I talked to you all a while ago about layers, and how we are going to be using it to accelerate composition of web pages across all platforms. There's more news on that front! Recently we landed a first version of the OpenGL layers backend onto trunk (See bug 546517). That backend included all the necessary code to use OpenGL for both image upscaling and YUV to RGB color space conversion.

Currently in general the code using layers is not at a point yet where it can benefit from the hardware layers backend for all rendering. For this reason the OpenGL backend is not used yet for your normal browsing. However as many of you may know the performance of fullscreen HTML5 video is not fantastic at the moment for lesser CPUs. Since fullscreen video in particular needs that extra push over the cliff, we decided to enable the OpenGL layers backend by default specifically for the fullscreen video case. What that means is that we upload the Y, Cb and Cr planes to your GPU, draw them to a fullscreen quad and then combine them to create the RGB image on your monitor. Ultimately what matters is that for those of you using compatible hardware and software it should lead to a big improvement in fullscreen video performance when using our latest Nightlies (get them here) and the upcoming Alpha!

Compatible Hardware And Software?

So, currently there's a little bit of work that still needs to be done to make OpenGL layers work on Mac OS X and Linux, so first of all you'll need Windows. Second of all you will need OpenGL 2 compatible drivers for your graphics hardware. Performance may vary across both hardware and drivers.

Eep! I'm running into issues

If you do run into issues with fullscreen video, do go to and check if your issue has already been reported. If it hasn't, we're very interested in hearing from you so we can address it as quickly as possible. Don't forget to note your graphics hardware and driver version, as this is invaluable information when trying to diagnose issues.

If you're interested in hearing more about layers, Robert O'Callahan has a very informative blogpost here.

So, the moment is finally there! I realize I've not posted on here for a while, my main reason being I wanted to be able to actually have something to tell you guys the next time I would talk about Direct2D. And it seems that now I do! After a lot of hard work from myself and many others at Mozilla who have been assisting me in getting Direct2D and particularly DirectWrite stable and functional enough for people to start trying it out, I believe our Direct2D support is now ready for the world to try their hands at!

If you download the latest nightly here you will be the proud owner of an official experimental build that has support for Direct2D. This build will automatically update to our new experimental nightly builds, giving you all the bugfixes we're working on for various problems that are still around.

Does that mean if I download the latest nightly I get Direct2D support?

Well, no. Since we don't want to regress any functionality in our browser for the majority of our users, by default your build will not use DirectWrite. There's a couple of steps you'll need to execute to get it working:

  1. Go to about:config
  2. Click through the warning, if necessary
  3. Enter 'render' in the 'Filter' box
  4. Double-click on 'gfx.font_rendering.directwrite.enabled' to set it to true
  5. Double click on 'mozilla.widget.render-mode', set the value to 6
  6. Restart

So once I've done this, surely I have this Direct2D support going!

Erm... sorry here folks, but no. There's several reasons why you could still not be having Direct2D support. First of all it's possible you have an extension interfering with Direct2D. Several extensions are known to somewhat disrupt our initialization order, meaning the preferences you've just set are not accessible during initialization of the render mode, which will cause GDI default render-mode.

Then there is another issue, if you're actually on Windows XP and not on Windows Vista or Windows 7, Windows XP actually has no support for Direct2D or DirectWrite, so it will fallback to being just a normal build. I suggest you upgrade :D.

Finally, if you do not have a high-end DirectX 9 graphics card, or a DirectX 10 graphics card, insufficient hardware support will be detected. This will cause the renderer to fallback to using GDI as well, in order to prevent you from suffering a slow browser, or even worse, a crash!

Now, all this reading, by now I must have Direct2D support?!

Right, if you satisfy all the above conditions, you're probably there! We don't have any way to verify at the moment (we're working on something), but one way is to go here. If it runs nice and smooth when you size photos up to fullscreen, it's working!

It is working! Now what?

You should enjoy your new browsing experience, in most cases you should have a noticeably faster and more responsive browser, particularly when using graphically intensive websites (not using flash, which will still be slow). If you find any bugs, please use our traditional reporting method of going to bugzilla and see if they've already been filed. If they haven't, file it, and we'll try to get to it and fix it as soon as possible!

There's a very cool forum thread that tracks the currently known issues, you should have a look there as well.

Well, that's about it!

I apologize to everyone for taking so long to get this ready for putting it out there, and for not providing experimental builds over the last months. The fact is its surprising how much you can do on the web that at least I didn't know about! And in how many interesting ways it can break &#59;). But I hope you can now all enjoy the latest and greatest of Direct2D builds. And no longer suffer any manual updating of your build! Happy Browsing!

