DRM leasing part three (vblank)

The last couple of weeks have been consumed by getting frame sequence numbers and events handled within the leasing environment (and Vulkan) correctly.

Vulkan EXT_display_control extension

This little extension provides the bits necessary for applications to track the display of frames to the user.

vkGetSwapchainCounterEXT(VkDevice           device,
             VkSwapchainKHR         swapchain,
             VkSurfaceCounterFlagBitsEXT    counter,
             uint64_t           *pCounterValue);

This function just retrieves the current frame count from the display associated with swapchain.

vkRegisterDisplayEventEXT(VkDevice          device,
              VkDisplayKHR          display,
              const VkDisplayEventInfoEXT   *pDisplayEventInfo,
              const VkAllocationCallbacks   *pAllocator,
              VkFence           *pFence);

This function creates a fence that will be signaled when the specified event happens. Right now, the only event supported is when the first pixel of the next display refresh cycle leaves the display engine for the display. If you want something fancier (like two frames from now), you get to do that on your own using this basic function.


drmWaitVBlank is the existing interface for all things sequence related and has three modes (always nice to have one function do three things, I think). It can:

  1. Query the current vblank number
  2. Block until a specified vblank number
  3. Queue an event to be delivered at a specific vblank number

This interface has a few issues:

  • It has been kludged into supporting multiple CRTCs by taking bits from the 'type' parameter to hold a 'pipe' number, which is the index in the kernel into the array of CRTCs.

  • It has a random selection of 'int' and 'long' datatypes in the interface, making it need special helpers for 32-bit apps running on a 64-bit kernel.

  • Times are in microseconds, frame counts are 32 bits. Vulkan does everything in nanoseconds and wants 64-bits of frame counts.

For leases, figuring out the index into the kernel list of crtcs is pretty tricky -- our lease has a subset of those crtcs, so we can't actually compute the global crtc index.


int drmCrtcGetSequence(int fd, uint32_t crtcId,
               uint64_t *sequence, uint64_t *ns);

Here's a simple new function — hand it a crtc ID and it provides the current frame sequence number and the time when that frame started (in nanoseconds).


int drmCrtcQueueSequence(int fd, uint32_t crtcId,
                 uint32_t flags, uint64_t sequence,
             uint64_t user_data);

struct drm_event_crtc_sequence {
    struct drm_event    base;
    __u64           user_data;
    __u64           time_ns;
    __u64           sequence;

This will cause a CRTC_SEQUENCE event to be delivered at the start of the specified frame sequence. That event will include the frame when the event was actually generated (in case it's late), along with the time (in nanoseconds) when that frame was started. The event also includes a 64-bit user_data value, which can be used to hold a pointer to whatever data the application wants to see in the event handler.

The 'flags' argument contains a combination of:

#define DRM_CRTC_SEQUENCE_RELATIVE      0x00000001  /* sequence is relative to current */
#define DRM_CRTC_SEQUENCE_NEXT_ON_MISS      0x00000002  /* Use next sequence if we've missed */
#define DRM_CRTC_SEQUENCE_FIRST_PIXEL_OUT   0x00000004  /* Signal when first pixel is displayed */

These are similar to the values provided for the drmWaitVBlank function, except I've added a selector for when the event should be delivered to align with potential future additions to Vulkan. Right now, the only time you can ask for is first-pixel-out, which says that the event should correspond to the display of the first pixel on the screen.

DRM events → Vulkan fences

With the kernel able to deliver a suitable event at the next frame, all the Vulkan code needed was a to create a fence and hook it up to such an event. The existing fence code only deals with rendering fences, so I added window system interface (WSI) fencing infrastructure and extended the radv driver to be able to handle both kinds of fences within that code.

Multiple waiting threads

I've now got three places which can be waiting for a DRM event to appear:

  1. Frame sequence fences.

  2. Wait for an idle image. Necessary when you want an image to draw the next frame to.

  3. Wait for the previous flip to complete. The kernel can only queue one flip at a time, so we have to make sure the previous flip is complete before queuing another one.

Vulkan allows these to be run from separate threads, so I needed to deal with multiple threads waiting for a specific DRM event at the same time.

XCB has the same problem and goes to great lengths to manage this with a set of locking and signaling primitives so that only one thread is ever doing poll or read from the socket at time. If another thread wants to read at the same time, it will block on a condition variable which is then signaled by the original reader thread at the appropriate time. It's all very complicated, and it didn't work reliably for a number of years.

I decided to punt and just create a separate thread for processing all DRM events. It blocks using poll(2) until some events are readable, processes those and then broadcasts to a condition variable to notify any waiting threads that 'something' has happened. Each waiting thread simply checks for the desired condition and if not satisfied, blocks on that condition variable. It's all very simple looking, and seems to work just fine.

Code Complete, Validation Remains

At this point, all of the necessary pieces are in place for the VR application to take advantage of an HMD using only existing Vulkan extensions. Those will be automatically mapped into DRM leases and DRM events as appropriate.

The VR compositor application is working pretty well; tests with Dota 2 show occasional jerky behavior in complex scenes, so there's clearly more work to be done somewhere. I need to go write a pile of tests to independently verify that my code is working. I wonder if I'll need to wire up some kind of light sensor so I can actually tell when frames get displayed as it's pretty easy to get consistent-but-wrong answers in this environment.

Source Code

  • Linux. This is based off of a reasonably current drm-next branch from Dave Airlie. 965 commits past 4.12 RC3.

    git://people.freedesktop.org/~keithp/linux drm-lease-v3

  • X server (which includes xf86-video-modesetting). This is pretty close to master.

    git://people.freedesktop.org/~keithp/xserver drm-lease

  • RandR protocol changes

    git://people.freedesktop.org/~keithp/randrproto drm-lease

  • xcb proto (no changes to libxcb sources, but it will need to be rebuilt)

    git://people.freedesktop.org/~keithp/xcb/proto drm-lease

  • DRM library. About a dozen patches behind master.

    git://people.freedesktop.org/~keithp/drm drm-lease

  • Mesa. Branched early this month (4 June), this is pretty far from master.

    git://people.freedesktop.org/~keithp/mesa drm-lease