Many platforms offer access to dedicated hardware to perform a range of video-related tasks. Using such hardware allows some operations like decoding, encoding or filtering to be completed faster or using less of other resources (particularly CPU), but may give different or inferior results, or impose additional restrictions which are not present when using software only. On PC-like platforms, video hardware is typically integrated into a GPU (from AMD, Intel or NVIDIA), while on mobile SoC-type platforms it is generally an independent IP core (many different vendors).

Hardware decoders will generate equivalent output to software decoders, but may use less power and CPU to do so. Feature support varies – for more complex codecs with many different profiles, hardware decoders rarely implement all of them (for example, hardware decoders tend not to implement anything beyond YUV 4:2:0 at 8-bit depth for H.264). A common feature of many hardware decoders to be able to generate output in hardware surfaces suitable for use by other components (with discrete graphics cards, this means surfaces in the memory on the card rather than in system memory) – this is often useful for playback, as no further copying is required before rendering the output, and in some cases it can also be used with encoders supporting hardware surface input to avoid any copying at all in transcode cases.

Hardware encoders typically generate output of significantly lower quality than good software encoders like x264, but are generally faster and do not use much CPU resource. (That is, they require a higher bitrate to make output with the same perceptual quality, or they make output with a lower perceptual quality at the same bitrate.)

Systems with decode and/or encode capability may also offer access to other related filtering features. Things like scaling and deinterlacing are common, other postprocessing may be available depending on the system. Where hardware surfaces are usable, these filters will generally act on them rather than on normal frames in system memory.

There are a lot of different APIs of varying standardisation status available. FFmpeg offers access to many of these, with varying support.

Platform API Availability

Linux Windows Android Apple Other
AMD Intel NVIDIA AMD Intel NVIDIA macOS iOS Raspberry Pi
Direct3D 11 N N N Y Y Y N N N N
Direct3D 9 (DXVA2) N N N Y Y Y N N N N
libmfx N Y N N Y N N N N N
MediaCodec N N N N N N Y N N N
Media Foundation N N N Y Y Y N N N N
OpenCL Y Y Y Y Y Y P Y N N
V4L2 M2M N N N N N N P N N N
VideoToolbox N N N N N N N Y Y N
Vulkan Y Y Y Y Y Y N N N N


  • Y Fully usable.
  • P Partial support (some devices / some features).
  • N Not possible.

FFmpeg API Implementation Status

Decoder Encoder Other support
Internal Standalone Hardware output Standalone Hardware input Filtering Hardware context Usable from ffmpeg CLI
Direct3D 11 Y - Y - - F Y Y
Direct3D 9 / DXVA2 Y - Y - - N Y Y
libmfx - Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
MediaCodec - Y Y Y Y - N N
Media Foundation - N N N N N N N
MMAL - Y Y N N - N N
OpenCL - - - - - Y Y Y
OpenMAX - N N Y N N N Y
RockChip MPP - Y Y N N - Y Y
V4L2 M2M - Y N Y N N N Y
VDPAU Y - Y - - N Y Y
VideoToolbox Y N Y Y Y - Y Y
Vulkan Y - Y N N Y Y Y


  • - Not applicable to this API.
  • Y Working.
  • N Possible but not implemented.
  • F Not yet integrated, but work is being done in this area.

Use with the ffmpeg command-line tool

Internal hwaccel decoders are enabled via the -hwaccel option (not supported in ffplay). The software decoder starts normally, but if it detects a stream which is decodable in hardware then it will attempt to delegate all significant processing to that hardware. If the stream is not decodable in hardware (for example, it is an unsupported codec or profile) then it will still be decoded in software automatically. If the hardware requires a particular device to function (or needs to distinguish between multiple devices, say if several graphics cards are available) then one can be selected using -hwaccel_device.

External wrapper decoders are used by setting a specific decoder with the -codec:v (-c:v) option. Typically they are named codec_api (for example: h264_cuvid). These decoders require the codec to be known in advance, and do not support any fallback to software or other HW decoder if the stream is not supported.

Encoder wrappers are also selected by -codec:v. Encoders generally have lots of options – look at the documentation for the particular encoder for details.

