Vega — Opera’s Vector Graphics Library

In my previous post here at Core concerns I wrote a bit about hardware acceleration of Opera’s vector graphics library. In this post I will go into some more details about our vector graphics library.

The history of Vega

Vega was created shortly after we started working on SVG support. When we added SVG support in Opera we needed a vector graphics library. We looked into what was available to use and met our requirements (fast, low memory usage and works on platforms ranging from phones to TVs and desktop computers). We did not find and good match for our needs, so we decided to write our own.

Shortly after we created Vega we added <canvas> support, which also uses Vega.

The most recent addition to Vega is the ability to use a hardware accelerated back-end. The back-ends we are using at the moment are OpenGL and Direct3D.

HTML rendering

In the core version we are currently developing, Presto 2.3, we have made it possible to use Vega for all rendering in Opera. This means that we can replace the platform specific code for rendering with Vega. In the future it might be mandatory to use Vega for rendering, but in Presto 2.3 it is still possible to use the old rendering back-ends.

There are three reasons for doing this. The first reason is that the new CSS3 background and borders standard is much easier to implement using a vector graphics library. Presto 2.3 adds partial support for CSS3 backgrounds and borders, but only when using Vega for rendering.

The second reason is to support hardware acceleration of our vector graphics. In order to be able to render SVG and <canvas> in hardware we must also be able to directly draw the rendered vector graphics to the screen since reading back the rendered image from the graphics card is usually slower than rendering in software.

The final reason is that it enables us to easily add advanced graphical effects to our UI and to web pages.

Hardware requirements

The hardware back-end of Vega will unfortunately not work on all graphics cards. The good news is that we detect at runtime if your graphics card is supported or not and fallback to the software back-end of Vega if the graphics card is not supported. This means that everything will work regardless of your graphics cards capabilities.

The first requirement of you graphics card is that it has fast stencil buffers. If you are on a desktop computer that will not be a problem, but on some mobile phones that will be a problem. The reason for this requirement is that we use the stencil buffer for rendering some complex shapes instead of tessellating them and render triangles.

Since some web standards (for example opacity, SVG and <canvas>) require us to render to an off-screen buffer which is composited onto the screen we also require some kind of render to texture to be able to use Vega hardware back-end. This means a DirectX 9 compatible graphics card, or support for the framebuffer object (FBO) extension in OpenGL. It would be possible to do the same thing with pbuffers in OpenGL, but we need to do many render target switches and with pbuffers that is too slow.

The final requirement is pixel shaders 2.0, or fragment shaders 2.0 as it is called in OpenGL. We also require GLSL support on OpenGL. The shaders are required for filters. Filters is a part of SVG which performs an operation such as blur or color transforms on an image. Filters are also used in <canvas> and to support text shadows and box shadows in HTML.

For a PC user these requirements are met by any DirectX 9 compatible graphics card. So with the correct drivers you should be able to use the hardware back-end of Vega if you have a DirectX 9 compatible graphics card.

Update 2009-02-05:

I was not very clear about the multiple back-ends of Vega. If the graphics card is not capable of running the hardware back-end of Vega the software back-end will be used as a fallback and all features will still work. No features depends on hardware acceleration. All of them, including CSS3 backgrounds and borders, will work in the software back-end of Vega which does not depend on hardware accelerated graphics.