Better stock LV2 plugin UIs

Today I implemented better UI generation for LV2 plugin controls in Jalv, particularly grouping controls under headings which makes a big difference. Unfortunately few plugins group their controls currently, but hopefully more host support will provide the incentive to do so.

Other improvements:

  • Added a spinbutton to slider controls for precisely setting values numerically
  • Much more efficient layout to pack more controls on the screen at once
  • Support for named scale points (“ticks”) on non-enumeration ports

Here is the UI generated for Amsynth (after I added the necessary metadata):

Generic Jalv UI for Amsynth LV2

Still pretty utilitarian, but much more usable, which is the important thing. Of course, this plugin is quite large, and has a pretty good custom UI, but I happened to be polishing up its metadata anyway and the controls group nicely so I used it as my test case.

Maybe some day this code will get smarter and evolve into a library that can be used by other Gtk hosts. Better group layout is the obvious “next level” advancement, a flat linear list of controls is pretty limited. Unfortunately there’s no stock Gtk container which can do text-like reflow, which would be ideal. Perhaps a simpler scheme based on a maximum reasonable width for a controller would do, where the table will expand to have more columns if the window is wide enough for several.

Most of the metadata required to generate a good UI is also useful for other purposes, for example groups make building a decent menu of many controls feasible (e.g. to add automation lanes in Ardour), and some types of host UIs like a modular patcher inherently need to generate their own “UI” of sorts.

Good metadata is not at odds with custom UIs, they each have their uses, but it is important to remove the burden of custom UIs for simple plugins with just a few controls that really don’t need them. It’s a waste of that most precious of all resources – developer time – to have to code UIs for a few sliders and toggles. Hopefully better host generated UIs and support for more advanced controls like file selectors free up developers to spend more time making useful plugins and less time wrestling with GUI toolkits.

It is, after all, all about the sound.

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