So, it's been a while since I've given everyone here an update, and for that I do apologize. First of all, Direct2D support is coming well, we're working hard to land it on trunk. I've been getting swift reviews on all my code from a lot of different people, which is great, but it will still take some time since the code is complex and touches a lot of the Mozilla tree. Once it lands it will be disabled by default, but people will be able to easily enable it in their firefox nightly builds! Ofcourse you can follow the status of this work by keeping track of bug 527707. It's not perfect yet, but once again, thanks to all who've given me all the great feedback to get this to a point where it's quite usable!

So, now to the actual title of this post. Layers. Layers are another API we are designing for Mozilla, which can be used to hardware accelerate certain parts of website rendering. Normally this is where I would start a long rant on why hardware acceleration is such a good thing, but since I've already done that 2 posts ago, I'll just refer you there.

First of all it is important to point out that Layers is by no means a replacement for Direct2D. Direct2D accelerates all rendering, from fonts to paths and all such things, layers is intended to allow accelerated rendering and blending of surfaces. A layer could be accessible as many different type of cairo surfaces, possible D2D, but also any other. What this means if the layer system is designed to be easily implemented on top of different APIs, Direct3D (9 or 10) but also OpenGL. This means that we hope this to provide a performance increase for users on Mac and Linux as well.

So what are these layers?
Essentially, they're just that, layers. Normally a website will directly be rendered, as a whole, to a surface (say a window in most cases). This single surface means that unless the surface itself accelerates certain operations internally, it is hard to apply any hardware acceleration there. The layer system starts out with a LayerManager, this layermanager will be responsible for managing the layers in a certain part of screen real estate(say a window). Rather than providing a surface, the layer manager will provide layers to someone who wants to draw, and the API user (in this case our layout system) can then structure those in an ordered tree. By effectively rendering specific parts of a website (for example transformed or transparent areas) into their own layer, the layermanager can use hardware acceleration to composite those areas together effectively. There can be several types of layers, but two layers really form the core of the system: ThebesLayers and ContainerLayers.

So, container layers also live up to their name. They are a type of layer which may contain other layers, their children. These types of layers basically form the backbone of our tree. They do not themselves contain any graphical data, but they have children which are rendered into their area. It can for example be used to transform a set of children in a single transformation.

Now, these sound a bit more exotic. Thebes is our graphics library which wraps cairo. A thebes surface is a surface which can be drawn to using a thebes context. ThebesLayers are layers which are accessible as a thebes surface, and can therefor be easily used to render content to. This could for example also be a Direct2D surface. ThebesLayers form leafs of our tree, they contain content directly, and do not have any children. However, like any other layer, they may have transformations or blending effects applied to them.

Other types of layers
Why would we have other types of layers you might ask? Well, there's actually several reasons. One of the layers we will be having are video layers, the reason is that video data is generally stored not in the normal RGB color space, but rather as YUV data(luminescence and chromatic information, not necessarily at the same resolution). As with any pixel operation, our graphics hardware is especially good at converting this to the RGB type of pixels we need on the screen, therefor this layer can be used specifically for video data. Another layer we will have is a hardware layer, this type of layer contains a surface which exists, and is accessible, solely on the hardware. These would be useful for example for WebGL, where we currently have to do an expensive readback from the graphics hardware to get a frame back into software. Using the hardware layer could then blend that WebGL content directly on the graphics hardware, skipping the intermediate copy to the normal memory.

So, now that we know that, a layer tree for a website with a div in it, in which there's a video and some other content, may look like this:

Simple example(actual results may differ)

Other advantages
There is a long list of other advantages we hope to achieve with this system. One of them is that the rendering of the layer tree could occur off the main thread. This means that if we integrate animations into the system, the main thread could be busy doing something(for example processing JavaScript), but the animations will proceed smoothly. Another advantage is that it offers us a system to retain part of our rendered websites, also, for example, parts which aren't in the currently viewed area. This could bring advantages especially where the CPU speed is low (for example mobile hardware), but we still want smooth scrolling and zooming.

Well, that explains the very basics of the layers system we're working on. Robert O'Callahan has already been doing all the hard work of writing the very first API for layers, as well as a preliminary integration into our layout system! See bug 534425 for our progress there. Additionally I've been working on an OpenGL 2.1 and D3D10 implementation of the API so far. I had a lot of feedback of people who were disappointed we were not offering something like Direct2D on other platforms. We've not given up on bringing something like that to other platforms. Layers should however, with less risk and work, bring a significant amount of hardware acceleration to other platforms already! I hope you enjoyed reading this and I've informed you a little more about our latest work in this area, and ofcourse reassured you that we're doing everything we can to bring performance improvements to as many users as possible.

