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VC++ Example: Draw or display Real-time data plot Chart


Many Real Time applications need to display a simple plot with gauge versus time and update it on-line. All 3rd party charts and plots contains a large amount of fancy presentation options slowing down the plot and making them useless for Real Time purposes. I have even testet out some of the specialized Real Time plots in the market (those costing USD 1000++) and found these to be to slow.

A well designed Real Time plot must face several problems:

Memory usage.

A Real Time plot contains no data at the beginning, but will be feed with data typically once pr. second. It must be able to dynamically re-size its data storage and monitor its own memory usage. I will like to set up a limitation for each plot chart and a limitation for all plots to prevent my application from running out of memory. Circular lists should since its a fast way of 'rotating' oldes values out of the array. We can not use standard new and delete, they are far to slow, but will use malloc (realloc).

Data Collecting.

The plot must be able to collect data from high speed samling processes and update itself at a slower frequence. I will typically insert data to the plot 10 to 100 timer a second, but the plot should only update its display once a second to reduce the CPU stress to a minimum. I have shoosen to let the caller control this. The best way is to let a thread enter data as they are collected, and use a Timer to update the plot once pr. second. Updating the plot faster is possible, but this will limit the number of plots and stress the CPU.

Complex Line Types.

Windows supports dotted lines, but if you draw a dotted line with to many points it become a solid line. A solution to this is to collect line points in an array and use the PolyLine to draw the line. This preserves the line styles and is actually also a far faster drawing method.

Auto Scrolling.

The plot must be able to automatically scroll through time as new data comes in. Oldest data will be pushed out at the left side.

Individual Y Axis.

I would like to use both Y axis to display the range of a gauge. And I will like to select whitch Y axis to use for each serie of data.

Multiple Legends.

The plot should be able to display multiple legends indepent of each other and the data series. I will typically like to display pressure and temperature from 3 gauges. One legend should display the line styles (solid for pressure and dotted for temperature), while the other displays the color codes for the gauges. Both a primary and a secondary legend are prepared, but the current implementation will only use the primary one.

Plot Data.

Plot data should only be limited by memory or the limitation I have selected for my application. I will typically like to display lines containing 10000 points or more. This is implemented as a programmable option.

Data Series.

I will like to display a large number of series at the same time, but I accept a upper limitation of 50 data serier pr. plot to prevent the use of dynamic tables or linked list. This limitation can easily be increased.


The plot must be fast, very fast! I would typically like to display 20++ plots at the same time on an Pentium 150Mhz running Windows 95 or Windows NT. This is partly achieved by the use of PolyLine, one PolyLine call is after all far faster than 1000 LineTo. Another issue is collecting data for entire seconds to avoid updating the display several times pr. second. Malloc/realloc will be used for memory allocation since this is significantly faster than new/delete. The last trick is filtering. We will as we build the PolyLine array remove points on top of each other, this should reduce any line down to a max of 1000 points to be displayed.

The demo program has been tested on Windows NT (200Mhz) with more than 100 plots active simultaneously

Multi Threading.

The plot must support a multi threaded system. It should not require multiple threads since Windows 95/NT only is capable of running 100++ threads at the same time. But it must be possible to enter data into the plot from one thread and update it from another thread (typically CView::OnTimer). The best way is to accept that an user holding down a mouse will 'pause' the plot, rather than using threads for update. A RT application will most likely need the threads for far more important things. But this is up to the user to decide.

On-Line Zooming.

I will like to use the mouse to select a range and zoom in on this. This must be done without 'visual noice'. The plot typically have to preserve the select rectangle, update itself and redisplay the select rect. The grid lines must also change as I zoom in/out. Zooming are prepared, but not implemented in the current release.


I will like to select individual data points with my mouse. Typically with a cross or a vertical line as the mouse marker. This is also part of the design, but is not currently implemented.

Flicker Free.

The plot should be flicker free and scroll smoothly. The actual implementation is a copy send me by one of the users. I have ssuccessfully used CreateCompatibleDC before, but was experiencing problems with this on the NT until a user learned me the trick about overriding OnEreaseBk.

The current version was written as a case-studie to demonstrate and prove that this kind of performance was possible. It is a good demonstration of several important techniques used in Real Time plots.

Some work on the X axis must be done.

axis holds information for left and right Y axis.

timeaxis holds information for X-timeaxis.

legend holds information of each line in the legend.

serie holds information for each data serie (color, linestyle and data-array).

value is the data array.

clPlot is the CWnd derivated component and contains most of the plot source. The prefix 'cl' stands for Case Laboratories and has been used to avoid a possible naming conflict with all shose who uses the 'standard C' prefix.

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