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This reference describes the Video Decode Acceleration framework available on Mac OS X v10.6.3 and later with Mac models equipped with the NVIDIA GeForce 9400M, GeForce 320M, GeForce GT 330M, ATI HD Radeon GFX, Intel HD Graphics and others.

Output Callback
Data Types
Sample Code


Framework VideoDecodeAccelerationHeader VDADecoder.h

The Video Decode Acceleration framework is a C programming interface providing low-level access to the H.264 decoding capabilities of compatible GPUs such as the NVIDIA GeForce 9400M, GeForce 320M, GeForce GT 330M, ATI HD Radeon GFX, Intel HD Graphics and others. It is intended for use by advanced developers who specifically need hardware accelerated decode of video frames.

The framework allows you to:

  • Create a VDADecoder object which functions as the interface to hardware decode resources.

  • Provide an output callback to receive a decompressed image buffer once decoding is complete.

  • Pass in H.264 compressed video frames, one at a time to a VDADecoder object for decode.

  • Cancel decompression of all non-decoded frames currently in flight.

  • Destroy a VDADecoder object releasing hardware resources.

The Video Decode Acceleration framework is available on Mac OS X 10.6.3 and later.

Important: The Video Decode Acceleration framework only decodes video frame data and does not provide video playback or stream parsing capabilities. Using the QTKit QTMovie object with QTMovieOpenForPlaybackAttribute enabled is the recommended way for applications to automatically access GPU accelerated playback of H.264 encoded media.

Important: The availability of H.264 accelerated decode varies according to Mac model and Mac OS X version. Developers should always test for the availability of accelerated decode and have an alternative software decode path when hardware resources are not available.



Creates a new VDADecoder object.


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  • decoderConfiguration - A CFDictionaryRef containing kVDADecoderConfiguratioXXX keys describing the source data and configuration for the decoder. See Decoder Configuration Keys.

  • destinationImageBufferAttributes- A CFDictionaryRef describing the clients requirements for output image buffers. This parameter may be NULL if the client has no specific preference for the format of the output image buffers. If NULL is used, the client should make no assumptions regarding the returned image buffers. See Destination Image Buffer Attribute Keys.

  • outputCallback- A VDADecoderOutputCallback function called by the decoder when returning decompressed image buffers to the client.

  • decoderOutputCallbackRefcon - A pointer to user data passed to the output callback for all frames from this decoder object.

  • decoderOut - On output, the newly created decoder object.


Creates an interface for utilizing hardware resources to decode video by returning a VDADecoder object. If hardware doesn't exist to decode the provided format or if there are insufficient hardware resources to perform hardware decoding, the appropriate result code will be returned.

Decoded frames are emitted via the VDADecoderOutputCallback function passed in by the caller.

Note: Clients performing format-specific processing or rendering may have specific image buffer format preferences. In this case, the client should specify these preferences by using the destinationImageBufferAttributes dictionary.

CVPixelBufferGetPixelFormatType may be used to verify the pixel format of the returned image buffers to ensure the image buffer contains the format you are prepared to handle. It is good practice to verify the image buffer format before doing any format-specific processing.

Important: The decoder object is using shared hardware resources across the system. When decompression services are no longer required, the client should dispose of the object thereby freeing up resources for other system services or applications.

Since there is no automatic software fallback when using the Video Decode Acceleration framework or an implicit guarantee that you will be able to access hardware accelerated decode (even on supported configurations), the client will need to respond accordingly if the attempt to create a decoder object fails and provide its own fallback strategy.

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Return Value

A result code. See Result Codes.


Releases the decoder object.


  • decoder - The hardware decoder object being destroyed.


This call frees the decoder object and releases all resources currently in use by the decoder. All queued frames will be flushed without invoking the output callback. The decoder instance should no longer be referenced after calling VDADecoderDestroy.

Important: Image buffers are NOT owned by the decoder instance. Image buffers previously retained by the client will remain valid after the life of the decoder instance and should be released when no longer needed.

