NVENC Application Note

NVIDIA Video Codec SDK v12.0 Download PDF

NVIDIA GPUs - beginning with the Kepler generation - contain a hardware-based encoder (referred to as NVENC in this document) which provides fully accelerated hardware-based video encoding and is independent of graphics/CUDA cores. With end-to-end encoding offloaded to NVENC, the graphics/CUDA cores and the CPU cores are free for other operations. For example, in a game recording scenario, offloading the encoding to NVENC makes the graphics engine fully available for game rendering. In the video transcoding use-case, video encoding/decoding can happen on NVENC/NVDEC in parallel with other video post-/pre-processing on CUDA cores.

The hardware capabilities available in NVENC are exposed through APIs referred to as NVENCODE APIs in the document. This document provides information about the capabilities of the hardware encoder and features exposed through NVENCODE APIs.


NVENC Capabilities

NVENC can perform end-to-end encoding for H.264, HEVC 8-bit, HEVC 10-bit, AV1 8-bit and AV1 10-bit. This includes motion estimation and mode decision, motion compensation and residual coding, and entropy coding. It can also be used to generate motion vectors between two frames, which are useful for applications such as depth estimation, frame interpolation, encoding using other codecs not supported by NVENC, or hybrid encoding wherein motion estimation is performed by NVENC and the rest of the encoding is handled elsewhere in the system. These operations are hardware accelerated by a dedicated block on GPU silicon die. NVENCODE APIs provide the necessary knobs to utilize the hardware encoding capabilities.

Table 1 summarizes the capabilities of the NVENC hardware exposed through NVENCODE APIs and Table 2 lists the features exposed in Video Codec SDK 12.0.

Table 1. NVENC Hardware Capabilities
Feature Description Kepler GPUs 1st Gen Maxwell GPUs 2nd Gen Maxwell GPUs Pascal GPUs Volta and TU117 GPUs Ampere and Turing GPUs (except TU117) Ada GPUs
H.264 baseline, main and high profiles Capability to encode YUV 4:2:0 sequence and generate a H.264-bit stream. Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
H.264 4:4:4 encoding (only CAVLC) Capability to encode YUV 4:4:4 sequence and generate a H.264-bit stream. N Y Y Y Y Y Y
H.264 lossless encoding Lossless encoding. N Y Y Y Y Y Y
H.264 motion estimation (ME) only mode Capability to provide macro-block level motion vectors and intra/inter modes. N Y Y Y Y Y Y
H.264 field encoding Capability to encode field content. Y Y Y Y Y N N
H.264/HEVC weighted prediction Support for weighted prediction. N N N Y Y Y Y
Encoding support for H.264 ARGB content Capability to encode RGB input. Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
Multiple reference frames for H.264 Capability to use different reference frames N N N N N Y Y
HEVC main profile Capability to encode YUV 4:2:0 sequence and generate a HEVC bit stream. N N Y Y Y Y Y
HEVC lossless encoding Lossless encoding. N N N Y Y Y Y
HEVC main10 profile Support for encoding 10-bit content generate a HEVC bit stream. N N N Y Y Y Y
HEVC 4:4:4 encoding Capability to encode YUV 4:4:4 sequence and generate a HEVC bit stream. N N N Y Y Y Y
HEVC motion estimation (ME) only mode Capability to provide CTB level motion vectors and intra/inter modes. N N N Y Y Y Y
HEVC 8K encoding Support for encoding 8192 × 8192 Content. N N N Y* Y Y Y
HEVC sample adaptive offset (SAO) Improves encoded video quality. N N N Y Y Y Y
HEVC B frame Improves encoded quality N N N N N Y Y
Multiple reference frames for HEVC Capability to use different reference frames N N N N N Y Y
AV1 main profile Capability to encode YUV 4:2:0 8-bit and 10-bit content up to 8192 × 8192 resolution and generate a AV1 bit stream. N N N N N N Y

  • Y: Supported, N: Not supported
  • *Supported in select Pascal generation GPUs

Table 2. What’s new in Video Codec SDK 12.0
New Feature Description
Fully accelerated AV1 encode

Video Codec SDK 12.0 introduces support for AV1 main profile encode of 4:2:0 8-bit and 10-bit content for resolution up to 8192 x 8192.

NVENC on Ada GPUs supports for AV1 most of the high level features that it supports for H.264 and HEVC:

  • B-frame: support for non-reference, reference and hierarchical B frames.
  • Multiple Reference Frames: up to 7 reference frames with support for all reference frame types (Last, Last2, Last3, Golden, Backward, Altref2, Altref).
  • Lookahead mode.
  • Picture Type Decision mode: when PTD mode is enabled, the driver automatically determines the input picture coding type either dynamically if lookahead is enabled or statically based on the encoder initial configuration otherwise. When B frames are enabled, frame reordering, overlay generation and temporal unit bitstream packing are transparently handled by the driver.
  • Rate Control: support for CBR (low and high latency use-cases) and VBR modes, single-pass and two-pass configuration, with full resolution or quarter resolution first pass.
  • Gradual Intra Refresh: support for tile based intra refresh in a similar manner as H.264/HEVC slice based intra refresh.
  • Spatial/Temporal Adaptive Quantization.
  • External ME Hint.
  • Bitstream Output in Video Memory.
  • Synchronous, Asynchronous and Subframe Encoding Modes.
  • p1-p7 Preset Configuration (low and high-latency use-cases).
  • User Data Passthrough: support for Film Grain Parameters and Private Metadata OBUs passthrough.
  • User Specified Tile Configuration : support for both uniform and custom tile configuration modes.
Support for 8K@60 FPS encode for AV1 and HEVC Video Codec SDK 12.0 introduces high performance presets that achieve high FPS for 4K and higher resolutions when multiple NVENCs are present on the GPU.

