Display issues

Remote display issues

The GUI components in MRtrix3 (mrview & shview) use the OpenGL 3.3 API to make full use of modern graphics cards. Unfortunately, X11 forwarding is not supported for OpenGL >= 3. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • OpenGL 1 & 2 used the OpenGL fixed function pipeline (now deprecated), whereas OpenGL >= 3 relies much more explicitly on shaders and buffer objects. Amongst other things, the use of buffer objects implies that potentially very large amounts of data be downloaded onto the GPU. In a X11 forwarding context, this would mean transferring these data over the network, which would probably end up being prohibitively slow in a sufficient number of situations that including support for it into the GLX was not thought to be worth the effort.
  • X11 is unbelievably outdated, even according to the X.org developers themselves (as very clearly explained in this linux.conf.au talk). Current development efforts are going into its replacement, Wayland, which will start replacing X11 in earnest over the next few years (it’s already available and usable on the latest distributions). Thankfully, remote display capability is planned for Wayland, and support for it has already been added.

So it is not possible to use mrview or shview over a standard remote X11 connection.

Why does MRtrix3 use OpenGL 3.3 if it come with such limitations?

Because it’s clearly the most future-proof option. The older OpenGL versions are deprecated, and not recommended for modern applications. The OpenGL 3.3 API is much closer to the way modern graphics hardware works, and can therefore provide better performance. Finally, as explained above, X11 will eventually be phased out anyway...

What can be done about this?

There are a number of options available to deal with this, each with their own idiosyncraties. The simplest is to render locally (option 1), the other options require a fair bit of setting up on the server, and potentially also on the clients.

1. Use MRView locally

This is the simplest option, and allows the use of the local graphics hardware (much like X11 forwarding would have). To use this relatively seamlessly, the simplest option is to access the remote data using a network filesystem, such as SSHFS, SMB or NFS, and run mrview locally, loading the data from the network share. While this may seem inefficient, bear in mind that MRtrix3 will typically only load the data it needs to, so operation will probably not be slower than it would have been with the MRtrix 0.2.x version. Besides, the largest data files are likely to be track files (which will need to be loaded in their entirety); in the MRtrix 0.2.x version these needed to be streamed in whole over the network for every screen update.

Of the networked filesystems listed above, the simplest to use would probably be SSHFS, since it shouldn’t require any additional setup on the server (assuming users already have an SSH account), and is readily available on all platforms (using Win-SSHFS on Windows, OSXFuse on MacOSX).

2. Use an OpenGL-capable VNC server

Using the VNC protocol, the server is responsible for doing all the rendering remotely, and sends the resulting screen updates over the network. With this approach, users are presented with a full-blown desktop environment running on the server. This may consume too many resources on the remote server, depending on the desktop environment used. Also, since rendering is performed on the remote server, it needs to be equipped with an OpenGL 3.3 capable graphics stack - this means decent hardware and an up to date driver. However, it has the advantage of being widely supported and readily available on all platforms, with many implementations available. The only tricky part here is ensuring the VNC server is OpenGL-capable. As far as I can tell, x11vnc can be used for this.

3. Use VirtualGL to allow OpenGL forwarding within X11

The VirtualGL project offers a means of rendering OpenGL graphics on the remote server, and sending the updated contents of the OpenGL window to the local display, alongside the normal X11 connection. This provides a means of running mrview in a potentially more familiar X11 over SSH session. As with the VNC solution, rendering needs to be performed on the remote server, meaning it needs to be equipped with an OpenGL 3.3 capable graphics stack - this means decent hardware and an up to date driver. Also, it requires the installation of additional software on the local system. Finally, for this to work, all OpenGL commands need to be prefixed with vglrun (not particularly problematic as this can be scripted or aliased). This has been reported to work well with MRtrix3.

OpenGL version 3.3 not supported

This will typically lead to mrview crashing with a message such as:

mrview: [ERROR] GLSL log [vertex shader]: ERROR: version '330' is not supported

There are three main reasons for this:

  1. Attempting to run MRView using X11 forwarding. This will not work without some effort, see Display issues for details.

  2. Your installation genuinely does not support OpenGL 3.3. In this case, the solution will involve figuring out:

    • whether your graphics hardware can support OpenGL 3.3 at all;
    • whether your Linux distribution provides any drivers for your graphics hardware that can support OpenGL 3.3;
    • if not, whether the manufacturer of your graphics hardware provides drivers for Linux that can be installed on your distribution;
    • how to install these drivers - a process that is invariably distribution-specific, and beyond the scope of this document. If you’re having serious issues with this, you should consider asking on the MRtrix3 community forum, you will often find others have come across similar issues and can provide useful advice. If you do, make sure you provide as much information as you can (at the very least, your exact distribution, including which version of it, the exact model of your graphics hardware, and what you’ve tried so far).
  3. Your installation does support OpenGL 3.3, but only provides access to the 3.3 functionality through the _compatibility_ profile, not through the (default) core profile. To see whether this is the problem, you only need to add the line:

    NeedOpenGLCoreProfile: 0
    

    to your MRtrix configuration file (typically, ~/.mrtrix.conf). If it doesn’t work, you’re probably stuck with reason 2.

MRView runs with visual artefacts or no display

If you find that MRView displays with visual glitches or a blank screen, particularly in volume render mode, and on ATI/AMD hardware, you may find that setting:

NeedOpenGLCoreProfile: 0

may resolve the problem.

Conflicts with previous versions of Qt

If previous versions of Qt were already installed on the system, they can sometimes conflict with the installation of MRtrix3. This can manifest in many ways, but the two most obvious one are:

  • ./configure reports using the older version, but ./build completes without errors. However, MRView crashes, complaining about OpenGL version not being sufficient.
  • ./configure reports the correct version of Qt, but ./build fails with various error messages (typically related to redefined macros, with previous definitions elsewhere in the code).

Unusual symbols on terminal

When running MRtrix3 commands on certain terminal emulators, you may see unusual characters appearing in the terminal output, that look something like the following:

$ mrinfo fa.mif -debug
mrinfo: ←[00;32m[INFO] opening image "fa.mif"...←[0m
mrinfo: ←[00;34m[DEBUG] reading key/value file "fa.mif"...←[0m
mrinfo: ←[01;31m[ERROR] failed to open key/value file "fa.mif": No such file or directory←[0m

MRtrix3 uses VT100 terminal control codes to add colour to the terminal output, and to clear the terminal line of text when updating the text displayed during certain processes. Some terminal emulators may not have support for these codes, in which case unwanted characters and symbols may instead be displayed.

There are two possible solutions:

1. Use a different terminal emulator. In particular, earlier instructions for installing MRtrix3 on Windows involved the use of the terminal provided with Git for Windows; this is known to not support VT100 codes. The current recommendation for *MRtrix3* Windows installation is based on MSYS2; the ‘MinGW-w64 Win64 Shell’ provided in this installation is known to support VT100 codes.

2. Terminal colouring can be disabled using the MRtrix configuration file. Add the following line to either the system-wide or user config file to disable these advanced terminal features:

TerminalColor: 0

Conflicts with previous versions of Qt

If previous versions of Qt were already installed on the system, they can sometimes conflict with the installation of MRtrix3. This can manifest in many ways, but the two most obvious one are:

  • ./configure reports using the older version, but ./build completes without errors. However, MRView crashes, complaining about OpenGL version not being sufficient.
  • ./configure reports the correct version of Qt, but ./build fails with various error messages (typically related to redefined macros, with previous definitions elsewhere in the code).