Oct 15

GStreamer Conference 2015

Last October 8th and 9th, the GStreamer Conference 2015 had happened in Dublin. It was plenty of interesting talks and colleagues. I really enjoyed it.

I participated with our latest work in gstreamer-vaapi.  You can glance the slides of my talk.

GStreamer VA-API talk

By the way, if you are in Dublin, let me recommend you to visit the Chester Beatty Library. There are a lot of antique, beautiful and rare books

Jul 15

GStreamer VA-API: A new release!

A new release of gstreamer-vaapi is now available!! Since we have been working on it for the last months,  I would like talk you about it.

gstreamer-vaapi is a set of GStreamer plugins and libraries for hardware accelerated video processing using VA-API.

VA-API stands for “Video Acceleration – Application Programming Interface”, and is, simultaneously, a specification of an application programming interface, and its library implementation under the Open Source MIT license, whose purpose is to offer applications access to the GPU accelerated video processing capabilities, offloading those tasks from the CPU. Accelerated processing includes video decoding, sub-picture blending and rendering.

The library implementation (libva) is designed to be a front-end for many different back-ends. I am aware only of these back-ends:

As you can notice, only the Intel driver is well maintained, meanwhile the others haven’t been updated since several years ago. And of course, this issue has impacted on the bugs handled in gstreamer-vaapi (for example, bug #749554).

VA-API is designed to use various entry-points of the hardware accelerated processing in the GPU driver, such as VLD (also known as slice level acceleration), iDCT, among others.

The fact that VA-API uses slice level decode is important, since it is different from the software-based video decoders, were the decoding is at frame level. As consequence, more information is required from the current video parsers (bug #691712).

But let us back on track. VA-API, as we already said, is a set of GStreamer elements (vaapidecode, vaapipostroc, vaapisink, and several encoders) and a GObject-friendly library named libgstvaapi. This library wraps libva under a GObject/GStreamer semantics. I might talk about this library in another opportunity.

vaapisink is video sink with support for multiple display server protocols:

UPDATE (2015/07/20): As Sree commented, vaapisink does not use GLX/EGL for rendering, it uses VA-API, but rather vaapidecode/vaapipostproc can deal with GLX/EGL contexts so they can share buffers with other OpenGL-based elements.

This element is the most efficient way to render the video processed by other VA-API elements such as decoders and post-processors, since no media transformations are required. If we want to render the stream in other video sinks, some extra operations might be necessary. The worst case scenario is where we need to download the whole image from the GPU memory onto the CPU one, and the overall performance of the pipeline might be impacted.

vaapidecode is single decoding element that handles several codecs, depending on the back-end and the hardware available. The comprehensive list of possible enabled codecs is:

  • MPEG-2 (simple and main profiles)
  • MPEG-4 (simple, main and advance-simple profiles) / DivX / Xvid
  • H263 (baseline profiles)
  • H264 (baseline, constrained-baseline, main, high, multiview-high and stereo-high profiles)
  • H265 (main and main10)
  • WMV3 (simple and main profiles) / VC1
  • VP8 (version 0.3)
  • JPEG (baseline profile)

In the particular case of Intel chip-sets, the next table shows the codec support per each generation:

Skylake Y Y Y Y Y Y
Cherry View Y Y Y Y Y Y
Broadwell Y Y Y Y
Haswell Y Y Y Y
Ivybridge Y Y Y Y
Sandybridge Y Y Y
Ironlake Y Y
G4x Y

In the case of H264, there are multiple profiles, and every chip-set offers different profile sets. But for now, I will not dig in more on it.

In other back-ends the support shall be different. For example, I have a box with an GPU NVidia GeForce GT which supports MPEG2, MPEG4, H264 and VC1.

There is a branch for G45 GPU, where H264 decoding support is added. Nevertheless, is not official, it doesn’t merge with current master anymore, and the supported output color space is NV12 only (bug #745660).

An interesting thing to know is because of the slice level decoding, gstreamer-vaapi does its own parsing inside the decoder, even if a video parser was plugged before.

vaapipostproc is a video transform element which can do color space conversions, de-interlacing, sharpening and many other types of video filtering, such as:

  • Color conversion
  • Resize / Scale
  • Noise reduction
  • De-interlacing
  • Sharpening
  • Color Balance
  • Skin tone enhancement

Also, the availability of this elements and its filters, depends on the back-end and the hardware. For example, the VDPAU back-end doesn’t provide any post-processing capability.

