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DirectCompute tutorial for Unity 3: Textures

The focus of days tutorial is on textures. These are arguably the most important feature when using DirectCompute. It is highly likely that every shader you write will use at least one texture. Unfortunately render textures in Unity are Pro only so this tutorial covers Pro only topics. The good new is that this will be the only Pro only tutorial. Textures in DirectCompute are very simple to use but there are a few traps you can fall into. Lets start with something simple. Create a compute shader and paste in the following code.

(使用简单,但是注意只有unity pro版本支持此功能)





And then a C# script called TextureExample and paste in the following code.



Attach the script, bind the shader and run the scene. You should see a texture with the uv’s displayed as colors. This is what we have written into the texture with the compute shaders.



Now notice the kernel argument “uint2 id : SV_DispatchThreadID” from last tutorial. This is the threads position in the groups of threads and just like with buffers we need this to know what location to write the results into the texture, like this “tex[id] = result“. This time however we don’t need the “flattened” index like with buffers. We can just use the uint2 directly. This is because unlike buffers textures can be multidimensional. We have a 2D thread group and a 2D texture.



Now look at the declaration of the texture variable “RWTexture2D<float4> tex;“. The “RWTexture2D” part is important. This is obviously a texture but whats with the RW? This declares that the texture is of the type “unordered access view”. This just means that you can write to any location in the texture from the shader. You may be able to write to the texture but you can not read from it.  Remove the RW part and its just a normal texture but you cant write to it. Just remember that you can only read from a Texture2D and only write to RWTexture2D.



Now lets look at the script. Notice how the texture is created.


tex = new RenderTexture(64, 64, 0);

tex.enableRandomWrite = true;


There are two important things here. The first is the “enableRandomWrite”. You must set this to true if you want to write into the texture. This basically says that the texture can have unordered access views. If you don’t do this nothing will happen when you run the shader and Unity wont give you a error. It will just fail for no apparent reason. The second is the “Create” function call. You must call create on the texture before you write into it. Again, if you don’t nothing will happen and you wont get a error. It just wont work. If you are use to writing into a texture with graphics blit then you may notice you don’t have to call create. This is because graphics blit checks if the texture is created and creates it if its not. The dispatch function cant do this because it does not know what textures are being written into when it is called.



Also note that the texture is released in the “OnDestroy” function. When you are finished with your render textures make sure you release them.



Now lets look at the dispatch call.


shader.Dispatch(0, tex.width/8, tex.height/8, 1);

Remember from the last tutorial that this is where we set how many groups to run. So why are the number of groups to run the texture size divide by 8? Look at the shader. You can see we have 8 threads per group running from the “[numthreads(8,8,1)]” line. Now we need a thread for each pixel in the texture to run. So we have a texture 64 pixels wide and if we divide the pixels by the number of threads per group we get the number of groups we will need. We end up with 8 groups of 8 threads which is 64 threads in total in the x dimension and its the same for the y dimension. This gives us a total of 4096 threads running (64 * 64) which is the number of pixels in the texture.



Now have a look at this part of the script.


shader.SetFloat("w", tex.width);

shader.SetFloat("h", tex.height);

shader.SetTexture(0, "tex", tex);

This is where we are setting the uniforms for the shader. We have to set the texture we are writing into and we also need the textures width and height so we can calculate the uv’s from the dispatch id. Its common to pass variables into a shader like this but in this case we don’t need the width and height. We can get it from within the shader. Change your shader to this…




and remove these two lines from your script…


shader.SetFloat("w", tex.width);

shader.SetFloat("h", tex.height);



Run the scene. It should look the same. Notice the “tex.GetDimensions(w, h);” line. Textures are objects. This means they have functions you can call from them.



In this case we are asking for the textures dimensions. Textures have a number of functions with a number of overloads you can call. I will go through the most common and how to use them but first we need to change the scene a bit. What we want to do now is copy the contents of our texture into another texture and then display that result.




And change the script to this…



Now bind the new shader you have created to the “shaderCopy” attribute and run the scene. The scene should look the same as before. What we are doing here is to fill the first texture with its uv’s as a color like before and then we are copying the contents to another texture. This is so I can demonstrate the many ways to sample from a texture in a shader. Notice this line “float4 t = tex[id];” in the copy shader. This is the simplest way to sample from a texture. Just like the dispatch id is the location you want to write to it is also the location you want to read from. You can see here that we can sample from a texture just like it was a array.



