Liner Notes
The FATpick Blog

If you experience audio distortion or jerky animation during game play, here are some things that might help.

Contents

Poor Audio Quality

While it's not exactly the focus of this post, if your primary symptom is that the audio sounds "bad" there are a couple of simple things to look at first, if only to eliminate some of the more mundane explanations for the problem.

  1. HIGH GAIN

    Just like your guitar or amplifier, FATpick's audio output can be distorted when you turn the volume up too high. There are a few overlapping volume settings to look at:

    • There is an independent volume slider for each track in the Track Mixer.

    • The combined track audio passes through a master volume control found under the "Output" section of the "Audio Settings" menu.

    • All of FATpick's audio passes through the operating-system level audio subsystem. You can usually find a output volume setting in your computer's "Audio" or "Sound" control panel.

    • Your speakers or headphones might also have some sort of volume control, like a physical dial or wheel.

    The audio might sound distorted if one or more of these layers is significantly amplifying the signal. Working top to bottom (track mixer to speaker), check the volume setting at each layer. Try to keep the slider toward the middle of the band and see if that helps.

  2. POOR INSTRUMENT CHOICES

    Most music composition software, digital audio workstations (DAWs) and synthesizers share a common list of instruments, defined by the MIDI standard. When you import a song into FATpick, each track is assigned one of these instrument based on the settings found in the input file.

    While this list of instruments is standardized it's more abstract than precise. The exact sound of a given instrument will vary from one app to another. Because of this, sometimes the instrument selected by the creator of a song that you import will sound quite different in FATpick than it did in whatever software was used to originally create the score. More generally, you might just find the sound of some instruments more pleasing or appropriate than others.

    Using the Track Mixer you can choose the virtual instrument that is used to "voice" each track. You may want to explore some of the alternative voicing to find the arrangement that sounds best to you.

Mitigating Performance Issues

A common cause of audio distortion - especially when coupled with stuttering/jerky animation or sluggish response from the application in general - is that the application is having trouble keeping up with the large number of tasks it needs to perform to smoothly render the audio and video. Usually this means there is too much demand for some of the computer's resources, typically the CPU or memory.

Should you encounter this there are a few things you can do to reduce demands put on your computer's hardware.

Outside the Application

Close Other Applications and Background Processes

Many programs actively consume your computer's resources whenever they are running, when in the background. And in addition to regular, end-user applications there can also be other services or processes running on your computer. Operations like automated backups, search indexing, anti-virus scans are extremely resource-intensive - and are often scheduled to occur during the same "off-hours" that many users are most likely to be using FATpick.

Try to eliminate as many external demands on your computer's resources as you can. Close any other applications that are running. Pause or disable any major background operations that may be adding load to your system.

Make Sure Your Laptop is Plugged In

Laptop computers behave differently when running on battery power. In order to maximize battery life, when your laptop is not plugged in by default it will switch to a "low power" mode that prioritizes energy efficiency over performance.

While in this battery-saving mode your computer's CPU will run slower than usual, and power-hungry performance features like dedicated graphics cards (GPUs) will be disabled.

Plug your laptop in, or at least disable power saving and switch to the high-performance mode to take full advantage of your computer's processing power.

Enable Hardware Acceleration

Most modern computers support something known as "hardware acceleration": the process of using dedicated hardware components to perform certain functions or computations more efficiently than they would otherwise run at the software layer. Hardware acceleration essentially offloads some processing from software running on a regular CPU to hardware components ("chips", "cards") that are specially designed for that purpose. For example, most modern computers include a graphics card or GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) that can dramatically decrease the latency of and increase the throughput for graphics rendering.

FATpick can take advantage of - and benefits greatly from - this sort of hardware acceleration when it is available.

Make sure that FATpick is running with hardware acceleration enabled. It is likely that FATpick will automatically run in a hardware-accelerated mode, assuming your laptop is plugged-in. But some computers run applications without hardware acceleration by default, even when it is available, or may not default to the most powerful GPU if more than one is available. This seems to be particularly common on the Windows platform.

When you run FATpick - especially on a Windows PC - make sure that hardware acceleration is enabled. See our support article Enabling Hardware Acceleration to Maximize Performance for detailed instructions on this topic.

Turn off Night Light / Night Shift

At night time the blue light cast by computer monitors can trick our brains into thinking it's day time, throwing off our circadian rhythm and making it more difficult to fall asleep. Your devices may have some type of "night mode" that automatically turns on in the evening (and automatically turns off in the morning) to mitigate this phenomenon. They work by shifting the colors displayed on your monitor toward the red end of the spectrum - making the colors on you screen warmer and eliminating the harsher blue light.

These services are useful, but come with a cost. This color-shifting can drain your battery and slow down your computer, especially the graphics rendering. If you're doing something performance-sensitive such as playing a game like FATpick it is best to pause or temporarily disable these services.

In Windows 10 this service is known as "Night Light". To disable it:

  1. Click the magnifying glass icon in the task bar and search for "Night light". This will call up a "hit" for the "Night light settings" component from your Windows Settings. Hit the "Open" button or just hit enter to open it.