In the case of Intel’s chip-sets these are the provided post-processing capabilities:

CHIPSET Format Noise Deinterlace Sharp C.B. STE
Skylake Y Y Y Y Y Y
Cherry View Y Y Y Y Y Y
Broadwell Y Y Y Y Y Y
Haswell Y Y Y Y Y Y
Ivybridge Y Y Y
Sandybridge Y Y Y
Ironlake Y

In the case of the video encoders, they are split in different elements. Those implemented in gstreamer-vaapi are:

  • vaapiencode_mpeg2
  • vaapiencode_h264
  • vaapiencode_h265
  • vaapiencode_vp8
  • vaapiencode_jpeg

As far as I know, the only VA-API back-end that provides encoder is the Intel one, and this is the table of the encoders per chip-set:

Skylake Y Y Y Y Y
Cherry View Y Y Y
Broadwell Y Y
Haswell Y Y
Ivybridge Y Y
Sandybridge Y

vaapidecodebin is a new bin composed by vaapidecode a queue and vaapipostproc. Its purpose is bundle a complete decoding solution, with de-interlacing support. The purpose of the queue is to set the decoder to its full speed. The problem is, that since each back-end and chip-set might or might not support vaapipostproc we have to check for it in run-time (bug #749554).

|                     vaapidecodebin                    |
|   (-------------)    (-------)    (---------------)   |
|-->| vaapidecode |--->| queue |--->| vaapipostproc |-->|
|   (-------------)    (-------)    (---------------)   |
|                                                       |

In my opinion, this should be just a temporal workaround meanwhile we have auto-plugging support of de-interlacers (bug #687182).

So far we have explained what is GStreamer VA-API. Let us now talk about what is new and hot in this release.

This is the short log summary since the last release, 0.5.10:

 1  Adrian Cox
 2  Alban Browaeys
30  Gwenole Beauchesne
 1  Jacobo Aragunde Pérez
 2  Jan Schmidt
 1  Julien Isorce
 1  Lim Siew Hoon
 1  Martin Sherburn
 4  Michael Olbrich
12  Olivier Crete
 3  Simon Farnsworth
74  Sreerenj Balachandran
75  Víctor Manuel Jáquez Leal
 1  Wind Yuan

The major changes in this release includes:

  • HEVC (H265) decoding and encoding support (available only in Skylake and Cherry View chip-sets)
  • VP8 encoder (Skylake)
  • JPEG encoder (Skylake and Cherry View)
  • vaapidecodebin element, which we have talked about above.
  • Support for EGL either in vaapidecode, vaapipostproc and vaapisink.
  • Skin tone enhancement support in vaapipostproc
  • Support for H.264 Multiview High profile encoding with more than 2 views, which encompasses Jan Schmidt’s efforts for stereoscopic / multi-view support in GStreamer (bug #611157)
  • A lot of improvements and round rough corners all over the place. Only to mention that we closed more than 70 bug reports along this cycle

Now, please test this new release, enjoy it, and if you find something ugly, let us known!!!

Mar 15

GStreamer Hackfest 2015

Last weekend was the GStreamer Hackfest in Staines, UK, in the Samsung’s premises, who also sponsored the dinners and the lunches. Special thanks to Luis de Bethencourt, the almighty organizer!

My main purpose was to sip one or two pints with the GStreamer folks and, secondarily, to talk about gstreamer-vaapi, WebKitGTK+ and the new OpenGL/ES support in gst-plugins-bad.


About gstreamer-vaapi, there were a couple questions about some problems shown in downstream (stable releases in distributions) which I was happy to announce that they are mostly fixed in upstream. On the other hand, Sebastian Drödge was worried about the existing support of GStreamer 0.10 and I answered him that its removal is already in the pipeline. He looked pleased.

Related with gstreamer-vaapi and the new GstGL, we tested and merged a patch for GLES2/EGL, so now it is possible to render VA-API decoded video through glimagesink with (nearly) zero-copy. Sadly, this is not currently possible using GLX. Along the way I found a silly bug that came from a previous patch of mine and fixed it; also, we fixed other small bug in the gluploader .

In the WebKitGTK+ realm, I worked on a new functionality: to share the OpenGL context and the display of the browser with the GStreamer pipeline. With it, we could add gl filters into the pipeline. But honour to whom honour is due: this patch is a split of a previous patch done by Philippe Normand. The ultimate goal is to ditch the custom video sink in WebKit and reuse the glimagesink, with it’s new off-screen rendering feature.

