The Display List

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The structure of your display list is fundamental in this process for three reasons: memory consumption, tree traversal, and node hierarchy.

Memory Consumption

Memory consumption is the trade-off for better performance in GPU rendering because every off-screen bitmap uses memory. At the same time, mobile development implies less GPU memory caching and RAM.

To get a sense of the memory allocated, you can use the following formula:


// 4 bytes are required to store a single 32 bit pixel
// width and height of the tile created
// anti-aliasing defaults to high or 4 in Android
4 * width * height * anti-aliasFactor
A 10 × 10 image represents 1600 bytes


Be vigilant about saving memory in other areas.

Favor the DisplayObject types that need less memory. If the functionality is sufficient for your application, use a Shape or a Sprite instead of a MovieClip. To determine the size of an object, use the following:


import flash.sampler.*;
var shape:Shape = new Shape();
var sprite:Sprite = new Sprite();
var mc:MovieClip = new MovieClip();
trace(getSize(shape), getSize(sprite), getSize(mc));
// 224, 412 and 448 bytes respectively in the AIR runtime


The process of creating and removing objects has an impact on performance. For display objects, use object pooling, a method whereby you create a defined number of objects up front and recycle them as needed. Instead of deleting them, make them invisible or remove them from the display list until you need to use them again.

You should give the same attention to other types of objects. If you need to remove objects, remove listeners and references so that they can be garbage-collected and free up precious memory.

Tree Structure

Keep your display list fairly shallow and narrow.

The renderer needs to traverse the display list and compute the rendering output for every vector-based object. Matrices on the same branch get concatenated. This is the expected management of nested objects: if a Sprite contains another Sprite, the child position is set in relation to its parent.

Node Relationship

This is the most important point for successful use of caching. Caching the wrong objects may result in confusingly slow performance.

The cacheAsBitmapMatrix property must be set on the moving object, not on its container. If you set it on the parent, you create an unnecessarily larger bitmap. Most importantly, if the container has other children that change, the bitmap needs to be redrawn and the caching benefit is lost.

Let’s use an example. The parent node, the black box shown in the following figures, has two children, a green circle and a red square. They are all vector graphics as indicated by the points.

In the first scenario (depicted in Figure 14-2), cacheAsBitmapMatrix is set on the parent node. The texture includes its children. A bitmap is created and used for any transformation, like the rotation in the figure, without having to perform expensive vector rasterization. This is a good caching practice:


var box:Sprite = new Sprite();
var square:Shape = new Shape();
var circle:Shape = new Shape();
// draw all three items using the drawing API
box.cacheAsBitmap = true;
box.cacheAsBitmapMatrix = new Matrix();
box.rotation = 15;


Figure 14-2. Caching and transformation on the parent only
Figure 14-2. Caching and transformation on the parent only

In the second scenario (depicted in Figure 14-3), cacheAsBitmapMatrix is still on the parent node. Let’s add some interactivity to make the circle larger when clicked. This is a bad use of caching because the circle needs to be rerasterized along with its parent and sibling because they share the same texture:


// change datatype so the display object can receive a mouse event
var circle:Sprite = new Sprite();
// draw items using the drawing API
circle.addEventListener(MouseEvent.CLICK, bigMe);
function bigMe(event:MouseEvent):void {
var leaf:Sprite = event.currentTarget as Sprite;
leaf.scaleX += .20;
leaf.scaleY += .20;


Figure 14-3. Caching on the parent, but transformation on the children
Figure 14-3. Caching on the parent, but transformation on the children

In the third scenario (depicted in Figure 14-4), cacheAsBitmapMatrix is set, not on the parent, but on the children. When the circle is rescaled, its bitmap copy can be used instead of rasterization. In fact, both children can be cached for future animation. This is a good use of caching:


// change datatype so they can receive mouse events
var square:Sprite = new Sprite();
var circle:Sprite = new Sprite();
// draw items using the drawing API
square.addEventListener(MouseEvent.CLICK, bigMe);
circle.addEventListener(MouseEvent.CLICK, bigMe);
var myMatrix:Matrix = new Matrix();
square.cacheAsBitmap = true;
square.cacheAsBitmapMatrix = myMatrix;
circle.cacheAsBitmap = true;
circle.cacheAsBitmapMatrix = myMatrix;
function bigMe(event:MouseEvent):void {
var leaf:Sprite = event.currentTarget as Sprite;
leaf.scaleX += .20;
leaf.scaleY += .20;


Figure 14-4. Caching and transformation on each individual child
Figure 14-4. Caching and transformation on each individual child

The limitation with using GPU rendering occurs when a parent and its children need to have independent animations as demonstrated earlier. If you cannot break the parent- child structure, stay with vector rendering.

MovieClip with Multiple Frames

Neither cacheAsBitmap nor cacheAsBitmapMatrix works for a MovieClip with multiple frames. If you cache the art on the first frame, as the play head moves, the old bitmap is discarded and the new frame needs to be rasterized again. This is the case even if the animation is a rotation or a position change.

GPU rendering is not the technique for such situations. Instead, load your MovieClip without adding it to the display list. Traverse through its timeline and copy each frame to a bitmap using the BitmapData.draw method. Then display one frame at a time using the BitmapData.copyPixels method.


Setting cacheAsBitmapMatrix to true does not affect the object’s interactivity. It still functions as it would in the traditional rendering model both for events and for function calls.

Multiple Rendering Techniques

On Android devices, you could use traditional rendering along with cacheAsBitmap and/ or cacheAsBitmapMatrix. Another technique is to convert your vector assets as bitmaps, in which case no caching is needed. The technique you use may vary from one application to the next.

Remember that caching is meant to be a solution for demanding rendering. It is helpful for games and certain types of animations (not for traditional timeline animation). If there is no display list conflict, as described earlier, caching all assets makes sense. There is no need to use caching for screen-based applications with fairly static UIs.

At the time of this writing, there seems to be a bug using filters on a noncached object while the GPU mode is set in the application descriptor (as in the example below). It should be fixed in a later release:


var sprite:Sprite = new Sprite();, 1);, 0, 200, 100);;
sprite.filters = [new DropShadowFilter(2, 45, 0x000000, 0.5, 6, 6, 1, 3)];


Maximum Texture Memory and Texture Size

The maximum texture size supported is 1,024×1,024 (it is 2,048×2,048 for iPhone and iPad). This dimension represents the size after transformation. The maximum memory is not part of the memory consumed by the application, and therefore is not accessible.

2.5D Objects

A 2.5D object is an object with an additional z property that allows for different types of transformation.

If an object has cacheAsBitmapMatrix on and a z property is added, the caching is lost. A 2.5D shape does not need cacheAsBitmapMatrix because it is always cached for motion, scaling, and rotation without any additional coding. But if its visibility is changed to false, it will no longer be cached.

How to Test the Efficiency of GPU Rendering

There are various ways to test application performance beyond the human eye and perception. Testing your frame rate is your best benchmark.

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