Making GTK graphics offloading work

(I need to put that somewhere because people ask about it and having a little post to explain it is nice.)

What’s it about?
GTK recently introduced the ability to offload graphics rendering, but it needs rather recent everything to work well for offloading video decoding.

So, what do you need to make sure this works?

First, you of course need a video to test. On a modern desktop computer, you want a 4k 60fps video or better to have something that pushes your CPU to the limits so you know when it doesn’t work. Of course, the recommendation has to be Big Buck Bunny at the highest of qualities – be aware that the most excellent 4000×2250 @ 60fps encoding is 850MB. On my Intel TigerLake, that occasionally drops frames when I play that with software decoding, and I can definitely hear the fan turn on.
When selecting a video file, keep in mind that the format matters.

Second, you need hardware decoding. That is provided by libva and can be queried using the vainfo tool (which comes in the `libva-utils` package in Fedora). If that prints a long list of formats (it’s about 40 for me), you’re good. If it doesn’t, you’ll need to go hunt for the drivers – due to the patent madness surrounding video formats that may be more complicated than you wish. For example, on my Intel laptop on Fedora, I need the intel-media-driver package which is hidden in the nonfree RPMFusion repository.
If you look at the list from vainfo, the format names give some hints – usually VP9 and MPEG2 exist. H264 and HEVC aka H265 are the patent madness, and recent GPUs can sometimes do AV1. The Big Buck Bunny video from above is H264, so if you’re following along, make sure that works.

Now you need a working video player. I’ll be using gtk4-demo (which is in the gtk4-devel-tools package, but you already have that installed of course) and its video player example because I know it works there. A shoutout goes out to livi which was the first non-demo video player to have a release that supports graphics offloading. You need GTK 4.14 and GStreamer 1.24 for this to work. At the time of writing, this is only available in Fedora rawhide, but hopefully Fedora 40 will gain the packages soon.

If you installed new packages above, now is a good time to check if GStreamer picked up all the hardware decoders. gst-inspect-1.0 va will list all the elements with libva support. If it didn’t pick up decoders for all the formats it should have (there should be a vah264dec listed for H264 if you want to decode the video above), then the easiest way to get them is to delete GStreamer’s registry cache in ~/.cache/gstreamer-1.0.

If you want to make sure GStreamer does the right thing, you can run the video player with GST_DEBUG=GST_ELEMENT_FACTORY:4. It will print out debug messages about all the elements it is creating for playback. If that includes a line for an element from the previous list (like `vah264dec` in our example) things are working. If it picks something else (like `avdec_h264` or `openh264dec`) then they are not.

Finally you need a compositor that supports YUV formats. Most compositors do – gnome-shell does since version 45 for example – but checking can’t hurt: If wayland-info (in the wayland-utils package in Fedora) lists the NV12 format, you’re good.

And now everything works.
If you have a 2nd monitor you can marvel at what goes on behind the scenes by running the video player with GDK_DEBUG=dmabuf,offload and GTK will tell you what it does for every frame, and you can see it dynamically switching between offloading or not as you fullscreen (or not), click on the controls (or not) and so on. Or you could have used it previously to see why things didn’t work.
You can also look at the top and gputop variant of your choice and you will see that the video player takes a bit of CPU to drive the video decoding engine and inform the compositor about new frames and the compositor takes a bit of CPU telling the 3D engine to composite things and send them to the monitor. With the video above it’s around 10% on my laptop for the CPU usage each and about 20% GPU usage.

And before anyone starts complaining that this is way too complicated: If you read carefully, all of this should work out of the box in the near future. This post just lists the tools to troubleshoot what went wrong while developing a fast video player.


#1 SeeM on 04.15.24 at 02:44

Don’t worry about it. It is complicated, because it is. I am pretty sure I don’t have hardware for that, because laptop graphics, but I’ll definetly try those tools.

#2 Gary van der Merwe on 04.24.24 at 05:07

It’s a pity GStreamer 1.24 didn’t make Fedora 40

I was very eager to use this for a custom CCTV camera app I have for our home security.

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