NVENC Licensing Policy

There is no change in licensing policy in the current SDK in comparison to the previous SDK. The licensing policy is as follows:

As far as NVENC hardware encoding is concerned, NVIDIA GPUs are classified into two categories: “qualified” and “non-qualified”. On qualified GPUs, the number of concurrent encode sessions is limited by available system resources (encoder capacity, system memory, video memory etc.). On non-qualified GPUs, the number of concurrent encode sessions is limited to 3 per system. This limit of 3 concurrent sessions per system applies to the combined number of encoding sessions executed on all non-qualified cards present in the system.

For a complete list of qualified and non-qualified GPUs, refer to https://developer.nvidia.com/nvidia-video-codec-sdk..

For example, on a system with one Quadro RTX4000 card (which is a qualified GPU) and three GeForce cards (which are non-qualified GPUs), the application can run N simultaneous encode sessions on Quadro RTX4000 card (where N is defined by the encoder/memory/hardware limitations) and 3 sessions on all the GeForce cards combined. Thus, the limit on the number of simultaneous encode sessions for such a system is N + 3.

NVENC Performance

With every generation of NVIDIA GPUs (Maxwell 1st/2nd gen, Pascal, Volta, Turing, Ampere and Ada), NVENC performance has increased steadily. Table 3 provides indicative1 NVENC performance on Pascal, Turing, and Ada GPUs for different presets and rate control modes (these two factors play a major role in determining the performance and quality). Note that performance numbers in Table 3 are measured on GeForce hardware with assumptions listed under the table. The performance varies across GPU classes (e.g. Quadro, Tesla), and scales (almost) linearly with the clock speeds for each hardware.

While first-generation Maxwell GPUs had one NVENC engine per chip, certain variants of the second-generation Maxwell, Pascal, Volta and Ada GPUs have two/three NVENC engines per chip. This increases the aggregate encoder performance of the GPU. NVIDIA driver takes care of load balancing among multiple NVENC engines on the chip, so that applications don’t require any special code to take advantage of multiple encoders and automatically benefit from higher encoder capacity on higher-end GPU hardware. The encode performance listed in Table 3 is given per NVENC engine. Thus, if the GPU has 2 NVENCs (e.g. GP104, AD104), multiply the corresponding number in Table 3 by the number of NVENCs per chip to get aggregate maximum performance (applicable only when running multiple simultaneous encode sessions). Note that unless Split Frame Encoding is enabled, performance with single encoding session cannot exceed performance per NVENC, regardless of the number of NVENCs present on the GPU. Multi NVENC Split Frame Encoding is a feature introduced in SDK12.0 on Ada GPUs for HEVC and AV1. Refer to the NVENC Video Encoder API Programming Guide for more details on this feature.

NVENC hardware natively supports multiple hardware encoding contexts with negligible context-switching penalty. As a result, subject to the hardware performance limit and available memory, an application can encode multiple videos simultaneously. NVENCODE API exposes several presets, rate control modes and other parameters for programming the hardware. A combination of these parameters enables video encoding at varying quality and performance levels. In general, one can trade performance for quality and vice versa.

Table 3. NVENC encoding performance in frames/second (fps)
Preset RC Mode Tuning Info H.264 HEVC AV1
Pascal Turing Ampere Ada Pascal Turing Ampere Ada Ada
p1 CBR LL 681 787 810 805 537 834 875 903 930
VBR HQ 700 761 788 779 503 824 865 883 696
p3 CBR LL 663 550 570 595 440 412 433 458 697
VBR HQ 396 547 568 589 438 494 514 639 532
p5 CBR LL 364 243 253 278 367 271 282 326 475
VBR HQ 325 236 246 272 366 298 308 389 419
p7 CBR LL 322 204 213 238 341 271 282 325 338
VBR HQ 244 186 194 206 262 149 156 178 312

  • Resolution/Input Format/Bit depth: 1920 × 1080/YUV 4:2:0/8-bit
  • Above measurements are made using the following GPUs: GTX 1060 for Pascal, RTX 8000 for Turing, RTX 3090 for Ampere, and RTX 4090 for Ada. All measurements are done at the highest video clocks as reported by nvidia-smi (i.e. 1708 MHz, 1950 MHz, 1950 MHz, 2415 MHz for GTX 1060, RTX 8000, RTX 3090, and RTX 4090 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.
  • H.264 and HEVC encoding fps for Volta GPU can be obtained by multiplying the Pascal fps in the above table by ratio of the clocks, as reported by nvidia-smi.
  • Software: Windows 11, Video Codec SDK 12.0, NVIDIA display driver: 522.25
  • CBR: Constant bitrate rate control mode, VBR: Variable bitrate rate control mode, LL : Low latency tuning info, HQ: High quality tuning info

Programming NVENC

Refer to the SDK release notes for information regarding the required driver version.

Refer to the documents and the sample applications included in the SDK package for details on how to program NVENC.

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. For more information on how to use NVENC or NVDEC with FFmpeg, please refer to the FFmpeg guide in the Video Codec SDK.

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


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Encoder performance depends on many factors, including but not limited to: Encoder settings, GPU clocks, GPU type, video content type etc.
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