Return Value

A result code. See Result Codes.


Send the included compressed data to the hardware decoder object for decoding.


  • decoder - The hardware decoder object performing the decode operation.

  • decodeFlags- Flags containing any special requests for this decode operation. See Decode Flags.

  • compressedBuffer- A CFDataRef containing a single H.264 compressed frame to be decoded.

  • frameInfo - A CFDictionaryRef containing information to be returned in the output callback for this frame. This dictionary can contain client provided information associated with the frame being decoded, for example presentation time. The CFDictionaryRef will be retained by the framework.


This call will send a single H.264 compressed frame packaged as a CFDataRef to the hardware decoder object for decoding. The decoded frame is output via the output callback.

Return Value

A result code. See Result Codes.


Flush all frames currently being decoded by the hardware decoder.


  • decoder - The hardware decoder object performing the decode operation.

  • flushFlags- Flags controlling flush behavior, for example, whether or not currently in flight decode operations will emit frames. See Flush Flags.


Flushing will cancel all currently queued frames which have not been completed. As the hardware decoder is generally running asynchronously, there is the possibility of a frame completing while the call to flush is in progress. No completed frames should be returned after control returns from this call.

The output callback is still called for all flushed frames, but no image buffers will be returned.

If the kVDADecoderFlush_emitFrames flag is specified, the flush operation will return image buffers in the output callback.

Return Value

A result code. Result Codes.

Output Callback

Prototype for a callback function invoked when a frame is decoded by calling VDADecoderDecode.


  • decompressionOutputRefCon - The user data pointer as passed into VDADecoderCreate for decoderOutputCallbackRefcon.

  • frameInfo- The frameInfo dictionary passed to VDADecoderDecode for this frame. The CFDictionaryRef will be released after returning from the callback. The client must retain it if it is needed beyond the scope of the output callback.

  • status - An error code is returned if decompression was not successful. See Result Codes.

  • infoFlags - Contains information about a decode operation. For example, the kVDADecodeInfo_FrameDropped flag may be set if the frame was dropped. See Decode Info Flags.

  • imageBuffer - A Core Video image buffer containing a decompressed video frame. The client should retain returned image buffers and release them when they are no longer needed. Image buffers are NOT owned by the decoder instance.


When creating a VDADecoder object, pass in a VDADecoderOutputCallback function to be used to return decompressed frames. The output callback may be called in decode order rather than presentation order.

Data Types


A reference to a video decoder object.


Decoder Configuration Keys

  • kVDADecoderConfiguration_Height - A CFNumberRef specifying source height.

  • kVDADecoderConfiguration_Width - A CFNumberRef specifying source width.

  • kVDADecoderConfiguration_SourceFormat - A CFNumberRef (kCFNumberSInt32Type Four Character Code) specifying source format. For example, 'avc1'.

  • kVDADecoderConfiguration_avcCData - A CFDataRef containing avcC data from the H.264 bitstream. In a QuickTime movie file, this is the same data which is stored in the image description as the avcC atom.

Destination Image Buffer Attribute Keys

Listed are the commonly used keys, for a full list of available Core Video Pixel Buffer keys see CoreVideo/CVPixelBuffer.h

  • kCVPixelBufferPixelFormatTypeKey - A single CFNumberRef (OSType) or an array of CFNumberRef (OSTypes) specifying output pixel format. For example, kCVPixelFormatType_422YpCbCr8.

  • kCVPixelBufferWidthKey -A CFNumberRef specifying the width of the pixel buffer.

  • kCVPixelBufferHeightKey - A CFNumberRef specifying the height of the pixel buffer.