Finally, on Sunday’s afternoon, I walked around Richmond and it is beautiful.


Thanks to Igalia, Intel and all the sponsors  that make possible the hackfest and my attendance.

Mar 14


I spent a week in Munich. I went there for two reasons: to attend the Web & TV workshop organized by the W3C and to hack along with the gst-gang in the GStreamer Hackfest 2014. All these sponsored by Igalia, my company.

I arrived to Munich on Tuesday evening, and when I reached the Marienplatz metro station, I ran across with a crowd of Bayern Munich fans, chanting songs about the glory of their team, huddling and dancing. And a lot of police officers surrounding the tracks.

The workshop was organized by the W3C Web and TV Interest Group, and intended to spark discussions around how to integrate and standardize TV technologies and the Web.

The first slide of the workshop

The first slide of the workshop

On Wednesday morning, the workshop began. People from Espial and Samsung talked about HbbTV, and japanese broadcasters talked about their Hybridcast. Both technologies seek to enhance the television experience, using the Internet Protocols, the first for Europe, and the former for Japan. Also, broadcasters from Chine showed their approach using ad-hoc technologies. I have to say that Hybricast awed me.


Afterwards, most of the workshop was around the problem of the companion device. People showed their solutions and proposals, in particular about device discovering, and data sharing and control. All the solutions relied on WebSockets and WebRTC for the data sharing between devices.


During the panels, I enjoyed a lot the participation of Jon Piesing, in particular his slide summarizing the specifications used by the HbbTV V2. It’s like juggling specs!

Specifications used by HbbTV V2

Specifications used by HbbTV V2

Broadcaster are very interested in Encrypted Media Extension and Media APIs, for example the specification for a Tuner API. Also there’s a lot of expectation about meta-data handling and defining common TV ontologies.

Finally, there were a couple talks about miscellaneous technologies surrounding the IPTV broadcasting.

The second stage of my visit to Bavaria’s Capital, was the GStreamer Hackfest. It was in the Google Offices, near to the Marienplatz.

Christan Schaller has made a very good summary of what appened along the hackfest. From my side, I worked with Nicolas Dufresne with the v4l2 video converter for the Exynos4, which is a piece required for the hardware acceleration decoding for that platform using v4l2 video decoder.

Jul 13

Composited video support in WebKitGTK+

A couple months ago we started to work on adding support for composited video in WebKitGTK+. The objective is to play video in WebKitGTK+ using the hardware accelerated path, so we could play videos at high definition resolutions (1080p).

How does WebKit paint?

Basically we can perceive a browser as an application for retrieving, presenting and traversing information on the Web.

For the composited video support, we are interested in the presentation task of the browser. More particularly, in the graphical presentation.

In WebKit, each HTML element on a web page is stored as a tree of Node objects called the DOM tree.

Then, each Node that produces visual output has a corresponding RenderObject, and they are stored in another tree, called the Render Tree.

Finally, each RenderObject is associated with a RenderLayer. These RenderLayers exist so that the elements of the page are composited in the correct order to properly display overlapping content, semi-transparent elements, etc.

It is worth to mention that there is not a one-to-one correspondence between RenderObjects and RenderLayers, and that there is a RenderLayer tree as well.

Render Trees in WebKit

Render Trees in WebKit (from GPU Accelerated Compositing in Chrome).

WebKit fundamentally renders a web page by traversing the RenderLayer tree.

What is the accelerated compositing?

WebKit has two paths for rendering the contents of a web page: the software path and hardware accelerated path.

The software path is the traditional model, where all the work is done in the main CPU. In this mode, RenderObjects paint themselves into the final bitmap, compositing a final layer which is presented to the user.

In the hardware accelerated path, some of the RenderLayers get their own backing surface into which they paint. Then, all the backing surfaces are composited onto the destination bitmap, and this task is responsibility of the compositor.

With the introduction of compositing an additional conceptual tree is added: the GraphicsLayer tree, where each RenderLayer may have its own GraphicsLayer.

In the hardware accelerated path, it is used the GPU for compositing some of the RenderLayer contents.

Accelerated Compositing in WebKit

Accelerated Compositing in WebKit (from Hardware Acceleration in WebKit).

