Inexpensive Monoprice Tablet

Back in April of 2014 I bought myself a birthday gift, a $50 digital drawing tablet from Monoprice. I read reviews stating that it worked well, and noted that Linux drivers existed thanks to the excellent DIGImend Project(old wiki here). The tablet as I later learned, is a rebranded Huion h610, and seems relatively well regarded. Compared to similarly priced Wacom tablets it was a great value. When it arrived, I expected to do some tinkering to get it working, but six months later I realized the magnitude of this undertaking. Following months of hard work attempting to get my Monoprice graphics tablet working well on Ubuntu 12.04, I had it mostly succeeded. (A dramatic recounting of this story will be told another time) Unfortunately for me, a bug in the X.org version 12.04 included forced me to either upgrade to a newer release or slowly descend into the hell that is maintaining complex software and its dependencies outside the package manager. Because I’m lazy I chose to upgrade to 14.04. The tablet is now reporting motion events in its full native resolution, pressure events are mostly correct, and even the buttons work. Unfortunately, though the key IDs reported are mind bogglingly stupid, such as Alt+F4, Ctrl+G, Ctrl+C with predictably annoying effects. I intend to address these issues in the coming months, but for the moment, I want to ensure the main feature, the pen and tablet, are functioning correctly. Before I dive into the problem and how I solved it, I want to explain the XRandR multi-monitor model. xrestrict itself directly mentions CRTCs and Screens, rather than intuitive end-user concepts like “Monitors” so it is useful to understand them.

XRandR Model

XRandR setups typically have a single object called a Screen, which is a virtual rectangular region in which windows exist. X11 may have multiple Screen objects, but long time X users will note that windows may not cross from one Screen to another, limiting the usefulness of having multiple X Screens. As a result, modern X11 configurations have this single virtual Screen. The Screen is then divided into one or more rectangular regions called CRTCs. These CRTCs are then displayed on zero or more outputs, which represent connections to monitors and may be rotated or scaled to display as the user desires.

XRandR Screen Model

XRandR’s model of the world.

Back to the Tablet

I was very nearly satisfied with my tablet’s functionality, with one significant caveat due to my multi-monitor setup. If I positioned my pen in the lower left of my tablet, the cursor appeared in the lower left corner of my left monitor. If I positioned my pen in the upper right of my tablet, the cursor appeared in the upper right of my right monitor. This is the obvious behavior for the tablet, and I initially didn’t think anything of it. There was one problem however, if I drew a circle on the tablet, it appeared as a wide oval on screen. The issue was in how tablet coordinates were being translated to screen coordinates. In the X axis, coordinates ranged from 0 to 40,000, which were then mapped to the entire width of my X screen. As I have a dual monitor setup, the width of my X screen is actually the sum of the width of my two monitors: 3280 pixels. In the Y axis however, 25,000 units on my tablet, was mapped to the y axis of my screen: 1050 pixels. The aspect ratio of my X screen was approximately 3:1, while the aspect ratio of my tablet is 16:10. Directly mapping one to the other without regard for aspect ratio produced a distortion of nearly 2:1 from tablet coordinates to on-screen coordinates. This distortion is why a perfect circle drawn on the tablet, even with a guide, appeared as an oval on screen.

To remedy this I needed to provide a different mapping. Handily, XInput2 devices provide just the thing, the “Coordinate Transformation Matrix” which alters the pointer coordinates. If you alter this “Coordinate Transformation Matrix”, you can introduce scaling, skew, rotation and translation to the coordinates calculated by X.org. I initially calculated a “Coordinate Transformation Matrix” using a simple Python script, to restrict the pointer to my right screen. This worked, though I found I still had significant difficulty drawing. I attribute this to the “Coordinate Transformation Matrix” still being imperfect. It mapped tablet coordinates 40000×25000 to my right screen which is 1600×900. Though much closer to the correct aspect ratio, it still caused approximately an 11% distortion, which I believe to be significant.

