Cairo tile engine, and accessing 565 buffers from cairo and C

Don Hopkins dhopkins at
Sat Apr 14 20:10:50 EDT 2007

I've been working on a cairo-based tile engine written in C as a Python 
extension (part of my cellular automata machine module), which I now 
have working well enough to display animated cellular automata in two 
modes: as tiles or as pixels.

To render tiles, you pass it an array of cairo surfaces you've read in 
(or rendered), one for each tile, and it draws them by painting the 
surfaces onto a cairo context you pass in.

To render pixels, you pass it one cairo surface which it grabs pixels 
out of, and it draws by storing the pixels into a destination image 
surface. The caller can then render that destination surface on the 
screen itself (scaling if it likes).

Theoretically the tile mode could render tiny 1x1 colored tiles to 
produce the same results as the pixel mode, but it would be much less 
efficient to draw individual pixels by calling Cairo to copy 1x1 
surfaces. So I implemented the pixel mode to support single color tiles 
directly, drawing into an offscreen cairo surface instead of using the 
cairo context.

I've read on the mailing list that Cairo supports 565 ("begrudgingly", 
whatever that implies).
But the surfaces it's handing my C code are 32 bit (RGB or ARGB).
(Or at least that's what's happening on the emulator with a 16 bit 565 
screen -- I haven't tested it on the actual olpc yet).
How can I get ahold of the actual 16 bit 565 buffer that X can directly 
and efficiently draw on the screen?
I've read through the Cairo code, and apparently it has no internal 
support for 16 bit pixels.
So is it the xlib/xrender back-end that actually has a 16 bit buffer and 
does the 888=>565 conversion?
Is there any way for my C code to get ahold of that buffer to draw 
directly into it?
Or do I have to puff everything up to 32 bit color, just to let Cairo's 
back-end stomp it back down to 565?
If there's a 565 screen buffer somewhere, there there should be a way 
for C code to take a cairo context and use it to figure out the 565 
buffer to draw into (in the special case of the x backend).
(Of course it would be the C code's responsibility to respect Cairo's 
CTM and know the pixel format and stuff like that, but that's just fine 
since it goes with the territory, and is worth doing to make it draw 

A direct access api to Cairo's 16 bit buffer would make it possible to 
integrate SDL and other rendering libraries (like Mesa) with Cairo, 
without going through another X window, so games and Python extensions 
could draw more efficiently without doing lots of unnecessary format 

I took a look at the USInvaders demo that uses PyGame and SDL, and it 
looks like it just makes another X window that SDK draws in directly, 
instead of going through Cairo. So SDL is drawing directly in 565, but 
going around Cairo's back, using a GTK "Socket" window.


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