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What’s Happening with HOOPS Visualize

By Erik Hultgren • 
December 13th, 2021

As we get closer to the holidays and our end-of-year major releases, I wanted to let everyone know what we’ve been doing with HOOPS Visualize, our desktop, and mobile graphics toolkit. We’ll be having a live Product Update on March 9 (register), so I won’t go into too much detail here, but I’ll also let you know what we’re looking at for next year.

A significant focus in the second half of 2021 was on better serving our partners’ immediate needs. Given the number of partners who use various forms of the HOOPS Platforms, this was a multi-product effort across all of engineering. Better supporting our partners is a theme that will carry over into 2022.

We’re looking to raise our partner’s voice by making our product roadmaps more collaborative. Earlier this year, we started publicly posting our roadmaps. The next step forward will be giving partners the ability to review and vote on possible additions to the roadmap. This should help ensure we get the broadest range of product needs from our partners, regardless of their size.

The third piece of the collaborative roadmap strategy is to use the voting portal to identify partners who would be willing to collaborate with us on new functionality during our development. By working more closely together, we can ensure that what we deliver will meet the demands of our partners. We seek a range of participation and will release incremental builds, rather than only delivering feature updates in releases.

CAE and CFD Graphics

Before I finally talk specifically about Visualize, I’d like to answer a question I’ve received a few times in the last year since we acquired Ceetron Technologies. Their CDC and C3 products are powerful tools for visualizing CAE and FEA data. No, HOOPS Visualize isn’t going away, and neither are CDC and C3. We have no immediate plans to merge them, but if we tackle projects in one toolkit which could also benefit the others, we’ll try and develop it in tandem so the products can improve together.

We’ve got big plans coming for our many partners in the analysis space. The CAE industry has been changing by leaps and bounds for the last few years. Next year we’ll begin developing volumetric rendering in Visualize, including gases and liquids. This is a critical need for CFD. We plan to support structured grid and polyhedral element shapes, realistic rendering of results and expect them to animate. We’ll be starting this work in early 2022.

HOOPS Visualize 3D Framework (3DF)

At HOOPS Summits, I’m regularly asked about HOOPS Visualize, “are you killing 3DF?” For those that don’t know, 3DF is our original visualization API. In fact, it was just called HOOPS before we had any other HOOPS Products. We added a newer API (HPS) several years ago, and that is now the API that new partners work with. It’s modern, removed the old string-based attribute system, and supports mobile platforms. Given the new business shift to HPS, many 3DF partners still worry that we will end-of-life or remove 3DF. That isn’t the case. We have no plans to retire the 3DF interface or force partners to port their applications to HPS. Of course, if you are building a new application, we’d like you to use HPS, but we know how much work switching graphics systems in an existing released product is.

To support our partners on 3DF, we’re changing how we handle versioning. Currently, we support multiple release streams, which places quite a burden on engineering and our internal systems. Each year, platform, compiler, and toolset changes can occur, causing headaches for our partners who often don’t switch. We’ll be shifting to one main release stream (similar to our other HOOPS products) but adding a Long-Term Stability release stream. This LTS stream will be supported for at least four years and will be replaced by the subsequent LTS stream, which is then supported for four years. There will be minimal changes over the LTS stream’s lifespan, with some new features being added in its initial releases. As it ages, we will move to add only critical code changes, which are less likely to introduce instability. Partners who change versions regularly or want new features can choose to update regularly with the major releases. Expect more details on that very soon.

Graphics Drivers

We’re adding our second new driver very soon: Metal for OS X & iOS. We went a long time between the release of our DirectX shader-based driver and the spring 2021 release of software-only shader-based OpenGL driver (OpenGL2_Mesa). The Mesa driver was developed to support applications running on machines without dedicated graphics hardware, especially remote systems. Our new Metal driver is to help our partners shipping on Apple products. Metal is Apple’s proprietary graphics SDK. For years Apple has been unfriendly towards OpenGL, pushing developers to move to Metal, and announced end-of-life support for OpenGL years ago. It’s still there, but for how long? We’ve added Metal support so our partners don’t have to worry: change one code line and move from OpenGL to Metal. This new driver will be available in HPS 2022 in December and 3DF v27.00 in January.

Do these new drivers mean you can expect to see more soon? We get requests for DX12 and Vulkan support, and the short answer is no, not anytime soon, and not even next year. There’s a lot of work to be done before we can begin worrying about developing those drivers. To fully leverage the power of these newer graphics APIs, we will need to rewrite critical parts of Visualize’s core. This is by no means a trivial project; it will take considerable work and time. A DX12 or Vulkan driver released without a re-architecture would likely provide no performance improvement. This experiment has been done and written about in the gaming industry. There is a bright spot when we do tackle the rewrite: not only will it enable the development of new drivers, but it will also enable Visualize to take better advantage of modern GPUs, which should provide a performance boost on almost any decent hardware from the last ten years, even on our current drivers.

Custom Shaders

Currently, we’re working on expanding our custom shader support in 3DF and adding it to HPS. There’s been limited support for this previously in 3DF (it had the docs removed), but we’re committed to expanding its usability, starting with vertex and color shaders. Expect to see this change in 3DF in the first half of 2022. Custom shaders were not ported from 3DF when HPS was created, but we’ll be adding it soon, but not before HPS 2022 SP1.

Point Clouds

We’re planning on porting our out-of-core point cloud engine to other platforms (it currently is Windows-only), including mobile platforms. In addition, we’ll add the ability to insert new point clouds directly into OOC without requiring the current off-line preprocessing step. This is critical for many of our partners, including those in the CMM / Metrology space, whether they’re using tablet-based handheld scanners or larger automated scanners plugged into full desktop systems.

In closing, I’d love to hear from any of you that have questions, concerns, or are interested in working with us on the projects I described above.

Erik Hultgren is the HOOPS Graphics product manager at Tech Soft 3D. He has a long history of working in 3D technology at Tech Soft 3D and several of our partners. Besides 3D graphics, Erik enjoys being on the saddle (bicycle) and spending time adventuring with his wife and two sons.

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