As Iago said, the accelerated compositing, involves offloading the compositing of the GraphicLayers onto the GPU, since it does the compositing very fast, releasing that burden to the CPU for delivering a better and more responsive user experience.

Although there are other options, typically, OpenGL is used to render computing graphics, interacting with the GPU to achieve hardware acceleration. And WebKit provides cross-platform implementation to render with

How does WebKit paint using OpenGL?

Ideally, we could go from the GraphicsLayer tree directly to OpenGL, traversing it and drawing the texture-backed layers with a common WebKit implementation.

But an abstraction layer was needed because different GPUs may behave differently, they may offer different extensions, and we still want to use the software path if hardware acceleration is not available.

This abstraction layer is known as the Texture Mapper, which is a light-weight scene-graph implementation, which is specially attuned for an efficient usage of the GPU.

It is a combination of a specialized accelerated drawing context (TextureMapper) and a scene-graph (TextureMapperLayer):

The TextureMapper is an abstract class that provides the necessary drawing primitives for the scene-graph. Its purpose is to abstract different implementations of the drawing primitives from the scene-graph.

One of the implementations is the TextureMapperGL, which provides a GPU-accelerated implementation of the drawing primitives, using shaders compatible with GL/ES 2.0.

There is a TextureMapperLayer which may represent a GraphicsLayer node in the GPU-renderable layer tree. The TextureMapperLayer tree is equivalent to the GraphicsLayer tree.

How does WebKitGTK+ play a video?

As we stated earlier, in WebKit each HTML element, on a web page, is stored as a Node in the DOM tree. And WebKit provides a Node class hierarchy for all the HTML elements. In the case of the video tag there is a parent class called HTMLMediaElement, which aggregates a common, cross platform, media player. The MediaPlayer is a decorator for a platform-specific media player known as MediaPlayerPrivate.

All previously said is shown in the next diagram.

Video in WebKit

Video in WebKit. Three layers from top to bottom

In the GTK+ port the audio and video decoding is done with GStreamer. In the case of video, a special GStreamer video sink injects the decoded buffers into the WebKit process. You can think about it as a special kind of GstAppSink, and it is part of the WebKitGTK+ code-base.

And we come back to the two paths for content rendering in WebKit:

In the software path the decoded video buffers are copied into a Cairo surface.

But in the hardware accelerated path, the decoded video buffers shall be uploaded into a OpenGL texture. When a new video buffer is available to be shown, a message is sent to the GraphicsLayer asking for redraw.

Uploading video buffers into GL textures

When we are dealing with big enough buffers, such as the high definition video buffers, copying buffers is a performance killer. That is why zero-copy techniques are mandatory.

Even more, when we are working on a multi-processor environment, such as those where we have a CPU and a GPU, switching buffers among processor’s contexts, is also very expensive.

It is because of these reasons, that the video decoding and the OpenGL texture handling, should happen only in the GPU, without context switching and without copying memory chunks.

The simplest approach could be that decoder deliver an EGLImage, so we could blend the handle into the texture. As far as I know, the gst-omx video decoder in the Raspberry Pi, works in this way.

GStreamer added a new API, that will be available in the version 1.2, to upload video buffers into a texture efficiently: GstVideoGLTextureUploadMeta. This API is exposed through buffer’s metadata, and ought be implemented by any downstream element that deals with the decoded video frames, most commonly the video decoder.

For example, in gstreamer-vaapi there are a couple patches (which still are a work-in-progress) in bugzilla, enabling this API. In the low level, calling gst_video_gl_texture_upload_meta_upload() will call vaCopySurfaceGLX(), which will do an efficient copy of the vaAPI surface into a texture using a GLX extension.


This is an old demo, when all the pieces started to fit, but no the current performance. Still, it shows what has been achieved:

Future work

So far, all these bits are already integrated in WebKitGTK+ and GStreamer. Nevertheless there are some open issues.

  • gstreamer-vaapi et all:
    GStreamer 1.2 is not released yet, and its new API might change. Also, the port of gstreamer-vaapi to GStreamer 1.2 is still a work in progress, where the available patches may have rough areas.Also, there are many other projects that need to be updated with this new API, such as clutter-gst and provide more feedback to the community.
    Another important thing is to have more GStreamer elements implementing these new API, such as the texture upload and the caps features
  • Tearing:
    The composited video task unveiled a major problem in WebKitGTK+: it does not handle the vertical blank interval at all, causing tearing artifacts, clearly observable in high resolutions videos with high motion.WebKitGTK+ composites the scene off-screen, using X Composite redirected window, and then display it at a X Damage callback, but currently, GTK+ does not take care of the vertical blank interval, causing this tearing artifact in heavy compositions.
    At Igalia, we are currently researching for a way to fix this issue.
  • Performance:
    There is always room for performance improvement. And we are always aiming in that direction, improving the frame rate, the CPU, GPU and memory usage, et cetera.
    So, keep tuned, or even better, come and help us.

