Rendering with OpenGL

This tutorial covers how to use PsychXR to render graphics to the Oculus Rift HMD using pure OpenGL and the libovr extension. Futhermore, using rigid body transforms, head tracking, and input is also demonstrated.

Setting up your application for rendering involves the following steps:

  1. Initialize your OpenGL context.

  2. Create a new VR session.

  3. Setup render buffers using data from LibOVR and configure the render layer.

  4. Create a mirror texture.

  5. Begin rendering frames in your application loop.

Create an OpenGL Context

We need to setup a window with a OpenGL context. The window will be used to display our HMD mirror. First we need to import pyGLFW:

import glfw

We create a window using GLFW using the following code:

if not glfw.init():
    return -1

# for this example, we are using OpenGL 2.1 to keep things simple
glfw.window_hint(glfw.CONTEXT_VERSION_MAJOR, 2)
glfw.window_hint(glfw.CONTEXT_VERSION_MINOR, 1)

window = glfw.create_window(800, 600, "Oculus Test", None, None)

if not window:



We need to set glfw.swap_interval(0) to prevent the application from syncing rendering with the monitor.

Create a VR Session

First, import the libovr extension module to gain access to the LibOVR API:

from psychxr.libovr import *

Initialize LibOVR and create a new VR session using the following:

# initialize the runtime
if failure(initialize()):
    return -1

# create a new session
if failure(create()):
    return -1

It is good practice to check if API commands raised errors by using failure() on the returned values. If an error is raised after initialize() succeeds, you should call shutdown().

If both initialize() and create() return no errors, the session has been successfully created. At this point, the Oculus application will start if not already running in the background.

Setup Eye Render Buffers

We need to access data from LibOVR to instruct how to setup OpenGL for rendering. First, we need to get information about the particular model of HMD were using by calling:

hmdInfo = getHmdInfo()

The returned object contains FOV information we need to use to setup HMD rendering. The FOV for each eye to use is specified by calling:

for eye, fov in enumerate(hmdInfo.defaultEyeFov):
    setEyeRenderFov(eye, fov)

Now that we have our FOVs set, we can compute the eye buffer sizes by calling:

texSizeLeft = calcEyeBufferSize(EYE_LEFT)
texSizeRight = calcEyeBufferSize(EYE_RIGHT)

For this example, were are going to use a single buffer for both eyes, arranged side-by-side. We compute the dimensions of this buffer by combining the horizontal sizes together:

bufferW = texSizeLeft[0] + texSizeRight[0]
bufferH = max(texSizeLeft[1], texSizeRight[1])

Now that we know our buffer sizes, we need to tell LibOVR which sub-region of the buffer is allocated to each eye by specifying viewports. We compute the viewports and set them by doing the following:

eye_w = int(bufferW / 2)
eye_h = bufferH

viewports = ((0, 0, eye_w, eye_h), (eye_w, 0, eye_w, eye_h))
for eye, vp in enumerate(viewports):
    setEyeRenderViewport(eye, vp)

At this point, we can create a swap chain which is used to pass buffers to the LibOVR compositor for display on the HMD. We use the handle TEXTURE_SWAP_CHAIN0 to access the swap chain. We can create the swap chain by doing the following:

createTextureSwapChainGL(TEXTURE_SWAP_CHAIN0, bufferW, bufferH)

for eye in range(EYE_COUNT):
    setEyeColorTextureSwapChain(eye, TEXTURE_SWAP_CHAIN0)

Since we are using a single texture for both eyes, we set them to use the same handle. If two buffers are used, one for each eye, you need to call createTextureSwapChainGL twice using different handles (eg. TEXTURE_SWAP_CHAIN0 for the left eye and TEXTURE_SWAP_CHAIN1 for the right.)

