HDMA Examples

SNES programming tutorial. Example 11.



HDMA is a way to write to PPU registers while the screen is drawing. You can change values at specific scanlines, to create unique effects.

The H is for H-Blank. Remember before, when we talked about V-blank (vertical blank), where the PPU isn’t doing anything for a short while after drawing each screen? Well, it also pauses a VERY SHORT time after drawing each horizontal line. Just long enough for the 8 HDMA channels to quickly change a register or send data, before the screen goes to write the next line.

They work in order, 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8. They can all write 1 thing (1,2 or 4 bytes) per line. Or you can set them to wait a specific number of lines before changing a value.

HDMA uses the same registers as the DMA registers, and you shouldn’t use both at the same time. You should write zero to HDMA enable ($420c) before performing a DMA. Because the oldest revision of the SNES has a bug where it can crash if they both happen at the same time.

Here’s an interesting video on DMA and HDMA.



Here’s some things you can do with HDMA.

Changing the BG color with HDMA, to create a color gradient.



Changing the Window (there are 2 windows) with HDMA, to block off portions of the screen. The windows have left and right registers, which need to be written every scanline to create these shapes.

Super Mario World (USA)_000

Super Mario World (USA)_003

Mode 7 parameters. (lots of registers to change hundreds of times a frame).



How HDMA works


(for this link, scroll down to 43×0)

When you look at the HDMA registers, it looks like you need to put MORE values than a DMA (DMA uses 4300-4305 for channel 0 and HDMA uses 4300-430a)… but you actually write LESS values. Let’s go over them briefly, then in detail. For channel 0.

4300 – yes
4301 – yes
4302-4 – yes
4305-6 – no
4307 – yes, only if using Indirect Mode.
4308-a – no

4300 - Control Register. da---ttt

D=direction, probably want 0, from CPU to PPU.

A=HDMA mode. 0 for direct, 1 for indirect. More on this later.

TTT = transfer mode, which will vary by which register we use.

000 => 1 register write once (1 byte: p)
001 => 2 registers write once (2 bytes: p, p+1)
010 => 1 register write twice (2 bytes: p, p)
011 => 2 registers write twice each (4 bytes: p, p, p+1, p+1)
100 => 4 registers write once (4 bytes: p, p+1, p+2, p+3)
101 => 2 registers write twice alternate (4 bytes: p, p+1, p, p+1)
110 => 1 register write twice (2 bytes: p, p)
111 => 2 registers write twice each (4 bytes: p, p, p+1, p+1)

4301 – the PPU destination register. 21xx. So if you write $22 here, the HDMA will write to the $2122, the CGRAM Data Register.

4302-4 – the address of the HDMA table. 2=low, 3=middle, 4=upper/bank #.

4307 – if using Indirect HDMA, this is the bank # of the Indirect Addresses.

Anything marked “no”, don’t touch them. They are used by the HDMA hardware.

Then you write the channel (bitfield, each bit represents a channel, 1 for ch0, 2 for ch1, 4 for ch2, 8 for ch3, etc) to $420c, the HDMA enable register. Presumably, you would do this each frame during v-blank.


OK, so we are pointing the HDMA registers to a table (byte array). For a direct mode, the table would be a scanline count, then (depending on the TTT mode) 1,2, or 4 bytes to be written. Then another scanline count, then more bytes. Scanline count, bytes. Scanline count, bytes. Etc, until it sees a zero in the scanline count slot. From my own examples…

.byte 32, $0f
.byte 32, $1f
.byte 32, $2f
.byte 32, $4f
.byte 32, $6f
.byte 32, $9f
.byte 32, $ff
.byte 0 ;end

That reads 32 lines, value $0f. 32 lines, value $1f. 32 lines… etc down to the terminating 0. One interesting thing is that the $0f is written immediately at the very top of the screen. THEN it waits 32 lines.

Here’s another example, when the transfer mode is “1 register write twice”.

.byte 10, 0, 0
.byte 10, 1, 0
.byte 10, 2, 0
.byte 10, 3, 0
.byte 10, 4, 0
.byte 10, 5, 0
.byte 10, 6, 0
.byte 10, 7, 0
.byte 10, 8, 0
.byte 10, 9, 0
.byte 0 ;end

10 is the scanline count. Then 2 bytes to write. Then 10 scanline count. Then 2 bytes. Etc.

Indirect Mode

43×0 register, we can set it to Indirect. Only with indirect do you need to write to 43×7, the bank of the indirect address. The table will always be sets of 3s. First the scanline count, then an indirect address (ie. pointer) to where our data is. I wrote the HDMA table like this…

.byte 8
.addr $1000
.byte 8
.addr $1002
.byte 8
.addr $1004
.byte 8
.addr $1006
.byte 8
.addr $1008
.byte 0 ;end

The .addr directive outputs a 16 bit value, low byte then high byte. I think you could have also used the .word directive. So, 8 is the scanline count, then an indirect address. Our bank byte is $7e, so the first one points to WRAM $7e1000. The second one points to $7e1002. Etc.

One of the advantages of the indirect system is that you can have a repeated pattern that changes.

I had copied the Indirect Table to $7e1000. It looks like this.

