Hacker Guide/Video Output

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This page is about the video output layer

Data structures and main loop

Important data structures are defined under include in the files include/vlc_picture.h, include/vlc_subpicture.h and include/vlc_vout.h.


The main data structure is picture_t, which describes everything a video decoder thread needs. Please, refer to those files for more information. Typically, p_data will be a pointer to YUV planar picture.

subpicture_t and SPU

Note also the subpicture_t structure. In fact the VLC SPU (SubPicture Unit) decoder only parses the SPU header, and converts the SPU graphical data to an internal format which can be rendered much faster. So a part of the "actual" SPU decoder lies in src/video_output/vout_subpictures.c.


The vout_thread_t structure is much more complex, but you needn't understand everything. Basically the video output thread manages a heap of pictures and subpictures (5 by default). Every picture has a status (displayed, destroyed, empty...) and eventually a presentation time. The main job of the video output is an infinite loop to : [this is subject to change in the near future]

  1. Find the next picture to display in the heap.
  2. Find the current subpicture to display.
  3. Render the picture (if the video output plug-in doesn't support YUV overlay). Rendering will call an optimized YUV plug-in, which will also do the scaling, add subtitles and an optional picture information field.
  4. Sleep until the specified date.
  5. Display the picture (plug-in function). For outputs which display RGB data, it is often accomplished with a buffer switching. p_vout->p_buffer is an array of two buffers where the YUV transform takes place, and p_vout->i_buffer_index indicates the currently displayed buffer.
  6. Manage events.

Methods used by video decoders

The video output exports a bunch of functions so that decoders can send their decoded data. The most important function is vout_CreatePicture which allocates the picture buffer to the size indicated by the video decoder. It then just needs to feed (void *) p_picture->p_data with the decoded data, and call vout_DisplayPicture and vout_DatePicture upon necessary.

picture_t * vout_CreatePicture ( vout_thread_t *p_vout, int i_type, int i_width, int i_height )
Returns an allocated picture buffer. i_type will be for instance YUV_420_PICTURE, and i_width and i_height are in pixels.
Caution If no picture is available in the heap, vout_CreatePicture will return NULL.

vout_LinkPicture ( vout_thread_t *p_vout, picture_t *p_pic )
Increases the refcount of the picture, so that it doesn't get accidently freed while the decoder still needs it. For instance, an I or P picture can still be needed after displaying to decode interleaved B pictures.
vout_UnlinkPicture ( vout_thread_t *p_vout, picture_t *p_pic )
Decreases the refcount of the picture. An unlink must be done for every link previously made.

vout_DatePicture ( vout_thread_t *p_vout, picture_t *p_pic )

vout_DisplayPicture ( vout_thread_t *p_vout, picture_t *p_pic )
Tells the video output that a picture has been completely decoded and is ready to be rendered. It can be called before or after vout_DatePicture.
vout_DestroyPicture ( vout_thread_t *p_vout, picture_t *p_pic )
Marks the picture as empty (useful in case of a stream parsing error).
subpicture_t * vout_CreateSubPicture ( vout_thread_t *p_vout, int i_channel, int i_type )
Returns an allocated subpicture buffer. i_channel is the ID of the subpicture channel, i_type is DVD_SUBPICTURE or TEXT_SUBPICTURE, i_size is the length in bytes of the packet.
vout_DisplaySubPicture ( vout_thread_t *p_vout, subpicture_t *p_subpic )
Tells the video output that a subpicture has been completely decoded. It obsoletes the previous subpicture.
vout_DestroySubPicture ( vout_thread_t *p_vout, subpicture_t *p_subpic )
Marks the subpicture as empty.

How to write a video output plug-in

A video output takes care of the system calls to display the pictures and manage the output window. For the most minimalistic framework, look at vmem.c, which just "renders" to dummy internal memory. From there, go on to directfb.c and svgalib.c, and finally go for x11 and windows.

Video outputs reside in the modules/video_output directory. modules/video_output/x11/xcommon.c gives example of functions you must write :

int Activate ( vlc_object_t *p_this )

  • As for any VLC module, this function verifies if the module suits VLC core needs, by interrogating p_this structure.
  • In case of success, Activate sets up callback functions needed to run the video output (needed functions explained below), and returns VLC_SUCCESS
  • In case of failure, Activate frees memory and returns an error code (VLC_EGENERIC, VLC_ENOMEM, ...)
void Deactivate ( vlc_object_t *p_this )
Called to destroy the module: Deactivate needs to free all allocated memory and destroys cleanly the video output thread

The callback functions you need to implement are (callback name, function prototype) :

(p_vout->pf_init, static int InitVideo ( vout_thread_t * );)
Called at the beginning of the output thread and each time the window is resized, it creates a buffer of output pictures
(p_vout->pf_end, static void EndVideo ( vout_thread_t * );)
Destroys output pictures created by InitVideo
(p_vout->pf_manage, static int ManageVideo ( vout_thread_t * );)
Manage X11 events, and handle window resizing
(p_vout->pf_render, static void RenderVideo ( vout_thread_t *, picture_t * );)
Optional (set p_vout->pf_render to NULL if not implemented); Used when pictures from the decoder need to be rendered before display
(p_vout->pf_display, static void DisplayVideo ( vout_thread_t *, picture_t * );)
Does the actual display of pictures onto screen
(p_vout->pf_control, static int Control ( vout_thread_t *, int, va_list );)
Control facility for the video output

How to write a YUV plug-in

Look at the C source plugins/yuv/transforms_yuv.c. You need to redefine just the same transformations. Basically, it is a matrix multiply operation. Good luck.

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