So, it seems my little demo of a pre-alpha firefox build with Direct2D support has generated quite some attention! This is good, in many ways. Already users trying out the builds have helped us fix many bugs in it. So I'm already raking in some of the benefits. It has also, understandably, led to a lot of people running their own tests, some more useful than others, some perhaps wrong, or inaccurate. In any case, first of all I wanted to discuss a little on how to analyze D2D performance with a simple firefox build.

Use the same build
Don't compare a random nightly to this build in performance. The nightly builds contain updates, no two nightly builds will be the same, and therefor perform the same. I don't continuously keep my D2D builds up with the latest repository head. Additionally the build flags used may very well not be the same, for example some builds(like the nightlies) may be built with something called Profile Guided Optimization, which means the compiler analyzes hotspots, and optimizes them. This significantly improves their JavaScript performance. My test build is not build with PGO, although I might release a build using PGO as it gets more stable. This is probably causing some of the differences some people testing have been seeing. Please keep in mind that because this is not a final, complete build, it should probably not be compared too enthusiastically to other browsers either.

If you want to properly compare performance, use my build, and switch on the forcegdi pref. Go to 'about:config' and look for the font.engine.forcegdi pref, and set that to true. After that, you will have a build using GDI only.

Obviously I should have mentioned this in my previous post, so people would not have wasted their time on inaccurate performance analysis. I apologize for that, it is partially because I had not expected so much publicity.

Focus on what (should be) different
When you do run tests, it is of course always valuable to get measurements on the overall performance of the browser. If there's some other part of the browser than rendering showing performance decreases, I'm doing something wrong and please do let me know! There is however, a lot of more involved with displaying and parsing a webpage than just the rendering. If you want to get a really good idea on what it does to your rendering speed, you'll want to measure solely the time it takes to do the actual drawing. We have a non-cross-browser tool in Mozilla in my build that will allow you to do this. You can add a 'bookmarklet' that runs this test, just add a bookmark, and make it point to 'javascript:var r = window.QueryInterface(Components.interfaces.nsIInterfaceRequestor).getInterface(Components.interfaces.nsIDOMWindowUtils).redraw(500); alert(r + " ms"); where the number inside 'redraw' is the number of rendering runs you want to time. It will then pop up an alert box which will tell you the time in milliseconds it took to execute the redraws. Keep in mind this still only analyzes static rendering performance.

Know what you're measuring, and how you're doing it
If you are using an independent measurement benchmark. Be sure you understand well exactly what it measures, and how it does it. This is a very important step. Something spewing out a number and then listing 'higher is better' for a certain part of functionality is great, but it only becomes useful information when you know how the measurement is executed, what it's margin of error is, and what the overhead is it adds to the whatever it is testing. For a lot of all-round browser benchmarks, rendering is only a small part of what's tested. And the total test result differences between D2D enabled and disabled, may not reflect the actual difference in user experience.

Considerations on static page-loading measurements
Since obviously just a rendering improvement if it doesn't actually function better for the end user is practically useless, keep in mind that when you're timing how long it takes to load a page, you're timing all the aforementioned overhead. When interacting with the page without switching to another page, a lot of this overhead does not occur, and a large part of time might be spent in actual rendering. This means that during dynamic interaction (like scrolling), improvements may be more noticeable, although harder to measure.

And finally, thanks!
It's been great to see how many people are trying this, and as I mentioned earlier in this post, it has already greatly assisted us. It's also great that people are working on their own tests of performance and such things, it is always a good thing to have independent performance tests ran. And this too, will help us improve on the build in areas where our own testing may have been lacking. So, thanks, to everyone who is directly or indirectly helping to hopefully provide a great new feature!

A short while ago I wrote about my work on DirectWrite usage in Firefox. Next to DirectWrite, Microsoft also published another new API with Windows 7 (and the Vista Platform Update), called Direct2D. Direct2D is designed as a replacement for GDI and functions as a vector graphics rendering engine, using GPU acceleration to give large performance boosts to transformations and blending operations.