.byte 0, 0
.byte 3, 0
.byte 6, 0
.byte 7, 0
.byte 8, 0
.byte 7, 0
.byte 6, 0
.byte 3, 0
.byte 0, 0
.byte $fd, 0
.byte $fa, 0
.byte $f9, 0
.byte $f8, 0
.byte $f9, 0
.byte $fa, 0
.byte $fd, 0
.byte 0,0

All of these are values to be written with HDMA to a PPU register. In this case, a horizontal scroll register, which is write twice (low then high bytes).

This is example 3. I am also shuffling these values every 4 frames, which causes the movement of the the sine wave.


Example Code

No effect. HDMA is turned off by writing zero to $420c.



Example 1. Changing the BG color.

I’m actually setting up 2 separate HDMA transfers. First to set the CG address to zero. Second to write 2 bytes to change the #0 color. You have to rewrite the address each time, because it auto-increments when writing a color.

stz $4300 ;1 register, write once
lda #$21 ;pal_addr
sta $4301 ;destination
ldx #.loword(H_TABLE1)
stx $4302 ;address
lda #^H_TABLE1
sta $4304 ;address

lda #2
sta $4310 ;1 register, write twice
lda #$22 ;pal_data
sta $4311 ;destination
ldx #.loword(H_TABLE2)
stx $4312 ;address
lda #^H_TABLE2
sta $4314 ;address

lda #3 ;channels 1 and 2
sta hdma_enable ;$420c

And we have 2 HDMA tables (see the example code). Each time we are waiting 10 scanlines between changes. Each time, adding a little more red.

On a side note, you could set this up as a single HDMA channel. With a “2 registers write twice each” mode. You would be doing double writes to the CG address, and you would need 4 bytes after each scanline count.



Example 2. Changing window 1 left and right positions.

A window punches a hole in one or more layer. There are 2 windows, but we only need 1 for this example. The only parameters you can set are left and right (and inverse, and combinations with the other window). But with HDMA, you can adjust the window parameters as the screen draws, and draw a shape. Circle shapes are very popular.

If the left position is > than the right position, the window will not appear. That is what we are doing for the top and the bottom of the screen. You also have to tell it which layers are affected with the $212e (window for main screen) and with the $2123-5 registers.

I’m using 2 HDMA channels, and writing 1 byte to 1 register. To 2126 and 2127.

(Again this could have been done with 1 channel with a 2 register transfer mode).

This example shows the Multi Single Scanline feature. If the scanline count is >128 (not including 128), it signals a series of single scanline writes. You can omit the scanline count for a number of lines (ie. subtract 128 from the scanline count number).

.byte 60, $ff ;first we wait 60 scanlines
.byte $c0 ;192-128 = 64 lines of single entries
.byte $7f ;1st write value
.byte $7e ;2nd write value
.byte $7d ;3rd write value
.byte $7c ;4th write value
...etc...64 lines.
.byte 0 ;end

It waits 1 scanline between each write.

Each line, I am moving the left position and right position further apart, and then closer together, which forms a diamond shape.



Example 3. Changing BG1 horizontal scrolling position.

This was already discussed above, in the Indirect Mode section. We are using a sine wave pattern to create a wave in the picture, writing twice to 1 register, the horizontal scroll of BG1.

I wanted to include at least 1 example of indirect mode. I copied the value table to the RAM, so I was able to change the values to make the pattern move. See the Shuffle_f3 function in the HMDA3.asm file. The table of Indirect Addresses points to the RAM where our actual values are stored.

This example would have been even nicer if we wrote new values every scanline. Currently, we are only changing values every 8 scanlines (to make the table simpler / smaller). Maybe even every 2 scanlines would have been enough.



Example 4. Changing the Mosaic filter.

This is the simplest example. A single write to a single register. I haven’t discussed the Mosaic filter before, $2106 . The upper nibble is the mosaic amount (0 = normal, 1 = 2×2, etc up to $f = 16×16), and the lower nibble says which layers are affected. Sprites are never affected.

stz $4300 ;1 register, write once
lda #$06 ;mosaic
sta $4301 ;destination
ldx #.loword(H_TABLE6)
stx $4302 ;address
lda #^H_TABLE6
sta $4304 ;address

lda #1 ;channel 1
sta hdma_enable ;$420c

It waits 32 lines before increasing the mosaic value. There are bigger squares at the bottom. You probably wouldn’t use this exact HDMA effect in a game, but it is just an example of what is possible. You can change so many settings, even the BG mode $2105, which layers are active, change the location of a tilemap or tileset. I think you can even write new data to the VRAM (a little bit at a time).


Here’s a YouTube video of these examples.



Because HDMA settings need to be rewritten every frame, this code example would break in a lag frame… like if our game logic ran so long that it took 2 frames to complete one loop. You would have half of the frames missing the HDMA effect.

Therefore, you should put HDMA code inside the NMI code. NMI code is guaranteed to execute every frame, during v-blank. You should also put your DMA code here (copying bytes to the VRAM or OAM). Some games have very elaborate NMI code. I don’t currently have a proper example with HDMA in the NMI code. I’ll put that on my TODO list.






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