Last week there was some movement on discussing Vulkan Blender integration. This post will give the status of the Vulkan project and updated reasoning.
Currently there are no active developers working on Vulkan integration in Blender. Although many decisions are driven by this API. If you have some ideas/comments or want to participate in such a project please get into contact with us by leaving a reply or via #eevee-viewport-module on Blender chat.
Why do we want to support Vulkan in Blender?
- OpenGL isn’t developed anymore. Vulkan is replacing it and since the introduction of Vulkan 1.0 no core changes have been made to the OpenGL standard. Vulkan during its announcement back in 2015 was actually named OpenGL Next. New technologies (For example GPU Raytracing API, but also AR/VR standards) we want to benefit from are only available/standardized in Vulkan. .
- OpenGL specification exists as a collection of documents, Some required, others are optional. Implementations of the specification differs per vendor. AMD tries to follow the specification to the letter, NVIDIA is more relaxed. Vulkan standard includes a detailed test suite (Software) that are required for drivers to pass. Still Vulkan has optional specifications, but Vendors are more eager to align on them.
- OpenGL drivers work internally different. To optimize for NVIDIA is different than for AMD. For example NVIDIA drivers uses a threaded GPU upload for buffers, where we don’t have control over. AMD do not clear newly created buffers, and is slow to clear them manually. OpenGL drivers have bugs. Blender has workarounds that could lead to less performance or disabled features. Vulkan solves this as it is a low level API, more suited to how the actual hardware works. This reduces the amount of decisions that a driver developer needs to make.
What has been done so far?
Between 2019 and now we have designed/engineered a system that would be able to add Vulkan to Blender. The core parts of this system has already been implemented. These are listed below.
Blender 2.8 introduced the Draw Manager. Draw manager is used to draw 3d viewports and nowadays also Image/UV editor and the compositor backdrop. The draw manager is structured with similar data types as Vulkan.
In 2020 all communication between Blender and GPU backend is abstracted away behind an API (GPU module). This would allow us to have different GPU backends. One for OpenGL, Vulkan or Metal. This makes sure that feature development can be done in a backend agnostic way. This was tested with an initial Vulkan implementation and is currently being used by the Metal port.
Vulkan and OpenGL both use GLSL, but are not compatible. Metal has its own shading language. In 2021/2022 a system was introduced to cross-compile GLSL to any of the backends. This has been done with Vulkan in mind, although not used yet. For the Metal back-end we are testing that the mechanism works.
BGL is replaced by the GPU module and add-ons developers are requested to port their add-ons to the GPU module. This would make the transition to other GPU backends easier. We expect that after migrating to the GPU module only the shader needs to be tweaked to make sure that the cross compilation to other backends work.
What still needs to be done?
Implement GHOST_ContextVK and a selector to start Blender with OpenGL or Vulkan.
Implement GPU Vulkan backend. This is most of the work. GPU data types should get their Vulkan specific implementation. (Backend, Compute, Context, Framebuffer, Index Buffer, Query, Shader, State, Storage buffer, Texture, Vertex Array, Vertex Buffer, Debug)
Although this doesn’t seems to be a lot of work, keep in mind that 10 times more lines of code needs to be writte for Vulkan than OpenGL; even to display a triangle on the screen. And in case of executing this for Blender you won’t be able to see any pixels, until the final phase of the project.
AFAIK OpenSubDiv doesn’t support Vulkan yet. There might be some ways around it (sharing data between an OpenGL and Vulkan context), but that would be far from ideal and error prone.
June 2023 update: Blender Vulkan - Status report - #19 by Jeroen-Bakker