NVDEC Application Note

NVIDIA GPUs contain a hardware-based decoder (referred to as NVDEC in this document) which provides fully accelerated hardware-based video decoding for several popular codecs. With complete decoding offloaded to NVDEC, the graphics engine and CPU are free for other operations.

NVDEC supports much faster than real-time decoding which makes it suitable for transcoding scenarios in addition to video playback.

The hardware capabilities available in NVDEC are exposed through APIs referred to as NVDECODE APIs in this document. This document provides information about the capabilities of the NVDEC engine and the features exposed through NVDECODE APIs. The current document highlights only the changes in the current video codec SDK package with respect to the previous SDK packages. To know about the features exposed in earlier SDKs please refer to the earlier SDK package(s).


NVDEC Capabilities

At a high level, Table 1 summarizes the capabilities of the NVDEC engine exposed through NVDECODE APIs, and What’s new summarize the features exposed through NVDECODE APIs in Video Codec SDK 11.0.

Table 1. NVDEC Hardware Capabilities
Hardware Features Kepler GPUs 1st Gen Maxwell GPUs 2nd Gen Maxwell GPUs Pascal GPUs Volta GPUs Turing/GA100 GPUs GA10x GPUs3
VC1 Simple, Main & Advanced profiles Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
MPEG4 Simple and Advanced Simple Profiles Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
MPEG2 Simple & Main profiles Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
H.264 Baseline, Main, High Profiles Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
VP8 N N Y Y1 Y Y Y
HEVC Main Profile1 N N Y1 Y Y Y Y
VP9 Profile 01 N N Y1 Y Y Y Y
8192x8192 Decoding support (HEVC&VP9 only) N N N Y1 Y Y Y
Multiple NVDECs2 N N N N N Y Y
HEVC 444 decoding N N N N N Y Y
AV1 Main Profile decoding N N N N N N Y

  • Y: Supported, N: Unsupported
  • 1: Present in select GPUs
  • 2: Present in select GPUs based on Turing and Ampere architecture
  • 3: GA10x GPUs include all GPUs based on Ampere architecture except GA100

What’s new

The following features have been added to Video Codec SDK 11.0:

  • Driver support for GA10x GPUs.
  • AV1 Main profile decoding up to level 6.0.
  • Histogram data of luma component for AV1, HEVC, H264 and VP9 codecs. Histogram data is collected by NVDEC during the decoding process resulting in zero performance penalty.

NVDEC Performance

NVDEC natively supports multiple hardware decoding contexts with negligible context-switching penalty. As a result, subject to the hardware performance limit and available memory, an application can decode multiple videos simultaneously.

The hardware and software maintain the context for each decoding session, allowing many simultaneous decoding sessions to run in parallel with minimal context switch penalty. Table 2 provides indicative data of the decoding performance of NVDEC in GPUs based on Maxwell, Pascal, Turing and Ampere architectures for AV1, HEVC, VP9, and H.264 encoded bitstreams. The performance varies across GPU classes (e.g. Quadro, Tesla), and scales (almost) linearly with the clock speeds for each hardware.

Table 2. NVDEC decoding performance (indicative)
GPU Architecture Codec Performance in frames/second
Second generation Maxwell(M2000) H.264 427
VP9 528
HEVC 514
HEVC Main10 454
Pascal(P2000) H.264 647
VP9 825
VP9 10 bit 802
HEVC 793
HEVC Main10 775
Turing (RTX8000) H.264 689
VP9 874
VP9 10 bit 878
HEVC 1234
HEVC Main10 1145
Ampere (RTX3090) H.264 685
VP9 1044
VP9 10 bit 1091
HEVC 1383
HEVC Main10 1286
AV1 819

  • All the measurement is done on the highest video clocks as reported by nvidia-smi (i.e. 1129 MHz, 1683 MHz, 1755 MHz, 1770 MHz for M2000, P2000, RTX8000 and RTX3090 respectively). The performance should scale according to the video clocks as reported by nvidia-smi for other GPUs of every individual family. Information on nvidia-smi can be found at https://developer.nvidia.com/nvidia-system-management-interface .
  • Resolution/Input format: 1920x1080/YUV 4:2:0
  • Software: Windows 10, Video Codec SDK 11.0, NVIDIA display driver: 456.71
  • GA100 GPUs contain NVDEC with same architecture as Turing. As a result, the decoding performance on GA100 GPUs is same as that of Turing GPUs, scaled by the clock speed. To view the clocks available on your GPU, please use the tool nvidia-smi included with the NVIDIA driver.

While Kepler, Maxwell, Pascal, and Volta generation GPUs had one NVDEC engine per chip, some GPUs based on Turing and Ampere architecture have multiple NVDEC engines per chip. GA100 has 5 NVDECs. This increases the aggregate decoding throughput of the GPU. The NVIDIA driver takes care of load balancing among multiple NVDEC engines on the chip so that applications don’t require special code to take advantage of multiple decoders, and automatically benefit from higher decoder capacity on higher-end GPU hardware. The decode performance listed in Table 2 is given per NVDEC engine. Thus, if a Quadro or Tesla GPU has 2 NVDECs, multiply the corresponding number in Table 2 by the number of NVDECs per chip to get aggregate maximum performance (applicable only when running multiple simultaneous decode sessions). Note that performance with a single decoding session cannot exceed performance per NVDEC, regardless of the number of NVDECs present on the GPU. All GeForce products consist of a single NVDEC.

Programming NVDEC

Video Codec SDK 11.0 is supported on R455 drivers and above. Refer to the SDK release notes for information regarding the required driver version.

Various capabilities of NVDEC are exposed to the application software via the NVIDIA proprietary application programming interface (NVDECODE APIs). Refer to the Video Decoder Programming guide for details on using these APIs.

For a complete list of GPUs supporting hardware accelerated decoding refer to https://developer.nvidia.com/nvidia-video-codec-sdk.

FFmpeg Support

FFmpeg is the most popular multimedia transcoding tool used extensively for video and audio transcoding.

The video hardware accelerators in NVIDIA GPUs can be effectively used with FFmpeg to significantly speed up the video decoding, encoding and end-to-end transcoding at very high performance.

Note that FFmpeg is open-source project and its usage is governed by specific licenses and terms and conditions.


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