An Introduction to Renderscript

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last updated: 2016-08

This guide introduces Renderscript and explains how to use the intrinsic Renderscript API's in a Xamarin.Android application that targets API level 17 or higher.

Overview

Renderscript is a programming framework created by Google for the purpose of improving the performance of Android applications that require extensive computational resources. It is a low level, high performance API based on C99. Because it is a low level API that will run on CPUs, GPUs, or DSPs, Renderscript is well suited for Android apps that may need to perform any of the following:

  • Graphics
  • Image Processing
  • Encryption
  • Signal Processing
  • Mathematical Routines

Renderscript will use clang and compile the scripts to LLVM byte code which is bundled into the APK. When the app is run for the first time, the LLVM byte code will be compiled into machine code for the processors on the device. This architecture allows an Android application to exploit the advantages of machine code without the developers themselves having to write it for each processor on the device themselves.

There are two components to a Renderscript routine:

  1. The Renderscript runtime – This is the native API's that are responsible for executing the Renderscript. This includes any Renderscripts written for the application.
  2. Managed Wrappers from the Android Framework – Managed classes that allow an Android app to control and interact with the Renderscript runtime and scripts. In addition to the framework provided classes for controlling the Renderscript runtime, the Android toolchain will examine the Renderscript source code and generate managed wrapper classes for use by the Android application.

The following diagram illustrates how these components relate:

There are three important concepts for using Renderscripts in an Android application:

  1. A context – A managed API provided by the Android SDK that allocates resources to Renderscript and allows the Android app to pass and receive data from the Renderscript.
  2. A compute kernel – Also known as the root kernel or kernel, this a routine that does the work. The kernel is very similar to a C function; it is a parallelizable routine that will be run over all the data in allocated memory .
  3. Allocated Memory – Data is passed to and from a kernel through an Allocation. A kernel may have one input and/or one output Allocation.

The Android.Renderscripts namespace contains the classes for interacting with the Renderscript runtime. In particular, the Renderscript class will manage the lifecycle and resources of the Renderscript engine. The Android app must initialize one or more Android.Renderscripts.Allocation objects. An Allocation is a managed API that is responsible for allocation and accessing the memory that is shared between the Android app and the Renderscript runtime. Typically, one Allocation is created for input, and optionally another Allocation is created to hold the output of the kernel. The Renderscript runtime engine and the associated managed wrapper classes will manage access to the memory held by the Allocations, there is no need for an Android app developer to do any extra work.

An Allocation will contain one or more Android.Renderscripts.Elements. Elements are a specialized type that describe data in each Allocation. The Element types of the output Allocation must match the the types of the input Element. When executing, a Renderscript will iterate over each Element in the input Allocation in parallel, and write the results to the output Allocation. There are two types of Elements:

  • simple type – Conceptually this is the same as a C data type, float or a char.
  • complex type – This type is similar to a C struct.

The Renderscript engine will perform a runtime check to ensure that the Elements in each Allocation are compatible with what is required by the kernel. If the data type of the Elements in the Allocation do not match the data type that the kernel is expecting, an exception will be thrown.

All Renderscript kernels will be wrapped by a type that is a descendant of the Android.Renderscripts.Script class. The Script class is used to set parameters for a Renderscript, set the appropriate Allocations, and run the Renderscript. There are two Script subclasses in the Android SDK:

  • Android.Renderscripts.ScriptIntrinsic – Some of the more common Renderscript tasks are bundled in the Android SDK and are accessible by a subclass of the ScriptIntrinsic class. There is no need for a developer take any extra steps to use these scripts in their application as they are already provided.

  • ScriptC_XXXXX – Also known as user scripts, these are scripts that are written by developers and packaged in the APK. At compile time, the Android toolchain will generate managed wrapper classes that will allow the scripts to be used in the Android app. The name of these generated classes is the name of the Renderscript file, prefixed with ScriptC_. Writing and incorporating user scripts is not officially supported by Xamarin.Android and beyond the scope of this guide.