There are other ways of doing this. For example…


float4 t = tex.mips[0][id];

Here we are accessing the mipmaps of the texture instead. Level 0 would be the first mipmap, the one with the same size as the texture. The next dimension in the mipmap array is the location to sample at using the dispatch id. Just note that we have not enabled mipmaps on the texture so the result of sampling levels other than 0 has no effect.



We can do the same with the textures load function.




In this case the uint3’s x and y value is the location to sample at and the z value (the 0) is the mipmap level. Both these examples work the same.


There is one feature of textures that you will be using a lot. The textures ability to filter and wrap. To do this you need to use a sampler state. If you are use to using HLSL out side of Unity you may know that you need to create a sampler object to use. This works a bit differently in Unity. Basically you have two choices for filtering (Linear or Point) and two for wrap (Clamp or Repeat). All you need to do is declare a sampler state in the shader with the word Linear or Point in the name and the word Repeat or Clamp in the name. For example you could use the name myLinearClamp or aPointRepeat, etc. I prefer a underscore then the name. Change you shader to this.

(采用texture的filter和warp功能,你需要用到sampler state,下面是例子)



If you run the scene it should still look the same. Notice this line “float4 t = tex.SampleLevel(_LinearClamp, uv, 0);“. Here we are using the textures SampleLevel function. The function takes a sampler state, the uv’s and a mipmap level. The uv’s need to be normalized, that is have a range of 0 to 1. Notice the SamplerState variables at the top. If you are using sampler states you are mostly likely wanting to have bilinear filtering. If that’s the case use the _LinearClamp or _LinearRepeat sampler state.




If you are use to using HLSL in a fragment shader (as opposed to a compute shader here) you may know that you can use this function for filtering.



float4 t = tex.Sample(_LinearClamp, uv);

Notice its called Sample not SampleLevel and the mipmap parameter is gone. If you try to use this in a compute shader you will get a error because this function does not exists. The reason why is surprisingly complicated and gives a insight into how the GPU works. Behind the scenes fragments shaders (or any shader) work in much the sample why as a compute shader as they share the same GPU architecture. They run in threads and the threads are arranged into thread groups. Now remember that threads in a group can share memory. Fragment shaders always run in a group of at least 2 by 2 threads. When you sample from a texture the fragment shader checks what its neighbors uv’s are. From this it can work out what the derivatives of the uv’s are. The derivatives are just a rate of change and in areas where there is a high rate of change the textures higher mipmaps are used and in areas of low rate of change the lower mipmaps are used. This is how the GPU reduces aliasing problems and it also has the handy byproduct of reducing memory bandwidth (the higher mipmaps are smaller).



All the examples I have given are in 2D but the same principles apply in 3D. You just need to create the texture a little differently.



tex = new RenderTexture(64, 64, 0);

tex.volumeDepth = 64;

tex.isVolume = true;

tex.enableRandomWrite = true;


This creates a 3D texture that is 64*64*64 pixels. Notice the “volumeDepth” is set to 64 and the “isVolume” is set to true. Remember to set the number of groups and threads to the correct values. The dispatch id also needs to be a uint3 or int3;

(创建一个3D纹理,执行3D shader)


shader.Dispatch(0, tex.width/8, tex.height/8, tex.depth/8);




void CSMain (uint3 id : SV_DispatchThreadID)


    tex[id] = anotherTex[id];


That about covers it for textures. Next time I look at buffers. How to use the default buffer, the other buffer types, how to draw data from your buffers and set/get your buffer data.


(最后补充一下与上面译文无关的就是:shader里面其实定义采用的是rendertexture, texture2D, texture3D的父类texture。因此在shader里面这些只要是texture子类的纹理都是可以直接使用的。这点很重要,你可以采用导入的texture来在compute shader里面做计算。)

4 thoughts on “DirectCompute tutorial for Unity 3: Textures”

  1. Shader code that handles normal map will be turned on only when at least one normal texture is set for the terrain, so you don’t need to pay the performance cost of normal map if you don’t use them.

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