  2. In the Night Light Settings panel you'll see a button that reads either "Turn off now" (if night-light-mode is active) or "Turn on now" (if it isn't). If it is running, turn it off. (You can also use that form disable or configure the schedule on which the service will come on automatically).

  3. You can now close the setting window.

You can repeat that process to later re-enable the Night Light service.

In Mac OS X this service is known as "Night Shift". To disable it:

  1. Open your Display settings from the OSX System Preferences. One quick way to get there is to hit cmd-space (to open Spotlight search) and search for "night light" or just "display". Click the "Displays" result (or just hit enter if it's the top result) to open it.

  2. In the Displays control panel click "Night Shift" to open the night shift tab.

  3. If the service is active, click the "Manual" checkbox to turn it off for now. (You can also use that form to disable or configure the schedule on which the service will come on automatically.)

  4. You can now close the System Preferences window.

Repeat those steps to later reenable the service.

For other systems you'll need to refer to your system documentation or a web search to find instructions on how to disable the red-shift mode. (Or just poke around in your system's equivalent of "Preferences" or "Control Panel" or "Settings". You can probably find it there.)

Note that on older systems, rather than being built-in to the OS this kind of functionality was provided by third-party software. The most popular of these (on both macOS and Windows PCs) was called f.lux. See the f.lux website for instruction on how to pause or disable their application.

Inside the Application

There are also a number of things you can do within FATpick itself to reduce load and improve the overall application performance. In fact, FATpick even does some of these things automatically, to a limited extent. But if you're reading this guide it's probably safe to assume that the automatic performance tuning hasn't sufficiently addressed the problem you're having.

In the following sections we discuss some of the more "computationally expensive" aspects of the application and things you can do to reduce the demands that FATpick makes of your computer's CPU and memory.

Gameplay Settings

You can customize the behavior and look-and-feel of the main tab player screen using the Gameplay Settings menu (Settings > Gameplay Settings). The options that are enabled on this screen can impact application performance, but some more than others.

Balancing performance cost and user-experience impact, here's a list of gameplay configuration options to review. Note that some of this options will not be visible until you enable "Show Advanced Options" in the General Settings menu.

  • Pitch Monitor - Disable this option. This is by far the most expensive "optional" feature to use.

  • Cover Art Backdrop - Consider disabling this option. For complex technical reasons this is a surprisingly expensive feature to enable. That's not to say the impact is enormous just that the impact is outsized relative to the value of the feature if you're having performance issues.

  • Input Monitor - Consider disabling this option. It's not actually that expensive to leave on, but it's not strictly necessary and doesn't have a direct impact on game play.

  • Graphics Quality - Reduce this setting as much as you comfortable. Most of the changes it effects are purely cosmetic but note that you might find that readability begins to suffer at the extreme low end of spectrum.

  • Zoom - The zoom level can have a major impact on your perception of the animation. Zooming in makes the notes move more quickly, which exaggerates the "jerkiness" of the animation, especially at low frame rates. Zoom out a bit and the notes will move much more smoothly.

    You may need to adjust this setting for the specific song or tab to get it "just right", but note that you can do this interactively. From the tab player itself you can use pinch/zoom gestures on your trackpad, a mouse wheel, or conventional keyboard shortcuts (+ or - while holding down the Ctrl, Cmd, Win logo key, or equivalent "meta" key) to zoom in or out - even while the player is running.

  • None of the remaining options will have a noticeable impact on performance but for the sake of completeness we'll mention them briefly.

    • Pulse Notes and Bounce Notes - Neither of these settings should have major impact on performance but for the record "Pulse Notes" is slightly more expensive than "Bounce Notes" and disabling both would be cheaper still.

    • Measure Breaks - The impact of displaying the measure breaks in the tablature is negligible. There's probably no measurable improvement from disabling this feature. But at least hypothetically it's more expensive to draw these lines that not to draw them, so if you don't care about them you might consider disabling them.

    • Performance Feedback - In practice there is little or no performance advantage to changing the feedback mode, but hypothetically less detail should be slightly faster than more detail. So "Early/Late" should be slower than "Hit/Miss" which should be slower that "None", at least in theory. But the impact is almost certainly too small to notice. I would not recommend changing this setting strictly for performance reasons.

    • Rainbow Strings - Hypothetically there is a very tiny overhead in changing colors of the "pen" used to render the tab lines, but it's so small and happens so infrequently this setting definitely doesn't impact the performance at all.

    • Playhead Position - The position of the playhead (the line that marks the "current" time on the tablature) doesn't even have a theoretical impact on the performance. It literally doesn't matter in this context.

Audio Analysis Settings

FATpick uses fairly sophisticated, proprietary algorithms to detect the pitch (key and octave) and timing (note onset and offset - basically when each note begins and ends) of each note that you play - and compares those findings to the original music you're playing along with in order to evaluate your performance and assign a score.