Hardware filters can be used in a filter graph like any other filter. Note, however, that they may not support any formats in common with software filters – in such cases it may be necessary to make use of hwupload and hwdownload filter instances to move frame data between hardware surfaces and normal memory.


Video Decode and Presentation API for Unix. Developed by NVIDIA for Unix/Linux systems. To enable this you typically need the libvdpau development package in your distribution, and a compatible graphics card.

Note that VDPAU cannot be used to decode frames in memory, the compressed frames are sent by libavcodec to the GPU device supported by VDPAU and then the decoded image can be accessed using the VDPAU API. This is not done automatically by FFmpeg, but must be done at the application level (check for example the ffmpeg_vdpau.c file used by ffmpeg.c). Also, note that with this API it is not possible to move the decoded frame back to RAM, for example in case you need to encode again the decoded frame (e.g. when doing transcoding on a server).

Several decoders are currently supported through VDPAU in libavcodec, in particular H.264, MPEG-1/2/4, and VC-1, AV1.


Video Acceleration API (VAAPI) is a non-proprietary and royalty-free open source software library ("libva") and API specification, initially developed by Intel but can be used in combination with other devices.

It can be used to access the Quick Sync hardware in Intel GPUs and the UVD/VCE hardware in AMD GPUs. See VAAPI.


Direct-X Video Acceleration API, developed by Microsoft (supports Windows and XBox360).

Several decoders are currently supported, in particular H.264, MPEG-2, VC-1 and WMV 3, AV1, HEVC.

DXVA2 hardware acceleration only works on Windows. In order to build FFmpeg with DXVA2 support, you need to install the dxva2api.h header. For MinGW this can be done by downloading the header maintained by VLC and installing it in the include path (for example in /usr/include/).

For MinGW64, dxva2api.h is provided by default. One way to install mingw-w64 is through a pacman repository, and can be installed using one of the two following commands, depending on the architecture:

pacman -S mingw-w64-i686-gcc
pacman -S mingw-w64-x86_64-gcc

To enable DXVA2, use the --enable-dxva2 ffmpeg configure switch.

To test decoding, use the following command:

ffmpeg -hwaccel dxva2 -threads 1 -i INPUT -f null - -benchmark


VideoToolbox is the macOS framework for video decoding and encoding.

The following codecs are supported:

  • Decoding: H.263, H.264, HEVC, MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4 Part 2, ProRes
  • Encoding: H.264, HEVC, ProRes

To use H.264/HEVC hardware encoding in macOS, just use the encoder -c:v h264_videotoolbox or -c:v hevc_videotoolbox for H.264 or HEVC respectively.

Check ffmpeg -h encoder=... to see encoder options.

VideoToolbox supports two types of rate control:

  • Bitrate-based using -b:v
  • Constant quality with -q:v. Note that the scale is 1-100, with 1 being the lowest and 100 the highest. Constant quality mode is only available for Apple Silicon and from ffmpeg 4.4 and higher.


Vulkan video decoding is a new specification for vendor-generic hardware accelerated video decoding. Currently, the following codecs are supported:

  • Decoding: H.264, HEVC, AV1

The AV1 specification is currently an experimental specification developed in collaboration with the Mesa project. As such, it should not be expected to be implemented on any other drivers currently, but once an official specification is available, the decoder will be ported to use it.

To test decoding, use the following command:

ffmpeg -init_hw_device "vulkan=vk:0" -hwaccel vulkan -hwaccel_output_format vulkan -i INPUT -f null - -benchmark

Documentation on how to initialize the device, as well as filtering, is available on our documentation page.


NVENC and NVDEC are NVIDIA's hardware-accelerated encoding and decoding APIs. They used to be called CUVID. They can be used for encoding and decoding on Windows and Linux. FFmpeg refers to NVENC/NVDEC interconnect as CUDA.


NVENC can be used for H.264 and HEVC encoding. FFmpeg supports NVENC through the h264_nvenc and hevc_nvenc encoders. In order to enable it in FFmpeg you need:

  • A supported GPU
  • Supported drivers for your operating system
  • The NVIDIA Codec SDK or compiling FFmpeg with --enable-cuda-llvm
  • ffmpeg configured with --enable-ffnvcodec (default if the nv-codec-headers are detected while configuring)

Note: FFmpeg uses its own slightly modified runtime-loader for NVIDIA's CUDA/NVENC/NVDEC-related libraries. If you get an error from configure complaining about missing ffnvcodec, this project is what you need. It has a working Makefile with an install target: make install PREFIX=/usr. FFmpeg will look for its pkg-config file, called ffnvcodec.pc. Make sure it is in your PKG_CONFIG_PATH.

