Bloom on Windows Phone

Ok, silliness aside, is it possible to implement an efficient bloom effect on Windows Phone without custom shaders?

Bloom consists of three operations:

  1. Identify which parts of the image should be bloomed
  2. Blur those parts
  3. Combine blurred bloomy bits with the original image

There are many choices for how each operation should be implemented, the combination of which determines the visual result.  In the XNA bloom sample:

  1. Bright areas are identified by subtracting a threshold value, then scaling back up to preserve full color range: (value - threshold) / (1 - threshold)
  2. Blur is applied using a two pass separable Gaussian filter
  3. To avoid excessively bright areas, the final combine operation is: (base * (1 – bloom)) + bloom  (done in a pixel shader that also provides brightness and saturation adjustment for both images)

There is no good way to adjust saturation without shaders, but everything else in this design can be done with simple alpha blending operations:

using System;
using Microsoft.Xna.Framework;
using Microsoft.Xna.Framework.Graphics;

namespace BloomPostprocess
    public class BloomComponent : DrawableGameComponent
        // Adjust these values to change visual appearance.
        const float BloomThreshold = 0.25f;
        const float BloomIntensity = 1.5f;
        const int BlurPasses = 4;

        // result = source - destination
        static BlendState extractBrightColors = new BlendState
            ColorSourceBlend = Blend.One,
            AlphaSourceBlend = Blend.One,

            ColorDestinationBlend = Blend.One,
            AlphaDestinationBlend = Blend.One,

            ColorBlendFunction = BlendFunction.Subtract,
            AlphaBlendFunction = BlendFunction.Subtract,

        // result = source + destination
        static BlendState additiveBlur = new BlendState
            ColorSourceBlend = Blend.One,
            AlphaSourceBlend = Blend.One,

            ColorDestinationBlend = Blend.One,
            AlphaDestinationBlend = Blend.One,

        // result = source + (destination * (1 - source))
        static BlendState combineFinalResult = new BlendState
            ColorSourceBlend = Blend.One,
            AlphaSourceBlend = Blend.One,

            ColorDestinationBlend = Blend.InverseSourceColor,
            AlphaDestinationBlend = Blend.InverseSourceColor,

        SpriteBatch spriteBatch;

        RenderTarget2D scene;
        RenderTarget2D halfSize;
        RenderTarget2D quarterSize;
        RenderTarget2D quarterSize2;

        public BloomComponent(Game game)
            : base(game)
        { }

        protected override void LoadContent()
            spriteBatch = new SpriteBatch(GraphicsDevice);

            PresentationParameters pp = GraphicsDevice.PresentationParameters;

            int w = pp.BackBufferWidth;
            int h = pp.BackBufferHeight;

            scene = new RenderTarget2D(GraphicsDevice, w, h, false, pp.BackBufferFormat, pp.DepthStencilFormat, pp.MultiSampleCount, RenderTargetUsage.DiscardContents);
            halfSize = new RenderTarget2D(GraphicsDevice, w / 2, h / 2, false, pp.BackBufferFormat, DepthFormat.None);
            quarterSize = new RenderTarget2D(GraphicsDevice, w / 4, h / 4, false, pp.BackBufferFormat, DepthFormat.None);
            quarterSize2 = new RenderTarget2D(GraphicsDevice, w / 4, h / 4, false, pp.BackBufferFormat, DepthFormat.None);

        public void BeginDraw()
            if (Visible)

        public override void Draw(GameTime gameTime)
            // Shrink to half size.
            DrawSprite(scene, BlendState.Opaque);

            // Shrink again to quarter size, at the same time applying the threshold subtraction.
            GraphicsDevice.Clear(new Color(BloomThreshold, BloomThreshold, BloomThreshold));
            DrawSprite(halfSize, extractBrightColors);

            // Kawase blur filter (see
            for (int i = 0; i < BlurPasses; i++)

                int w = quarterSize.Width;
                int h = quarterSize.Height;

                float brightness = 0.25f;

                // On the first pass, scale brightness to restore full range after the threshold subtraction.
                if (i == 0)
                    brightness /= (1 - BloomThreshold);