You can tell the compositor to enable high-quality mode, which applies 4x anisotropic filtering during distortion to reduce sampling artifacts by calling:


We now start calling OpenGL commands to build our framebuffer. You can use pyglet or PyOpenGL to do this. Here we use PyOpenGL for OpenGL commands by importing:

import OpenGL.GL as GL
import ctypes  # needed for some OpenGL commands

We now create an OpenGL framebuffer which will serve as a render target for image buffers pulled from the swap chain. You must use the computed buffer sizes above to configure associated render buffers:

fboId = GL.GLuint()
GL.glGenFramebuffers(1, ctypes.byref(fboId))
GL.glBindFramebuffer(GL.GL_FRAMEBUFFER, fboId)

depthRb_id = GL.GLuint()
GL.glGenRenderbuffers(1, ctypes.byref(depthRb_id))
GL.glBindRenderbuffer(GL.GL_RENDERBUFFER, depthRb_id)
    int(bufferW), int(bufferH))  # <<< buffer dimensions computed earlier

GL.glBindRenderbuffer(GL.GL_RENDERBUFFER, 0)
GL.glBindFramebuffer(GL.GL_FRAMEBUFFER, 0)

Finally we create a mirror texture using the size used when creating the GLFW window and create a framebuffer for it:

createMirrorTexture(800, 600)
mirrorFbo = GL.GLuint()
GL.glGenFramebuffers(1, ctypes.byref(mirrorFbo))

Rendering to the HMD

Now that we setup our swap chains and buffers, we can begin rendering graphics to the HMD. Each frame we increment the frame index, get tracking state information about the HMD, use that data to draw the scene, and finally poll any input devices. This process repeats until the user exits the application.

First we create a variable to store the frame index and initialize it to 0:

frame_index = 0

Before we enter our main application loop, we request the projection matrices for each eye. These are computed based on the FOV settings that were specified earlier. Since these values don’t usually change, we can call the following once:

projectionMatrix = []
for eye in range(EYE_COUNT):

To demonstrate using LibOVRPose objects to define rigid body transformations, we’ll create one to position an object the scene. Here we create a LibOVRPose instance and set its Z position to -2 meters (recall -Z is forward in OpenGL). Then we convert the pose to a 4x4 transformation matrix by calling the asMatrix method:

planeMatrix = LibOVRPose((0., 0., -2.)).asMatrix()

We create our main loop using a while statement, since the loop should run until the user exits. Here we make the loop conditional on the whether the user closes the on-screen mirror window.

Upon entering the loop, we call waitToBeginFrame to hold the application until LibOVR is ready to start accepting frames. Once the function returns, we get the HMD head pose at the predicted time the frame will appear on the display, then use that data to calculate eye poses with calcEyePoses:

while not glfw.window_should_close(window):

    # predicted mid-frame time
    abs_time = getPredictedDisplayTime(frame_index)

    # get the current tracking state
    trackingState = hmd.getTrackingState(abs_time)

    # calculate eye poses, this needs to be called every frame

Now we can begin rendering to the eye buffers. First, we tell LibOVR that frame rendering will commence by calling beginFrame. Afterwards, we get the current swap chain buffer and set that texture as the OpenGL framebuffer draw target:

# while not glfw.window_should_close(window):
# ...
    # start frame rendering

    # bind the render FBO
    GL.glBindFramebuffer(GL.GL_FRAMEBUFFER, fboId)

    # get the current swap chain buffer index and OpenGL texture
    _, swapIdx = getTextureSwapChainCurrentIndex(TEXTURE_SWAP_CHAIN0)
    _, tex_id = getTextureSwapChainBufferGL(TEXTURE_SWAP_CHAIN0, swapIdx)

    # bind the returned texture ID to the frame buffer's texture slot
        GL.GL_TEXTURE_2D, tex_id, 0)

We create for loop to render images to each eye. Here we render a multi-colored plane transformed by planeMatrix:

# while not glfw.window_should_close(window):
# ...
    for eye in range(EYE_COUNT):

        # Set the viewport as what was configured for the render layer. We
        # also need to enable scissor testings with the same rect as the
        # viewport. This constrains rendering operations to one partition of
        # of the buffer since we are using a 'side-by-side' layout.
        vp = getEyeRenderViewport(eye)