This means that running the following before compiling ffmpeg should suffice:

git clone
cd nv-codec-headers
sudo make install

After compilation, you can use NVENC.

Usage example:

ffmpeg -i input -c:v h264_nvenc -profile high444p -pixel_format yuv444p -preset default output.mp4

You can see available presets (including lossless for both hevc and h264), other options, and encoder info with ffmpeg -h encoder=h264_nvenc or ffmpeg -h encoder=hevc_nvenc.

Note: If you get the No NVENC capable devices found error make sure you're encoding to a supported pixel format. See encoder info as shown above.

NVENC can accept d3d11 frames context directly.

ffmpeg -y -hwaccel_output_format d3d11 -hwaccel d3d11va -i input.mp4 -c:v
hevc_nvenc out.mp4


NVDEC offers decoders for H.264, HEVC, MJPEG, MPEG-1/2/4, VP8/VP9, VC-1, AV1. Codec support varies by hardware (see the GPU compatibility table).

Note that FFmpeg offers both NVDEC and CUVID hwaccels. They differ in how frames are decoded and forwarded in memory.

The full set of codecs being available only on Pascal hardware, which adds VP9 and 10 bit support. The note about missing ffnvcodec from NVENC applies for NVDEC as well.

Sample decode using CUDA:

ffmpeg -hwaccel cuda -i input output

Sample decode using CUVID:

ffmpeg -c:v h264_cuvid -i input output

FFplay only supports older option -vcodec (not -c:v) and only CUVID.

ffplay -vcodec hevc_cuvid file.mp4

Full hardware transcode with NVDEC and NVENC:

ffmpeg -hwaccel cuda -hwaccel_output_format cuda -i input -c:v h264_nvenc -preset slow output

If ffmpeg was compiled with support for libnpp, it can be used to insert a GPU based scaler into the chain:

ffmpeg -hwaccel_device 0 -hwaccel cuda -i input -vf scale_npp=-1:720 -c:v h264_nvenc -preset slow output.mkv

The -hwaccel_device option can be used to specify the GPU to be used by the hwaccel in ffmpeg.

AV1 NVDEC HW decoding requires using -c:v av1:

ffmpeg -hwaccel nvdec -c:v av1 -i input_av1.mp4 output.ts

libmfx (Intel Media SDK)

libmfx is a proprietary library from Intel for use of Quick Sync hardware on both Linux and Windows. On Windows it is the primary way to use for decoding, video processing and encoding beyond those accessible via DXVA2/D3D11VA. On Linux it provides a different and mostly wider range of features compared to VAAPI, specifically for encoding and often better performance.

See QuickSync.


OpenCL can be used for a number of filters. To build, OpenCL 1.2 or later headers are required, along with an ICD or ICD loader to link to - it is recommended (but not required) to link with the ICD loader, so that the implementation can be chosen at run-time rather than build-time. At run-time, an OpenCL 1.2 driver is required - most GPU manufacturers will provide one as part of their standard drivers. CPU implementations are also usable, but may be slower than using native filters in ffmpeg directly.

OpenCL can interoperate with other GPU APIs to avoid redundant copies between GPU and CPU memory. The supported methods are:

  • DXVA2: NV12 surfaces only, all platforms.
  • D3D11: NV12 textures on Intel only.
  • VAAPI: all surface types.
  • ARM Mali: all surface types, via DRM object sharing.
  • libmfx: NV12 surfaces only, via VAAPI or DXVA2.


AMD UVD is usable for decode via VDPAU and VAAPI in Mesa on Linux. VCE also has some initial support for encode via VAAPI, but should be considered experimental.

On Windows, UVD is accessible via standard DXVA2/D3D11VA APIs, while VCE is supported via AMF.

External resources

Last modified 26 hours ago Last modified on Jun 6, 2023, 10:09:24 AM
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