                // On the final pass, apply tweakable intensity adjustment.
                if (i == BlurPasses - 1)
                    brightness *= BloomIntensity;

                Color tint = new Color(brightness, brightness, brightness);

                spriteBatch.Begin(0, additiveBlur);

                spriteBatch.Draw(quarterSize, new Vector2(0.5f, 0.5f), new Rectangle(i + 1, i + 1, w, h), tint);
                spriteBatch.Draw(quarterSize, new Vector2(0.5f, 0.5f), new Rectangle(-i, i + 1, w, h), tint);
                spriteBatch.Draw(quarterSize, new Vector2(0.5f, 0.5f), new Rectangle(i + 1, -i, w, h), tint);
                spriteBatch.Draw(quarterSize, new Vector2(0.5f, 0.5f), new Rectangle(-i, -i, w, h), tint);

                Swap(ref quarterSize, ref quarterSize2);

            // Combine the original scene and bloom images.
            DrawSprite(scene, BlendState.Opaque);
            DrawSprite(quarterSize, combineFinalResult);

        void DrawSprite(Texture2D source, BlendState blendState)
            spriteBatch.Begin(0, blendState);
            spriteBatch.Draw(source, GraphicsDevice.Viewport.Bounds, Color.White);

        static void Swap<T>(ref T a, ref T b)
            T tmp = a;
            a = b;
            b = tmp;


  • High quality blur filters can be expensive, so most bloom implementations do a cheap bilinear downsample to lower resolution before the ‘real’ blur.  The original XNA sample operates at half resolution, but in a nod to the limited bandwidth of mobile GPUs, I made this version shrink to quarter size.

  • It is possible to implement Gaussian blur (or indeed any multi-tap filter) as a series of additive and subtractive blends with suitable offsets, but that gets expensive for large filter kernels.  Instead I chose a Kawase blur (originally developed by Masaki Kawase for the Xbox1 game Wreckless), which cunningly exploits GPU bilinear filtering to get a not-quite-as-good-but-still-ok result more cheaply.

  • The threshold subtraction is perhaps the least intuitive operation.  We want (source - threshold), but the alpha blending hardware only gives us (source - destination).  So, we simply clear the destination rendertarget to our desired threshold value before drawing the source image!

  • There are two scaling operations in this bloom design: one to preserve full color range after the threshold subtraction, and a second after the blur to adjust intensity of the bloom.  For efficiency, I apply these adjustments during the first and last blur passes, getting them for free as a side effect of drawing work that was already taking place.

So how does it look?

With BloomThreshold = 0.25f,  BloomIntensity = 1.5f,  BlurPasses = 4:


With BloomThreshold = 0.5f,  BloomIntensity = 3,  BlurPasses = 6:


With BloomThreshold = 0,  BloomIntensity = 1.5f,  BlurPasses = 3:


Comments (6)

  1. nathan says:

    Wow. I was just googling this earlier today … and here I thought you were done helping me out.

  2. nameless says:

    you rock! that's amazing

  3. Pete Bones says:

    Thanks! This worked great! Only issue I've had is it now renders all my particles (alpha'd) on top of everything, but am looking at fixing this.

  4. Pete Bones says:

    Fixed! Added this just before rendering 3D:

    GraphicsDevice.DepthStencilState = DepthStencilState.Default;


  5. Pooya Eimandar says:

    Hi Shawn… I test your code on silverlight 5 and it is fantastic…thanks man.

    I have a question…how could i send textute2D value to silver light Effect…it seems that silverlight 5 does not support it.

    if not is there another way?

    somthing like this :

    Effect0.Parameters.SetValue(type of texture2D);

    Best Regards.

  6. I remembered seeing this post a while a back, and was curious to try it out now with some new projects. Shawn always provided great insight into the development and usage of XNA, which I'm sure many will sorely miss.

    Of course with the recent release of Windows Phone 8, I'll still be using the 7.1 SDK as my preferred environment for night and weekend game development. You can have my XNA when you pry it from my cold, dead hands! 🙂

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