Default Naive Mapping of Pointer Coordinates

Default Mapping of Pointer Coordinates

Because I have two monitors, stretching the tablet’s limited resolution over my entire screen seemed wasteful, as it would reduce effective resolution in the X axis by half. Furthermore, regardless of 12.2x greater precision than the screen, I wasn’t certain of the accuracy of the tablet, and the jagged lines I was drawing made me wonder if the tablet’s position readings might be noisy/jittery. If this was the case, then stretching the axes two times would double the size of these inaccuracies (not to mention any inaccuracies my unskilled hand might have). So I decided that I should instead restrict the tablet’s range to simply cover one of my monitors. But this introduced the problem that should I ever want to switch monitors, it would be quite a pain (the name xrestrict describes this behavior, though it may be used to cover an area larger than the X Screen now). I would have to recalculate this matrix, which I had by now realized was more complicated than simply chopping the screen up. I could rather trivially calculate these two matrices myself and store them somewhere, but it occurred to me that others may have similar issues, and resolved to make a reusable utility. This decision was re-enforced by the thought that this problem likely affects more people than myself. In fact, my hasty dump to github and this blog post are a direct result of discovering others with similar problems to mine, and a hope that xrestrict could help them.

Enter xrestrict

xrestrict‘s core functionality is to calculate the correct “Coordinate Transformation Matrix” to map a tablet device’s effective area to a portion of your screen without distortion. Originally, xrestrict needed to be told the XID of the pointer device. From there it discovers the X and Y axis bounds of that pointer device. It also discovers the size of the X Screen, which may be larger than any single monitor on multi-monitor systems. In fact, typically it is large enough to contain all monitors side by side, except when monitors are mirrored. I want to ensure it’s useful for as many people as possible, regardless of linux experience.

Improved Scaling With xrestrict Preserving Aspect Ratio

Basic Usage

The current recommended usage is to invoke

xrestrict -I 

This will prompt you to use your tablet device to select the CRTC you wish to restrict your tablet to. Use your tablet cursor to click somewhere on the screen on the monitor you want to use.

Alternatively, if you want your tablet to be able to access all monitors, but you want to correct the aspect ratio, you can invoke

xrestrict -I --full 

This will “restrict” you tablet to the entire virtual X Screen. The only downside to this is, unless your tablet’s aspect ratio matches your Screen’s aspect (in which case you never needed xrestrict to begin with!) some portion of your tablet’s surface will be mapped to portions of the Screen which are not displayed on any monitor. This means that portions of your tablet will be effectively useless. If you want to avoid this there are alternative options to control how your tablet’s surface is mapped. View xrestrict’s usage for more information.

Pending Problems

Due to feature “creep”, xrestrict is no longer a descriptive name, as it does more than restrict a tablet device to a particular monitor. I’d hate to keep a non-descriptive name like that for historical reasons when that “history” is only a few weeks old. The hid-huion drivers also report having an X rotational axis and a Z axis, which causes a small amount of confusion for X clients. Gimp, for instance, seems blissfully unaware that X tells it specifically what axis is the pressure axis, and instead uses a numbering scheme. This scheme causes one of the mis-reported axes (Z if I remember correctly) to be mapped to pressure for Gimp’s paint tool by default. I suppose this is a Gimp bug as the information describing the type of each axis is available, but my tablet also shouldn’t be reporting it has axes it actually doesn’t. For the time being I’ve worked around this by configuring the tablet in Gimp, which allowed me to easily remap the correct axis to pressure. At some point I may explore correcting this in the kernel driver, but I’m not particularly comfortable making modifications which “work for me” on my hardware, on a driver which is intended to be generic for Huion tablets. I don’t have the hardware to test it on all possible combinations, though perhaps through the DIGImend project I can get some regression testing.

The hid-huion drivers I modified still report painfully stupid buttons. I can either remap them in X.org, or attempt to remap them using udev’s hwdb. For now I’m planning to use hwdb so it can potentially be compatible with Wayland in the future. My tablet appears as three identically named devices in X.org, which makes it difficult for the user to identify the correct device id at a glance. For this reason, requiring the user to find the XID of their tablet is a poor user interface (even for a command line application!). Between my initial draft of this article and its publishing, I’ve added the “interactive” mode to xrestrict, which eliminates the need to discover the XID manually. Another user friendly feature I want is to provide a persistent identifier to the user’s tablet device. By providing the identifier, the user could for instance use interactive discovery once to determine their tablet, and from then on have a small button which invokes xrestrict --device-id-file=~/.config/xrestrict/mytablet which automagically restricts their tablet to CRTC 0.

Links

  1. xrestrict
  2. DIGImend Project
  3. DIGImend Old Wiki
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Inexpensive Monoprice Tablet