Popcorn Maker is dead, long live Popcorn Editor

One of the really cool ‘web maker’ projects that Mozilla sponsored in the last few years was Popcorn Maker, an in-browser video editor that could take direct video clips or videos from Youtube etc and let you remix to your heart’s content.

Obviously this capability is very attractive for the future of video on Wikipedia and other Wikimedia sites! (See Ben’s blog post from July and Mike’s presentation on Air Mozilla)

Unfortunately Mozilla has to shuffle priorities, and Popcorn Maker is on the outs.

Fortunately, there’s enough interest in the Wikimedia video world that we’re helping to pick it up!

Popcorn Editor is a standalone version of the Popcorn Maker editor tool, and I’m going to be helping with integrating that into MediaWiki. We’ve got a milestone in the bug tracker and everything. :)

If you’re interested in helping out, we’re going to have some work sprints at WikiConference USA next weekend in Washington, DC. Please come and help out!


Video decoding in the JavaScript platform: “ogv.js, how U work??”

We’ve started deploying my ogv.js JavaScript video/audio playback engine to Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons for better media compatibility in Safari, Internet Explorer and the new Microsoft Edge browser.

“It’s an older codec, but it checks out. I was about to let them through.”

This first generation uses the Ogg Theora video codec, which we started using on Wikipedia “back in the day” before WebM and MP4/H.264 started fighting it out for dominance of HTML5 video. In fact, Ogg Theora/Vorbis were originally proposed as the baseline standard codecs for HTML5 video and audio elements, but Apple and Microsoft refused to implement it and the standard ended up dropping a baseline requirement altogether.

Ah, standards. There’s so many to choose from!

I’ve got preliminary support for WebM in ogv.js; it needs more work but the real blocker is performance. WebM’s VP8 and newer VP9 video codecs provide much better quality/compression ratios, but require more CPU horsepower to decode than Theora… On a fast MacBook Pro, Safari can play back ‘Llama Drama’ in 1080p Theora but only hits 480p in VP8.

Llama drama in Theora 1080p

That’s about a 5x performance gap in terms of how many pixels we can push… For now, the performance boost from using an older codec is worth it, as it gets older computers and 64-bit mobile devices into the game.

But it also means that to match quality, we have to double the bitrate — and thus bandwidth — of Theora output versus VP8 at the same resolution. So in the longer term, it’d be nice to get VP8 — or the newer VP9 which halves bitrate again — working well enough on ogv.js.

emscripten: making ur C into JS

ogv.js’s player logic is handwritten JavaScript, but the guts of the demuxer and decoders are cross-compiled from well-supported, battle-tested C libraries.

Emscripten is a magical tool developed at Mozilla to help port large C/C++ codebases like games to the web platform. In short, it runs your C/C++ code through the well-known clang compiler, but instead of producing native code it uses a custom LLVM backend that produces JavaScript code that can run in any modern browser or node.js.

Awesome town. But what are the limitations and pain points?

Integer math

Readers with suitably arcane knowledge may be aware that JavaScript has only one numeric type: 64-bit double-precision floating-point.

This is “convenient” for classic scripting in that you don’t have to worry about picking the right numeric type, but it has several horrible, horrible consequences:

  1. When you really wanted 32-bit integers, floating-point math is going to be much slower
  2. When you really wanted 64-bit integers, floating-point math is going to lose precision if your numbers are too big… so you have to emulate with 32-bit integers
  3. If you relied on the specific behavior of 32-bit integer multiplication, you may have to use a slow polyfill of Math.imul

Luckily, because of #1 above, JavaScript JIT compilers have gone to some trouble to optimize common integer math operations. That is, JavaScript engines do support integer types and integer math, just you don’t know for sure when you have an integer at the source level.

Did I say “luckily”? 😛

So this leads to one more ugly consequence:

  1. In order to force the JIT compiler to run integer math, emscripten output coerces types constantly — “(x|0)” to force to 32-bit int, or “+x” to force to 64-bit float.

This actually performs well once it’s through the JIT compiler, but it bloats the .js code that we have to ship to the browser.

The heap is an island

Emscripten provides a C-like memory model by using Typed Arrays: a single ArrayBuffer provides a heap that can be read/written directly as various integer and floating point types.


Because all pointers are indexes into the heap, there’s no way for C code to reference data in an external ArrayBuffer or other structure. This is obviously an issue when your video codec needs to decode a data packet that’s been passed to it from JavaScript!

Currently I’m simply copying the input packets into emscripten’s heap in a wrapper function, then calling the decoder on the copy. This works, but the extra copy makes me sad. It’s also relatively slow in Internet Explorer, where the copy implementation using Uint8Array.set() seems to be pretty inefficient.