Apr 13

GStreamer Hackfest 2013 – Milan

Last week, from 28th to 31th of March, some of us gathered at Milan to hack some bits of the GStreamer internals. For me was a great experience interact with great hackers such as Sebastian Drödge, Wim Taymans, Edward Hervey, Alessandro Decina and many more. We talked about GStreamer and, more particularly, we agreed on new features which I would like to discuss here.

GStreamer Hackers at Milan

GStreamer Hackers at Milan

For sake of completeness, let me say that I have been interested in hardware accelerated multimedia for a while, and just lately I started to wet my feet in VAAPI and VDPAU, and their support in our beloved GStreamer.


The first feature that reached upstream is the GstContext. Historically, in 2011, Nicolas Dufresne added GstVideoContext as an interface to a share video context (such as display name, X11 display, VA-API display, etc.) among the pipeline elements and the applications. But now, Sebastian, generalized the interface to a container to stores and shares any kind of contexts between multiple elements and the application.

The first approach, that is still living in gst-plugins-bad, was merely a wrapper to a custom query to set or request a video context. But now, the context sharing is part of the pipeline setup.

An element that needs a shared context must follow these actions:

  1. Check if the element already has a context
  2. Query downstream for the context
  3. Post a message in the bus to see if the application has one to share.
  4. Create the context if there is none, post a message and send an event letting know that the element has the context.

You can see the example of the eglglessink to know how to use this feature.


Also in 2011, Nicolas Dufresne, added a helper class to upload a buffer into a surface (OpenGL texture, VA API surface, Wayland surface, etc.). This is quite important since the new video players are scene based, using framework such as Clutter or OpenGL directly, where the video display is composed by various actors, such as the multimedia controls widgets.

But still, this interface didn’t fit well for GStreamer 1.0, until now, where it was introduced in the figure of a buffer’s meta, though this meta is only specific for OpenGL textures. If the buffer provides this new GstVideoGLTextureUploadMeta meta, a new function gst_video_gl_texture_upload_meta_upload() is available to upload that buffer into an OpenGL texture specified by its numeric identifier.

Obviously, in order to use this meta, it should be proposed for allocation by the sink. Again, you can see the case of eglglesink as example.

Caps Features

The caps features are a new data type for specify a specific extension or requirement for the handled media.

From the practical point of view, we can say that caps structures with the same name but with a non-equal set of caps features are not compatible, and, if a pad supports multiple sets of features it has to add multiple equal structures with different feature sets to the caps.

Empty GstCapsFeatures are equivalent with the GstCapsFeatures handled by the common system memory. Other examples would be a specific memory types or the requirement of having a specific meta on the buffer.

Again, we can see the example of the capsfeatures in eglglessink, because now the gst-inspect also shows the caps feature of the pads:

Pad Templates:
  SINK template: 'sink'
    Availability: Always
                 format: { RGBA, BGRA, ARGB, ABGR, RGBx,
                           BGRx, xRGB, xBGR, AYUV, Y444,
                           I420, YV12, NV12, NV21, Y42B,
                           Y41B, RGB, BGR, RGB16 }
                  width: [ 1, 2147483647 ]
                 height: [ 1, 2147483647 ]
              framerate: [ 0/1, 2147483647/1 ]
                 format: { RGBA, BGRA, ARGB, ABGR, RGBx,
                           BGRx, xRGB, xBGR, AYUV, Y444,
                           I420, YV12, NV12, NV21, Y42B,
                           Y41B, RGB, BGR, RGB16 }
                  width: [ 1, 2147483647 ]
                 height: [ 1, 2147483647 ]
              framerate: [ 0/1, 2147483647/1 ]
                 format: { RGBA, BGRA, ARGB, ABGR, RGBx,
                           BGRx, xRGB, xBGR, AYUV, Y444,
                           I420, YV12, NV12, NV21, Y42B,
                           Y41B, RGB, BGR, RGB16 }
                  width: [ 1, 2147483647 ]
                 height: [ 1, 2147483647 ]
              framerate: [ 0/1, 2147483647/1 ]

Parsers meta

This is a feature which has been pulled by Edward Hervey. The idea is that the video codec parsers (H264, MPEG, VC1) attach a meta into the buffer with a defined structure that carries that new information provided by the codified stream.

