Combining displacement mapping methods on the GPU for real-time terrain visualization


Real-time terrain visualization plays an important role in multiple popular applications. In these applications, displacement mapping algorithms (both per-vertex and per-pixel methods) can be used to improve the accuracy and performance of terrain rendering. Per-vertex methods are usually implemented by means of hardware tessellation, and per-pixel techniques, such as parallax mapping, apply changes at the pixel level using the fragment shader. However, parallax mapping has not still been used in real-time terrain visualization applications due to different reasons. In this paper, we propose a comparison study of different combinations of per-vertex and per-pixel methods. The performance evaluation results reveal that any of the implemented schemes improve the performance of terrain rendering, with respect to the performance yielded by the exclusive use of hardware tessellation. These results validate the proposed schemes as efficient alternatives for real-time terrain visualization applications.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7
Fig. 8
Fig. 9
Fig. 10
Fig. 11
Fig. 12
Fig. 13


  1. 1.

    Cantlay I (2011) Directx 11 terrain tessellation. Nvidia whitepaper, p 8

  2. 2.

    Dick C, Krüger J, Westermann R (2009) GPU ray-casting for scalable terrain rendering. In: Proceedings of Eurographics (2009)

  3. 3.

    González C, Pérez M, Orduña JM (2016) A hybrid GPU technique for real-time terrain visualization. In: Proceedings of Computational and Mathematical Methods in Science and Engineering

  4. 4.

    Kaneko T, Takahei T, Inami M, Kawakami N, Yanagida Y, Maeda T, Tachi S (2001) Detailed shape representation with parallax mapping. Proc ICAT 2001:205–208

    Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Livny Y, Kogan Z, El-Sana J (2009) Seamless patches for GPU-based terrain rendering. Vis Comput 25(3):197–208. doi:10.1007/s00371-008-0214-3

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Livny Y, Sokolovsky N, Grinshpoun T, El-Sana J (2008) A GPU persistent grid mapping for terrain rendering. Vis Comput 24(2):139–153

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Microsoft I (2016) Flight simulator home page. Retrieved April 27, 2016 from

  8. 8.

    Okuyan E, Güdükbay U (2014) Direct volume rendering of unstructured tetrahedral meshes using CUDA and OpenMP. J Supercomput 67(2):324–344. doi:10.1007/s11227-013-1004-x

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Olanda R, Pérez M, Orduña JM, Rueda S (2014) Terrain data compression using wavelet-tiled pyramids for online 3D terrain visualization. Int J Geogr Inform Sci 28(2):407–425. doi:10.1080/13658816.2013.829920

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Olanda R, Pérez M, Orduña JM, Rueda S (2015) Improving hybrid distributed architectures for interactive terrain visualization. J Supercomput 1–12. doi:10.1007/s11227-015-1593-7

  11. 11.

    Pajarola R, Gobbetti E (2007) Survey of semi-regular multiresolution models for interactive terrain rendering. Vis Comput 23(8):583–605

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Schneider J, Westermann R (2006) GPU-friendly high-quality terrain rendering. J WSCG 14(1–3):49–56

    Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Square_Enix C (2015) Final fantasy XIV home page. Retrieved May 1, 2015 from

  14. 14.

    Szirmay-Kalos L, Umenhoffer T (2008) Displacement mapping on the GPU—state of the art. Comput Gr Forum 27(6):1567–1592

    Article  MATH  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Tran VT, Lee J, Kim D, Jeong YS (2015) Easy-to-use virtual brick manipulation techniques using hand gestures. J Supercomput 1–15 doi:10.1007/s11227-015-1588-4

  16. 16.

    Welsh T (2004) Parallax mapping with offset limiting: a perpixel approximation of uneven surfaces. Retrieved April 22, 2016 from (Accessed Jan 2004)

  17. 17.

    Zink J, Pettineo M, Hoxley J (2011) Practical rendering and computation with Direct3D 11. CRC Press, Boca Raton. An A. K. Peters book

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Juan M. Orduña.

Additional information

This work was supported by Spanish MINECO and EU FEDER funds under Grant TIN2015-66972-C5-5-R.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

González, C., Pérez, M. & Orduña, J.M. Combining displacement mapping methods on the GPU for real-time terrain visualization. J Supercomput 73, 402–413 (2017).

Download citation


  • Terrain visualization
  • Real-time rendering
  • GPU shaders