Not surprisingly, this is one of the more computationally intensive things that FATpick is doing during game play and may be a factor if you are experiencing performance issues. Hearing a lot of "pops" or static in the audio is a strong clue that the audio processing subsystem isn't able to keep up with the demand, although that can sometimes spill over into video artifacts as well.

If these are your primary symptoms then you may want to tune the audio analysis engine a bit for higher performance. Tread lightly - these changes have the potential to impact the accuracy or responsiveness of the algorithm - but if you've tried the less obtrusive options and the problems still persist there are some knobs you can turn to find a better balance between the fine-grained, low-latency evaluation response we strive for and the performance of the algorithm on your system.

To view these settings you must first enable the "Show Advanced Options" toggle found in General Settings. When this option is enabled you will immediately see some new features and controls - both on the General Settings form itself and sprinkled throughout the application. In particular the main Settings menu will now have a new option - Audio Analysis - that you can use to adjust some parameters of the pitch and onset detection algorithms. See below for discussion of the options available on that screen.

Audio Analysis: Input

In this section you'll find an expanded version of the input device configuration.

These input settings aren't especially relevant for performance tuning purposes. The Noise Control and Audio Gain Control options are more likely to add a very tiny bit to the time it takes for FATpick to receive the audio signal from the operating system or hardware. But that's latency, not throughput. It's not the problem we're trying to solve.

Audio Analysis: Analysis
  • Window Size - This setting controls the amount (duration) of audio that FATpick will analyze at one time. It does not control the frequency of that analysis, but rather the size of the "window" FATpick looks through when it performs that analysis.

    Making the window bigger - moving the slider to the right - will negatively impact performance. Making the window smaller - moving the slider to the left - will improve performance.

    The size of the window determines, among other things, the range of frequencies that the algorithm could possibly detect. It's hard to measure the length of a wave when we can't see all of it through our window, so if you make the window too small FATpick will have trouble detecting low frequency (large wavelength) sounds. But the other extreme isn't desirable either - at some point you're increasing the processing time but not improving the accuracy or useful range of the analysis.

    We recommend that you stick toward the center of the slider for this setting, but you can safely move it up or down a bit without negatively impacting the accuracy of the algorithm.

  • Min Signal and Min Flux - These settings determine the threshold level (volume) that the audio signal must before we attempt pitch and onset/offset detection, respectively. These could indirectly effect application performance, but the impact would be negligible. They aren't relevant for our purpose here.

  • Smoothing - This setting determined how aggressively FATpick will attempt to "smooth" the audio signal (to remove noise) before analysis is performed. More smoothing takes more processing, so increasing the value could hurt performance. Decreasing the value will make the processing more efficient, at the risk of noise in the signal interfering with note detection.

Audio Analysis: Restore Defaults

This button will revert all the settings on this screen back to the "factory settings". If you're afraid you've screwed up the analysis configuration, use it to get back to the default settings.

Live Test

Click this button to display a specialized chromatic tuner that can be used to test your analysis settings.

It also activates a couple of other instruments (gauges) that help you visualize how your settings impact the audio signal.

Song Considerations

You may have noticed that a song with a large number of tracks is more prone to performance problems than a song with, say 1 to 4 tracks. This is because the number of audio tracks being played has big impact on how hard the audio engine needs to work. So one workaround for performance problems to simply to play less complex arrangements - songs with fewer tracks overall.

But you can also reduce the load on the audio engine by silencing one or more tracks with the mute/solo buttons on the Track Mixer. When a track is muted (or excluded because another track is soloed) the corresponding audio stream is essentially disabled. The player can behave as if it doesn't exist. Muting some of the tracks in a song may have a noticeable impact on the audio performance (and indirectly, on the graphics as well).

Note that turning the volume slider all the way down isn't sufficient for this effect - nor is a track that is naturally mostly silent because it doesn't have many notes. The track must be silenced because of the mute and solo buttons.

Window Size

The size of the tablature view can also have an impact on the performance. Literally the more pixels we need to paint, the more expensive it is to render the animation. This is mostly relevant for users that display FATpick on an extremely large screen, but you could see some relief by resizing the application window to reduce the area of the tab view.

Track Selection

This isn't really an acceptable workaround for performance issues, but just for your information, tracks with higher "note density" are more expensive to render. That is, a rhythm guitar track with a lot of chords (multi-note beats) makes the app work a lot harder than a bass track with fewer, longer notes. This is true for both audio (active audio tracks) and video (the tab you are currently viewing), but this is bigger factor for graphics rendering.

If You're Still Having Problems

There are a few other knobs - including some that are hidden - that you could turn to fine-tune FATpick's performance and resource consumption, but list above is a pretty good start.

If after reviewing these tips you're still not able to consistently get acceptable performance from the app - or if you're disappointed with the compromises you had to make to achieve it - please contact the FATpick support team using this web form or the in-app feedback button. We want to know if you're encountering problems, and we may be able to help you resolve them.

FATpick
Also see more posts or tagged , , , or .
Or, go to the latest posts from the Liner Notes blog.