Getting data out can be done “zero-copy” if you’re careful, by creating a typed-array subview of the emscripten heap; this can be used for instance to upload a WebGL texture directly from the decoder. Neat!

But, that trick doesn’t work when you need to pass data between worker threads.

Workers of the JavaScript world, unite!

Parallel computing is now: these days just about everything from your high-end desktop to your low-end smartphone has at least two CPU cores and can perform multiple tasks in parallel.

Unfortunately, despite half a century of computer science research and a good decade of marketplace factors, doing parallel programming well is still a Hard Problem.

Regular JavaScript provides direct access to only a single thread of execution, which keeps things simple but can be a performance bottleneck. Browser makers introduced Web Workers to fill this gap without introducing the full complexities of shared-memory multithreading…

Essentially, each Worker is its own little JavaScript universe: the main thread context can’t access data in a Worker directly, and the Worker can’t access data from the main context. Neither can one thread cause the other to block… So to communicate between threads, you have to send asynchronous messages.

This is actually a really nice model that reduces the number of ways you can shoot yourself in the foot with multithreading!

But, it maps very poorly to C/C++ threads, where you start with shared memory and foot-shooting and try to build better abstractions on top of that.

So, we’re not yet able to make use of any multithreaded capabilities in the actual decoders. :(

But, we can run the decoders themselves in Worker threads, as long as they’re factored into separate emscripten subprograms. This keeps the main thread humming smoothly even when video decoding is a significant portion of wall-clock time, and can provide a little bit of actual parallelism by running video and audio decoding at the same time.

The Theora and VP8 decoders currently have no inherent multithreading available, but VP9 can so that’s worth looking out for in the future…

Some browser makers are working on providing an “opt-in” shared-memory threading model through an extended ‘SharedArrayBuffer’ that emscripten can make use of, but this is not yet available in any of my target browsers (Safari, IE, Edge).

Waiting for SIMD

Modern CPUs provide SIMD instructions (“Single Instruction Multiple Data”) which can really optimize multimedia operations where you need to do the same thing a lot of times on parallel data.

Codec libraries like libtheora and libvpx use these optimized instructions explicitly in key performance hotspots when compiling to native code… but how do you deal with this when compiling via JavaScript?

There is ongoing work in emscripten and by at least some browser vendors to expose common SIMD operations to JavaScript; I should be able to write suitable patches to libtheora and libvpx to use the appropriate C intrinsics and see if this helps.

But, my main targets (Safari, IE, Edge) don’t support SIMD in JS yet so I haven’t started…

GPU Madness

The obvious next thing to ask is “Hey what about the GPU?” Modern computers come with amazing high-throughput parallel-processing graphics units, and it’s become quite the rage to GPU accelerate everything from graphics to spreadsheets.

The good news is that current versions of all main browsers support WebGL, and ogv.js uses it if available to accelerate drawing and YCbCr-RGB colorspace conversion.

The bad news is that’s all we use it for so far — the actual video decoding is all on the CPU.

It should be possible to use the GPU for at least parts of the video decoding steps. But, it’s going to require jumping through some hoops…

  • WebGL doesn’t provide general-purpose compute shaders, so would have to shovel data into textures and squish computation into fragment shaders meant for processing pixels.
  • WebGL is only available on the main thread, so if decoding is done in a worker there’ll be additional overhead shipping data between threads
  • If we have to read data back from the GPU, that can be slow and block the CPU, dropping efficiency again
  • The codec libraries aren’t really set up with good GPU offloading points in them, so this may be Hard To Do.

libvpx at least has a fork with some OpenCL and RenderScript support — it’s worth investigating. But no idea if this is really feasible in WebGL.


In the meantime, I’ve got lots of other things to fix in Wikipedia’s video support so will be concentrating on that stuff, but will keep on improving this as the JS platform evolves!

ogv.js soft launch on Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons

Soft launch of ogv.js on Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons has begun! This initial deployment covers the desktop view only, so iPhones and iPads won’t get the media player yet in mobile view.

ogv.js provides a JavaScript compatibility shim for Ogg audio and video playback in Safari 6.1 and higher, IE 10/11, and Microsoft Edge browsers, which gets Wikipedia’s media files working in those browsers. (Due to patent licensing concerns, we don’t provide files in the common MP3 or MP4 H.264/AAC formats, and this has made it difficult to use media files reliably across browsers as Apple and Microsoft have not adopted the free Ogg or WebM formats.)

See list of pending fixes for additional improvements that should go out next week, after which I’ll make wider announcements.

