To get some actual evidence for my opinions on the joys of the Flash display list, I created two demos that I'm calling "BunnyMark", a test of rendering small bouncing bunny pngs with alpha transparency. Since first posting, lots of readers helped by testing on different browsers and operating systems, and I have updated this post with their results.
The results were quite interesting, and not quite what I expected. Blitting was really fast, although actually a little bit slower than I expected, but gave a consistent rendering speed across all platforms. Bitmaps were also pretty fast, although in Safari on Mac performed really badly. I emailed Tinic from the Flash player team about this issue, and he has said he will look into it. Ok so here are the results:
I also wondered whether switching the wmode in the HTML can fix the Safari issues - it doesn't. If you want to try them: Opaque, Transparent, Direct, GPU (both Direct and GPU give 5 fps in Chrome on Windows!). This post from way back in 2008 may possibly shed some light on this topic:
- The display list demo could render 4000 bunnies at 30 fps on my PC without slowing down. This was replicated by readers on all Mac and Windows browsers except for Mac Safari, where it was down to 10-20 fps. Based on this interesting blog post from Tinic Uro (suggested by Richard Leggett), this seems like it may be something to do with the recent adoption of the Core Animation APIs in Safari. The demos has a lot more layers stacked up than you would need for most games, so this performance drop is unlikely to affect a real game - although I will be following up with a new benchmark to test that hypothesis. Bitmaps faired very badly on Android - it couldn't even render 10 bunnies at 30fps.
- The blitting demo could render 6000 bunnies at 30 fps without slowing down on my PC, and people with faster machines have reported up to 11000 bunnies at 30 fps. Blitting was also much more effective on Android, where it got up to 600 bunnies at 30 fps, certainly enough performance for an arcade-style game. (Thanks to Philippe Elsass for the Android tests).
So in this example, blitting is about twice as fast. But as I hope you can see, realistically 3000 bunnies is still a lot more than you are going to need in most situations. You can download the source code and see if you can improve the performance of either demo. A couple of readers have recommended performance optimisations, for example suggesting I use a fixed-length vector and using lock() and unlock() on my bitmapData, but neither strategy noticeably improved performance on my machine.
"Just because the Flash Player is using the video card for rendering does not mean it will be faster. In the majority of cases your content will become slower." - Tinic Uro
Just a final note - I ran a similar test to this 2 years ago in Microsoft XNA and was able to get something like 50,000 bunnies going at HD resolution, and 60 fps. I think molehill is going to make this discussion somewhat irrelevant next year - GPU blitting will annihilate both of these approaches. The question will then be, can the display list also be speeded up by the GPU, or is it just too wacky and different to what graphics cards are designed to handle?