This is particularly useful by the decoders, which will not have to parse again the buffer in order to extract the information they need to decode the current buffer and the following.

For example, here is the H264 parser meta definition.


Another task pulled by Edward Hervey, for which I feel excited, is the port of VDPAU decoding elements to GStreamer 1.0.

Right now only the MPEG decoder is upstreamed, but MPEG4 and H264 are coming.

As a final note, I want to thank Collabora and Fluendo for sponsoring dinners. A special thank you, as well, for Igalia which covered my travel expenses and attendance to the hackfest.

Mar 13

GStreamer Hackfest 2013

Next Thursday I’ll be flying to Milan to attend the 2013 edition of the GStreamer Hackfest. My main interests are hardware codecs and GL integration, particularly VA API integrated with GL-based sinks.

Thanks Igalia for sponsoring my trip!


Jan 13

Announcing GPhone v0.10

Hi folks!

As many of you may know, lately I have been working on Ekiga and Opal. And, as usually happens to me, I started to wonder how I would re-write that piece of software. My main ideas growth clearly: craft a GObject library, ala WebKitGTK+, wrapping Opal’s classes, paying attention to the gobject-introspection, also, redirecting the Opal’s multimedia rendering to a GStreamer player,  and, finally, write the application with Vala.

The curiosity itched me hard,  so I started to hack, from time to time, these ideas. In mid-November, last year, I had a functional prototype, which only could make phone calls in a disgraceful user interface. But I got my proof of concept. Nonetheless, as I usually do, I didn’t dropped the pet project, continuing the development of more features.

And today, I am pleased to present you,  the release v0.1 of GPhone.

Well, I guess a screencast is mandatory nowadays:


Jun 12

A GStreamer Video Sink using KMS

The purpose of this blog post is to show the concepts related to the GstKMSSink, a new video sink for GStreamer 1.0, co-developed by Alessandro Decina and myself, done during my hack-fest time in the Igalia’s multimedia team.

One interesting thing to notice is that this element shows it is possible to write DRI clients without the burden of X Window.

Brief introduction to graphics in Linux

If you want to dump images onto your screen, you can simply use the frame buffer device. It provides an abstraction for the graphics hardware and represents the frame buffer of the video hardware. This kernel device allows user application to access the graphics hardware without knowing the low-level details [1].

In GStreamer, we have two options for displaying images using the frame buffer device; or three, if we use OMAP3: fbvideosink, fbdevsink and gst-omapfb.

Nevertheless, since the appearance of the GPUs, the frame buffer device interface has not been sufficient to fulfill all their capabilities. A new kernel interface ought to emerge. And that was the Direct Rendering Manager (DRM).

What in the hell is DRM?

The DRM layer is intended to support the needs of complex graphics devices, usually containing programmable pipelines well suited to 3D graphics acceleration [2]. It deals with [3]:

  1. A DMA queue for graphic buffers transfers [4].
  2. It provides locks for graphics hardware, treating it as shared resource for simultaneous 3D applications [5].
  3. And it provides secure hardware access, preventing clients from escalating privileges [6].

The DRM layer consists of two in-kernel drivers: a generic DRM driver, and another which has specific support for the video hardware [7]. This is possible because the DRM engine is extensible, enabling the device-specific driver to hook out those functionalities that are required by the hardware. For example, in the case of the Intel cards, the Linux kernel driver i915 supports this card and couples its capabilities to the DRM driver.

The device-specific driver, in particular, should cover two main kernel interfaces: the Kernel Mode Settings (KMS) and the Graphics Execution Manager (GEM). Both elements are also exposed to the user-space through the DRM.

With KMS, the user can ask the kernel to enable native resolution in the frame buffer, setting certain display resolution and colour depth mode. One of the benefits of doing it in kernel is that, since the kernel is in complete control of the hardware, it can switch back in the case of failure [8].

In order to allocate command buffers, cursor memory, scanout buffers, etc., the device-specific driver should support a memory manager, and GEM is the manager with more acceptance these days, because of its simplicity [9].