Of these two types, only the StringIntrinsic is supported by Xamarin.Android. This guide will discuss how to use intrinsic scripts in a Xamarin.Android application.

Requirements

This guide is for Xamarin.Android applications that target API level 17 or higher. The use of user scripts is not covered in this guide.

The Xamarin.Android V8 Support Library backports the instrinsic Renderscript API's for apps that target older versions of the Android SDK. Adding this package to a Xamarin.Android project should allow apps that target older versions of the Android SDK to leverage the intrinsic scripts.

Using Intrinsic Renderscripts in Xamarin.Android

The intrinsic scripts are a great way to perform intensive computing tasks with a minimal amount of additional code. They have been hand tuned to offer optimal performance on a large cross section of devices. It is not uncommon for an intrinsic script to run 10x faster than managed code and 2-3x times after than a custom C implementation. Many of the typical processing scenarios are covered by the intrinsic scripts. This list of the intrinsic scripts describes the current scripts in Xamarin.Android:

Please consult the API documentation for details on each of the intrinsic scripts.

The basic steps to using Renderscript in an Android application are:

  1. Create a Renderscript Context – The Renderscript class is a managed wrapper around the Renderscript context and will control initialization, resource management, and clean up. The Renderscript object is created using the RenderScript.Create factory method, which takes an Android Context (such as an Activity) as a parameter. The following line of code demonstrates how to initialize the Renderscript context:

    Android.Renderscripts.RenderScript renderScript = RenderScript.Create(this);
  2. Create Allocations – Depending on the intrinsic script, it may be necessary to create one or two Allocations. The Android.Renderscripts.Allocation class has several factory methods to help with instantiating an allocation for an intrinsic. As an example, the following code snippet demonstrates how to create Allocation for Bitmaps:

    Android.Graphics.Bitmap originalBitmap; 
    Android.Renderscripts.Allocation inputAllocation = Allocation.CreateFromBitmap(renderScript, 
                                                         originalBitmap,
                                                         Allocation.MipmapControl.MipmapFull,
                                                         AllocationUsage.Script);

    Often, it will be necessary to create an Allocation to hold the output data of a script. This following snippet shows how to use the Allocation.CreateTyped helper to instantiate a second Allocation that the same type as the original:

    Android.Renderscripts.Allocation outputAllocation = Allocation.CreateTyped(renderScript, inputAllocation.Type);
  3. Instantiate the Script wrapper – Each of the intrinsic script wrapper classes should have helper methods (typically called Create)for instantiating a wrapper object for that script. The following code snippet is an example of how to instantiate a ScriptIntrinsicBlur blur object:

    Android.Renderscripts.ScriptIntrinsicBlur blurScript = ScriptIntrinsicBlur.Create(renderScript, Element.U8_4(renderScript));

    The Element.U8_4 helper method will create an Element that describes a data type that is 4 fields of 8-bit, unsigned integer values, suitable for holding the data of a Bitmap object.

  4. Assign Allocation(s), Set Parameters, & Run Script – The Script class provides a ForEach method to actually run the Renderscript. This method will iterate over each Element in the Allocation holding the input data. In some cases, it may be necessary to provide an Allocation that holds the output. ForEach will overwrite the contents of the output Allocation. To carry on with the code snippets from the previous steps, this example shows how to assign an input Allocation, set a parameter, and then finally run the script (copying the results to the output Allocation):

    blurScript.SetInput(inputAllocation);
    blurScript.SetRadius(25);  // Set a pamaeter
    blurScript.ForEach(outputAllocation);

You may wish to check out the Blur an Image with Renderscript recipe, it is a complete example of how to use an intrinsic script in Xamarin.Android.

Summary

This guide introduced Renderscript and how to use it in a Xamarin.Android application. It briefly discussed what Renderscript is and how it works in an Android application. It described some of the key components in Renderscript and the difference between user scripts and instrinsic scripts. Finally, this guide discussed the steps in using an intrinsic script in a Xamarin.Android application.

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