  • kCVPixelBufferIOSurfacePropertiesKey - A CFDictionaryRef of IOSurface properties. The presence of this key requests buffer allocation via IOSurface. If a destinationImageBufferAttributes dictionary is specified in VDADecoderCreate, that dictionary MUST contain this key. The value for the this key is most often just an empty dictionary. If NULL is specified in VDADecoderCreate for the destinationImageBufferAttributes dictionary, this key is assumed to be set. The hardware decoder requires IOSurface backed image buffers for rendering. See IOSurface/IOSurfaceAPI.h for the complete list of available IOSurface properties.

Note: Specifying destination image buffer attributes may lead to additional buffer copies per frame since the framework may need to do some scaling and/or format conversion from the hardware preferred output format.

Decode Flags

Flags used with the VDADecoderDecode.

Specifies that the decoder should not return an image buffer in the output callback. Note that the output callback is still invoked.

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Flush Flags

Flags used with the VDADecoderFlush.

During a flush operation this flag specifies that the decoder should decode and return image buffers for all currently queued frames.

Decode Info Flags

During decode, flags may be set in the infoFlags field of the output callback conveying extra information about a decode operation.

  • kVDADecodeInfo_Asynchronous - Indicates asynchronous decoding. As asynchronous decode is the normal operating mode of the decoder object, this flag will always be set during normal operation.

  • kVDADecodeInfo_FrameDropped - Indicates the frame was dropped.

Result Codes

Errors returned from the VDADecoder APIs.

  • kVDADecoderNoErr - Life is good.

  • kVDADecoderHardwareNotSupportedErr - The hardware does not support accelerated video services required for hardware decode.

  • kVDADecoderFormatNotSupportedErr - The hardware may support accelerated decode, but does not support the requested output format.

  • kVDADecoderConfigurationError - Invalid or unsupported configuration parameters were specified in VDADecoderCreate.

  • kVDADecoderDecoderFailedErr - An error was returned by the decoder layer. This may happen for example because of bitstream/data errors during a decode operation. This error may also be returned from VDADecoderCreate when hardware decoder resources are available on the system but currently in use by another process.

Sample Code

The following data types and helper functions are referenced in the code listings below and presented for illustrative purposes only. They are not part of the framework.

Creating a Decoder

Listing 1 illustrates the basic steps required to create a decoder.

The function requires parameters describing the compressed source media bitstream (dimensions, format type and decoder configuration) to be passed in by the caller. These parameters are used to create the decoder configuration dictionary. An optional pixel format attribute dictionary is also created requesting '2vuy' as the format of the returned image buffers. This dictionary can be NULL if the caller has no preference regarding the pixel format of the returned image buffers.

If decoder creation was successful, a VDADecoder object is returned to the caller via decoderOut.

Warning: As mentioned in the Constants section above, if a destination image buffer attributes dictionary is used to specify a preferred output image buffer pixel format as shown in listing 1, the dictionary MUST contain an IOSurface properties dictionary (kCVPixelBufferIOSurfacePropertiesKey) or VDADecoderCreate will fail.

Listing 1

Output Callback

Listing 2 demonstrates a hypothetical output callback.

Clients should not perform any heavyweight tasks directly in the callback or call into any frameworks which may block for an extended period of time. If the intention is to display the frames, note that the image buffers may not be in display order. Ideally, frames returned in the output callback would be enqueued for processing or display on another thread.

Listing 2

Decoding A Frame

Listing 3 demonstrates the use of VDADecoderDecode to decompress a single frame of H.264 video.

The function takes a CFDataRef containing the compressed video frame and a frame time (provided by the client from the bitstream) which is packaged in a frame info dictionary. The frame info dictionary is passed along to the output callback for this frame when decompressed and may contain any number of custom defined properties supplied by the client as key/value pairs.

Listing 3


For Mac model information see: About integrated video on Intel-based Macs

Document Revision History








Added a note describing where to get the framework to link against.


New document that describes the Video Decode Acceleration Framework APIs available on Mac OS v10.6.3 and later with certain Mac models.

Copyright © 2015 Apple Inc. All Rights Reserved. Terms of Use Privacy Policy Updated: 2015-05-28

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