Beside to the graphics memory management, GEM ensures conflict-free sharing of data between applications by managing the memory synchronization. This is important because modern graphics hardware are essentially NUMA environments.

The following diagram shows the components view of the DRM layer:

Direct Rendering Infrastructure

What is the deal with KMS?

KMS is important because on it relies GEM and DRM to allocate frame buffers and to configure the display. And it is important to us because almost all of the ioctls called by the GStreamer element are part of the KMS subset.

Even more, there are some voices saying that KMS is the future replacement for the frame buffer device [10].

To carry out its duties, the KMS identifies five main concepts [11,12]:

Frame buffer:
The frame buffer is just a buffer, in the video memory, that has an image encoded in it as an array of pixels. As KMS configures the ring buffer in this video memory, it holds a the information of this configuration, such as width, height, color depth, bits per pixel, pixel format, and so on.
Stands for Cathode Ray Tube Controller. It reads the data out of the frame buffer and generates the video mode timing. The CRTC also determines what part of the frame buffer is read; e.g., when multi-head is enabled, each CRTC scans out of a different part of the video memory; in clone mode, each CRTC scans out of the same part of the memory.Hence, from the KMS perspective, the CRTC’s abstraction contains the display mode information, including, resolution, depth, polarity, porch, refresh rate, etc. Also, it has the information of the buffer region to display and when to change to the next frame buffer.
Overlay planes:
Overlays are treated a little like CRTCs, but without associated modes our encoder trees hanging off of them: they can be enabled with a specific frame buffer attached at a specific location, but they don’t have to worry about mode setting, though they do need to have an associated CRTC to actually pump their pixels out [13].
The encoder takes the digital bitstream from the CRTC and converts it to the appropriate format across the connector to the monitor.
The connector provides the appropriate physical plug for the monitor to connect to, such as HDMI, DVI-D, VGA, S-Video, etc..

And what about this KMSSink?

KMSSink is a first approach towards a video sink as a DRI client. For now it only works in the panda-board with a recent kernel (I guess, 3.3 would make it).

For now it only uses the custom non-tiled buffers and use an overlay plane to display them. So, it is in the to-do, add support for more hardware.


[1] http://free-electrons.com/kerneldoc/latest/fb/framebuffer.txt
[2] http://free-electrons.com/kerneldoc/latest/DocBook/drm/drmIntroduction.html
[3] https://www.kernel.org/doc/readme/drivers-gpu-drm-README.drm
[4] http://dri.sourceforge.net/doc/drm_low_level.html
[5] http://dri.sourceforge.net/doc/hardware_locking_low_level.html
[6] http://dri.sourceforge.net/doc/security_low_level.html
[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Direct_Rendering_Manager
[8] http://www.bitwiz.org.uk/s/how-dri-and-drm-work.html
[9] https://lwn.net/Articles/283798/
[10] http://phoronix.com/forums/showthread.php?23756-KMS-as-anext-gen-Framebuffer
[11] http://elinux.org/images/7/71/Elce11_dae.pdf
[12] http://www.botchco.com/agd5f/?p=51
[13] https://lwn.net/Articles/440192/

Apr 12


In the last weeks Miguel, Calvaris and myself, developed an application for the N9/N950 mobile phone and we called it Aura.

Basically it uses the device’s camera (either the main one or the frontal one) for video recording, as a normal camera application, but also it exposes a set of effects that can be applied, in real time, to the video stream.

For example, here is a video using the historical effect:

Aura is inspired in the Gnome application, Cheese, and it uses many of the effects available in Gnome Video Effects.

The list of effects that were possible to port to the N9/N950 are: dice, edge, flip, historical, hulk, mauve, noir/blanc, optical illusion, quark, radioactive, waveform, ripple, saturation, shagadelic, kung-fu, vertigo and warp.

Besides of these software effects, it is possible to add, simultaneously, another set of effects that the hardware is capable, such as sepia colors. These hardware capabilities do not impose extra processing as the software effects do.

Because of this processing cost, imposed by the non-hardware video effects, Aura has a fixed video resolution. Otherwise the performance would make the application unusable. Also, we had a missing feature: the still image capture. But, hey! there is good news: Aura is fully open source, you can checkout the code at github and we happily accept patches.

Honoring Cheese, the name of Aura is taken from a kind of Finnish blue cheese.

We hope you enjoy this application as we enjoyed developing it.