Why GPU acceleration?
First of all why is GPU acceleration important? Well, in modern day computers, it's pretty common to have a relatively powerful GPU. Since the GPU can specialize in very specific operations (namely vertex transformations and pixel operations), it is much faster than the CPU for those specific operations. Where the fastest desktop CPUs clock in the hundreds of GFLOPS(billion floating point operations per second), the fastest GPUs clock in the TFLOPS(trillion floating point operations per second). Currently the GPU is mainly used in video games, and its usage in desktop rendering is limited. Direct2D signifies an important step towards a future where more and more desktop software will use the GPU where available to provide better quality and better performance rendering.

Direct2D usage in Firefox
A while ago I started my investigation into Direct2D usage in firefox (see bug 527707). Since then we've made significant progress and are now able to present a Firefox browser completely rendered using Direct2D, making intensive usage of the GPU (this includes the UI, menu bars, etc.). I won't be showing any screenshots, since it is not supposed to look much different. But I will be sharing some technical details, first performance indications and a test build for those of you running Windows 7 or an updated version of Vista!

Direct2D has been implemented as a Cairo backend, meaning our work can eventually be used to facilitate Direct2D usage by all Cairo based software. We use Direct3D textures as backing store for all surfaces. This allows us to implement operations not supported by Direct2D using Direct3D, this will prevent software fallbacks being needed, which will require readbacks. Since a readback forces the GPU to transfer memory to the CPU before the CPU can read it, readbacks have significant performance penalties because of GPU-CPU synchronization being required. On Direct3D10+ hardware this should not negatively impact performance, it does mean it is harder to implement effective D2D software fallback. Although in that scenario we could continue using Cairo with GDI as our vector graphics rendering system.

Internally here's a rough mapping of cairo concepts to D2D concepts:

cairo_surface_t - ID2D1RenderTarget
cairo_pattern_t - ID2D1Brush
cairo clip path - ID2D1Layer with GeometryMask
cairo_path_t - ID2D1PathGeometry
cairo_stroke_style_t - ID2D1StrokeStyle

More about the implementation can be learned by looking at the patches included on the bug! Now to look at how well it works.

Website Benchmarks
First of all let's look at the page rendering times. I've graphed the rendering time for several common websites together with the error margin of my measurements. The used testing hardware was a Core i7 920 with a Radeon HD4850 Graphics card:

There's some interesting conclusions to be drawn from this graph. First of all it can be seen that Direct2D, on this hardware, performance significantly better or similarly on all tested website. What can also be seen is that on complexly structured websites the performance advantages are significantly less, and the error margin in the measurements can be seen to be larger (i.e. different rendering runs of the same site deviated more strongly). The exact reasons for this I am still unsure of. One reason could be is that the websites contain significant amounts of text or complex polygons as well, for those scenarios with few transformations and blending operations the GPU will show smaller advantages over the CPU. Additionally the CPU will be spending more time processing the actual items to be displayed, which might decrease the significance of the actual drawing operations somewhat.

Other Performance Considerations
Although the static website rendering is an interesting benchmarks. There are other, atleast as important considerations to the performance. As websites become more graphically intense dynamic graphics will start playing a larger role. Especially in user interfaces. If we look at some interesting sites using fancy opacity and transformation effects(take for example photos.svg), we can see that D2D provides a much better experience on the test system. Where on sizing up photos GDI will quickly drop in framerate to a jittery experience, Direct2D will remain completely smooth.

Another interesting consideration is scrolling. Since on scrolling only small parts of the website need to be re-drawn, it has the potential of creating a much smoother scrolling experience when using Direct2D. This is also the feedback we've received from people utilizing the test builds.

Although the investigation and implementation are still in an early stage, we can conclude that things are looking very promising for Direct2D. Though older PCs with pre-D3D10 graphics cards and WDDM 1.0 drivers will not show significant improvements, going into the future most PCs will support DirectX 10+. PCs in the future could allow providing extremely smooth graphical experiences for web-content like SVG or transformed CSS. Interestingly, Microsoft has also announced IE9 will feature Direct2D support as well only shortly ago. Feel free to download and try a build of Firefox with Direct2D support here. There are several known issues and in some cases some rendering artifacts may appear. In general it should be quite usable on D3D10 graphics cards. It may or may not work on D3D9 graphic cards, depending on exact graphics card specifications.

Well, that's it for now, I hope I've given you an interesting first glance into the future of desktop graphics.

NOTE: If you want to do your own performance analysis, please see my other blogpost about the subject here

NOTE2: For those not used to running experimental builds. If you would just execute this .exe while having normal firefox running. You will get another window of your normal firefox. You need to either close your normal firefox, or run it from the command line on a different profile, using: 'firefox -no-remote -P d2d'.

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