        # Get view and projection matrices
        P = projectionMatrix[eye]
        MV = getEyeViewMatrix(eye)

        GL.glEnable(GL.GL_SCISSOR_TEST)  # enable scissor test

        # Set the projection matrix.

        # Set the view matrix. This contains the translation for the head in
        # the virtual space computed by the API.

        # Okay, let's begin drawing stuff. Clear the background first.
        GL.glClearColor(0.0, 0.0, 0.0, 1.0)

        # Draw a multicolored 2x2 meter square positioned 5 meters in front
        # of the virtual space's origin.
        GL.glMultTransposeMatrixf(planeMatrix)  # set the position of plane in the scene
        GL.glBegin(GL.GL_QUADS)  # start drawing it
        GL.glColor3f(1.0, 0.0, 0.0)
        GL.glVertex3f(-1.0, -1.0, 0.0)
        GL.glColor3f(0.0, 1.0, 0.0)
        GL.glVertex3f(-1.0, 1.0, 0.0)
        GL.glColor3f(0.0, 0.0, 1.0)
        GL.glVertex3f(1.0, 1.0, 0.0)
        GL.glColor3f(1.0, 1.0, 1.0)
        GL.glVertex3f(1.0, -1.0, 0.0)


    # unbind the frame buffer, we're done with it
    GL.glBindFramebuffer(GL.GL_DRAW_FRAMEBUFFER, 0)

After rendering the eye buffer images, we commit the texture to the swap chain. At this point, we can no longer modify the contents of the texture. Then we call endFrame to submit the texture for display on the HMD and increment the frame index:

# while not glfw.window_should_close(window):
# ...
    # commit the texture when were done drawing to it

    # end frame rendering, submitting the eye layer to the compositor

    frame_index += 1  # increment frame index

Now we draw the mirror texture to the display. This will present the distorted image on the window we created. This involves binding the mirror framebuffer, getting the mirror texture buffer ID, and blitting the texture to the window’s back buffer:

# while not glfw.window_should_close(window):
# ...
    # bind the rift's mirror texture to the framebuffer
        GL.GL_TEXTURE_2D, mirrorId, 0)

    # render the mirror texture to the on-screen window's back buffer
    GL.glViewport(0, 0, 800, 600)
    GL.glScissor(0, 0, 800, 600)
    GL.glClearColor(0.0, 0.0, 0.0, 1.0)
    GL.glBlitFramebuffer(0, 0, 800, 600,
                         0, 600, 800, 0,  # this flips the texture

    GL.glBindFramebuffer(GL.GL_FRAMEBUFFER, 0)

    glfw.swap_buffers(window)  # put the mirror on-screen

Getting Input

We can get input from LibOVR managed input devices, or use keyboard and mouse input via GLFW. Here we get the ‘A’ and ‘B’ button states of the paired Touch controllers. If ‘A’ is released the tracking origin is re-centered to the current head position, if ‘B’ is released, the application will exit by breaking out of the while loop:

# while not glfw.window_should_close(window):
# ...
    # if button 'A' is released on the touch controller, recenter the
    # viewer in the scene. If 'B' was pressed, exit the loop.
    A = getButton(CONTROLLER_TYPE_TOUCH, BUTTON_A, 'falling')
    B = getButton(CONTROLLER_TYPE_TOUCH, BUTTON_B, 'falling')

    if A[0]:  # first value is the state, second is the polling time
    elif B[0]:
        # exit if button 'B' is pressed

    # flip the GLFW window and poll events, needs to be called

Accessing Session Status

We can use the current session status to determine if the user requests the application exit via the system UI. If the shouldQuit flag is True, we can break out of the rendering loop. This can be implemented using the following:

# while not glfw.window_should_close(window):
# ...

    _, sessionStatus = getSessionStatus()  # get current session status
    if sessionStatus.shouldQuit:

Exiting the Application

If the application breaks out of the rendering loop, we need to free up resources we created earlier and shutdown the VR session. This is done by calling the following commands:

# free resources

# close the GLFW application

# end the rift session cleanly


This example demonstrates how to use PsychXR with OpenGL to render VR scenes in less than 200 lines of code. Following the basic pattern shown here, you can render more complex scenes using OpenGL and utilize more features of your HMD hardware exposed by PsychXR. A complete executable version of the above example can be found here.