Here, have some samples! In Firefox, Chrome, or Opera these will “just work” with native WebM playback, while in Safari/IE/Edge they will “just work” with JavaScript Ogg playback:

Curiosity’s Seven Minutes of Terror


Caminandes – Gran Dillama


Using Web Worker threading in ogv.js for smoother playback

I’ve been cleaning up MediaWiki’s “TimedMediaHandler” extension in preparation for merging integration with my ogv.js JavaScript media player for Safari and IE/Edge when no native WebM or Ogg playback is available. It’s coming along well, but one thing continued to worry me about performance: when things worked it was great, but if the video decode was too slow, it could make your browser very sluggish.

In addition to simply selecting too high a resolution for your CPU, this can strike if you accidentally open a debug console during playback (Safari, IE) or more seriously if you’re on an obscure platform that doesn’t have a JavaScript JIT compiler… or using an app’s embedded browser on your iPhone.

Or simply if the integration code’s automatic benchmark overestimated your browser speed, running too much decoding just made everything crap.

Luckily, the HTML5 web platform has a solution — Web Workers.

Workers provide a limited ability to do multithreading in JavaScript, which means the decoder thread can take as long as it wants — the main browser thread can keep responding to user input in the meantime.

The limitation is that scripts running in a Worker have no direct access to your code or data running in the web page’s main thread — you can communicate only by sending messages with ‘raw’ data types. Folks working with lots of DOM browser nodes thus can’t get much benefit, but for buffer-driven compute tasks like media decoding it’s perfect!

Threading comms overhead

My first attempt was to take the existing decoder class (an emscripten module containing the Ogg demuxer, Theora video decoder, and Vorbis audio decoder, etc) and run it in the worker thread, with a proxy object sending data and updated object properties back and forth.

This required a little refactoring to make the decoder interfaces asynchronous, taking callbacks instead of returning results immediately.

It worked pretty well, but there was a lot of overhead due to the demuxer requiring frequent back-and-forth calls — after every processing churn, we had to wait for the demuxer to return its updated status to us on the main thread.

This only took a fraction of a millisecond each time, but a bunch of those add up when your per-frame budget is 1/30 (or even 1/60) second!


I had been intending a bigger refactor of the code anyway to use separate emscripten modules for the demuxer and audio/video decoders — this means you don’t have to load code you won’t need, like the Opus audio decoder when you’re only playing Vorbis files.

It also means I could change the coupling, keeping the demuxer on the main thread and moving just the audio/video decoders to workers.

This gives me full speed going back-and-forth on the demuxer, while the decoders can switch to a more “streaming” behavior, sending packets down to be decoded and then displaying the frames or queueing the audio whenever it comes back, without having to wait on it for the next processing iteration.

The result is pretty awesome — in particular on older Windows machines, IE 11 has to use the Flash plugin to do audio and I was previously seeing a lot of “stuttery” behavior when the video decode blocked the Flash audio queueing or vice versa… now it’s much smoother.

The main bug left in the worker mode is that my audio/video sync handling code doesn’t properly handle the case where video decoding is consistently too slow — when we were on the main thread, this caused the audio to halt due to the main thread being blocked; now the audio just keeps on going and the video keeps playing as fast as it can and never catches up. :)

However this should be easy to fix, and having it be wrong but NOT FREEZING YOUR BROWSER is an improvement over having sync but FREEZING YOUR BROWSER. :)

WebGL performance tricks on MS IE and Edge

One of my pet projects is ogv.js, a video/audio decoder and player in JavaScript powered by codec libraries ported from C with Mozilla’s emscripten transpiler. I’m getting pretty close to a 1.0 release and deploying it to Wikimedia Commons to provide plugin-free Ogg (and experimentally WebM) playback on Apple’s Safari and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and Edge browsers (the only major browsers lacking built-in WebM video support).

In cleaning it up for release, I’ve noticed some performance regressions on IE and Edge due to cleaning out old code I thought was no longer needed.

In particular, I found that drawing and YUV-RGB colorspace conversion using WebGL, which works fantastically fast in Safari, Chrome, and Firefox, was about as slow as on-CPU JavaScript color conversion in IE 11 and Edge — luckily I had a hack in store that works around the bottleneck.

It turns out that uploading single-channel textures as LUMINANCE or ALPHA formats is vveerryy ssllooww in IE 11 update 1 and Edge, compared to uploading the exact same data blob as an RGBA texture…


As it turns out, I had had some older code to stuff things into RGBA textures and then unpack them in a shader for IE 10 and the original release of IE 11, which did not support LUMINANCE or ALPHA texture uploads! I had removed this code to simplify my WebGL code paths since LUMINANCE got added in IE 11 update 1, but hadn’t originally noticed the performance regression.

