Testing VDPAU in Debian

VDPAU is the Video Decode and Presentation API for Unix [1]. I noticed an error with mplayer “Failed to open VDPAU backend cannot open shared object file: No such file or directory“, Googling that turned up Debian Bug #869815 [2] which suggested installing the packages vdpau-va-driver and libvdpau-va-gl1 and setting the environment variable “VDPAU_DRIVER=va_gl” to enable VPDAU.

The command vdpauinfo from the vdpauinfo shows the VPDAU capabilities, which showed that VPDAU was working with va_gl.

When mplayer was getting the error about a missing i915 driver it took 35.822s of user time and 1.929s of system time to play Self Control by Laura Branigan [3] (a good music video to watch several times while testing IMHO) on my Thinkpad Carbon X1 Gen1 with Intel video and a i7-3667U CPU. When I set “VDPAU_DRIVER=va_gl” mplayer took 50.875s of user time and 4.207s of system time but didn’t have the error.

It’s possible that other applications on my Thinkpad might benefit from VPDAU with the va_gl driver, but it seems unlikely that any will benefit to such a degree that it makes up for mplayer taking more time. It’s also possible that the Self Control video I tested with was a worst case scenario, but even so taking almost 50% more CPU time made it unlikely that other videos would get a benefit.

For this sort of video (640×480 resolution) it’s not a problem, 38 seconds of CPU time to play a 5 minute video isn’t a real problem (although it would be nice to use less battery). For a 1600*900 resolution video (the resolution of the laptop screen) it took 131 seconds of user time to play a 433 second video. That’s still not going to be a problem when playing on mains power but will suck a bit when on battery. Most Thinkpads have Intel video and some have NVidia as well (which has issues from having 2 video cards and from having poor Linux driver support). So it seems that the only option for battery efficient video playing on the go right now is to use a tablet.

On the upside, screen resolution is not increasing at a comparable rate to Moore’s law so eventually CPUs will get powerful enough to do all this without using much electricity.

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