Unfortunately this adds a user-agent sniff to my ogv.js code… I prefer to use the LUMINANCE textures directly on other browsers where they perform well, because the textures can be scaled more cleanly in the case of source files with non-square pixels.

Wikimedia video community editing tools & infrastructure status

There were a fair number of folks interested in video chatting at Wikimania! A few quick updates:

An experimental ‘Schnittserver’ (‘Clip server’) project has been in the works for a while with some funding from ze Germans; currently sitting at http://wikimedia.meltvideo.com/ (uses OAuth, has a temporary SSL cert, UI is very primitive!) It is currently usable already for converting MP4 etc source footage to WebM!

The Schnittserver can also do server-side rendering of projects using the ‘melt’ format such as those created with Kdenlive and Shotcut — this allows uploading your original footage (usually in some sort of MP4/H.264 flavor) and sharing the editing project via WebM proxy clips, without generational loss on the final rendering.

Once rendered, your final WebM output can be published up to Commons.

I would love to see some more support for this project, including adding a better web front-end for managing projects/clips and even editing…

Mozilla has an in-browser media editor thing called Popcorn.js; they’re unfortunately reducing investment in the project, but there’s some talk among people working on it and on our end that Wikimedia might be interested in helping adapt it to work with the Schnittserver or some future replacement for it.

Unfortunately I missed the session with the person working on Popcorn.js, will have to catch up later on it!

I’m very close to what I consider a 1.0 release of ogv.js, my JavaScript shim to play Ogg (and experimentally WebM) video and audio in Safari and MS IE/Edge without plugins.

Recently fixed some major sound sync bugs on slower devices, and am finishing up controls which will be used in the mobile view (when not using the full TimedMediaHandler / MwEmbedPlayer interface which we still have on the desktop).

Demo of playback at https://brionv.com/misc/ogv.js/demo2/

A slightly older version of ogv.js is also running on https://ogvjs-testing.wmflabs.org/ with integration into TimedMediaHandler; I’ll update those patches with my 1.0 release next week or so.

Infrastructure issues:

I had a talk with Faidon about video requirements on the low-level infrastructure layer; there are some things we need to work on before we really push video:

– seeking/streaming a file with Range subsets causes requests to bypass the Varnish cache layer, potentially causing huge performance problems if there’s a usage spike!

– very large files can’t be sharded cleanly over multiple servers, which makes for further performance bottlenecks on popular files again

– VERY large files (>4G or so) can’t be stored at all; which is a problem for high-quality uploads of things like long Wikimania talks!

For derivative transcodes, we can bypass some of these problems by chunking the output into multiple files of limited length and rigging up ‘gapless playback’, as can be done for HLS or MPEG-DASH-style live streaming. I’m pretty sure I can work out how to do this in the ogv.js player (for Safari and IE) as well as in the native <video> element playback for Chrome and Firefox via Media Source Extensions. Assuming it works with the standard DASH profile for WebM, this is something we can easily make work on Android as well using Google’s ExoPlayer.

DASH playback will also make it easier to use adaptive source switching to handle limited bandwidth or CPU resources.

However we still need to be able to deal with source files which may be potentially quite large…

List and phab projects!

As a reminder there’s a wikivideo-l list: https://lists.wikimedia.org/mailman/listinfo/wikivideo-l

and a Wikimedia-Video project tag in phabricator: https://phabricator.wikimedia.org/tag/wikimedia-video/

Folks who are interested in pushing further work on video, please feel free to join up. There’s a lot of potential awesomeness!

One bug down, pass it around

So I fixed a really annoying bug in my video player program where it sometimes just hung waiting on network input.

I thought it was going to be a really hairy multi-threaded concurrency issue, as I was building a blocking i/o interface on top of a non-blocking URL-fetching layer in order to reuse existing libraries.

I scoured my code looking for incorrect ordering, bad locking, or a problem with my semaphores…. Bit by bit the code was instrumented, logged, inspected, cleared, cleaned, and set back in place better than it was before. But the bug remained, untamed — nay untouched — by my onslaught.

At last I found the part of the code the bug was hiding: if the input buffer ran dry and the last network fetch had already completed, the i/o thread would die and the blocking request would time out.

But why was it broken? Because… um… I forgot to call the function that sends a follow-up request for more data.


WebM and Ogg energy usage on iOS 9 beta with OGVKit

I’ve been cleaning up some of my old test code for running Ogg media on iOS, adding WebM support and turning it into OGVKit, a (soon-to-be) reusable library that we can use to finally add video and audio playback to our Wikipedia iPhone app.

Of course decoding VP8 or Theora video on the CPU is going to be more expensive in terms of energy usage than decoding H.264 in dedicated silicon… but how much more?

The iOS 9 beta SDK supports enhanced energy monitoring in Xcode 7 beta… let’s try it out! The diagnostic detail screen looks like so:

energy - whole

Whoa! That’s a little overwhelming. What’s actually going on here?

First, what’s going on here

I’ve got my OGVKit demo app playing this video “Curiosity’s Seven Minutes of Terror” found on Wikimedia Commons, on two devices running iOS 9 beta: an iPod Touch (the lowest-end currently sold iDevice) and an iPad Air (one generation behind the highest-end currently sold iDevice).

The iPod Touch is playing a modest 360p WebM transcode, while the iPad Air is playing a higher-resolution 720p WebM transcode with its beefier 64-bit CPU:

energy - wassupFirst look: the cost of networking

At first, the energy usage looks pretty high:

energy - network highThis however is because in addition to media playback we’re buffering umpty-ump megabytes over HTTPS over wifi — as fast as a 150 Mbps cable connection will allow.

energy - before n afterOnce the download completes, the CPU usage from SSL decoding goes down, the wifi reduces its power consumption, and our energy usage relatively flattens.

Now what’s the spot-meter look like?

energy - lowPretty cool, right!?

See approximate reported energy usage levels for all transcode formats (Ogg Theora and WebM at various resolutions) if you like! Ogg Theora is a little faster to decode but WebM looks significantly better at the bitrates we use.

Ok but how’s that compare to native H.264 playback?

Good question. I’m about to try it and find out.


Ok here’s what we got:

energy - mp4The native AVPlayer downloads smaller chunks more slowly, but similarly shows higher CPU and energy usage during download. Once playing only, reported CPU usage dives to a percent or two and the reported energy impact is “Zero”.

Now, I’m not sure I believe “Zero”… 😉

I suppose I’ll have to rig up some kind of ‘run until the battery dies’ test to compare how reasonable this looks for non-trivial playback times… but the ‘Low’ reportage for WebM at reasonable resolutions makes me happier than ‘Very High’ would have!

MediaWiki audio/video support updates

Mirror of mailing list post on wikitech-l and related lists

I’ve been passing the last few days feverishly working on audio/video stuff, cause it’s been driving me nuts that it’s not quite in working shape.

TL;DR: Major fixes in the works for Android, Safari (iOS and Mac), and IE/Edge (Windows). Need testers and patch reviewers.

ogv.js for Safari/IE/Edge

In recent versions of Safari, Internet Explorer, and Microsoft’s upcoming Edge browser, there’s still no default Ogg or WebM support but JavaScript has gotten fast enough to run an Ogg Theora/Vorbis decoder with CPU to spare for drawing and outputting sound in real time.

The ogv.js decoder/player has been one of my fun projects for some time, and I think I’m finally happy with my TimedMediaHandler/MwEmbedPlayer integration patch for the desktop MediaWiki interface.

I’ll want to update it to work with Video.js later, but I’d love to get this version reviewed and deployed in the meantime.

Please head over to https://ogvjs-testing.wmflabs.org/ in Safari 6.1+ or IE 10+ (or ‘Project Spartan’ on Windows 10 preview) and try it out! Particularly interested in cases where it doesn’t work or messes up.

Non-JavaScript fallback for iOS

I’ve found that Safari on iOS supports QuickTime movies with Motion-JPEG video and mu-law PCM audio. JPEG and PCM are, as it happens, old and not so much patented. \o/

As such this should work as a fallback for basic audio and video on older iPhones and iPads that can’t run ogv.js well, or in web views in apps that use Apple’s older web embedding APIs where JavaScript is slow (for example, Chrome for iOS).

However these get really bad compression ratios, so to keep bandwidth down similar to the 360p Ogg and WebM versions I had to reduce quality and resolution significantly. Hold an iPhone at arm’s length and it’s maybe ok, but zoom full-screen on your iPad and you’ll hate the giant blurry pixels!

This should also provide a working basic audio/video experience in our Wikipedia iOS app, until such time as we integrate Ogg or WebM decoding natively into the app.

Note that it seems tricky to bulk-run new transcodes on old files with TimedMediaHandler. I assume there’s a convenient way to do it that I just haven’t found in the extension maint scripts…

In progress: mobile video fixes

Audio has worked on Android for a while — the .ogg files show up in native <audio> elements and Just Work.

But video has been often broken, with TimedMediaHandler’s “popup transforms” reducing most video embeds into a thumbnail and a link to the original file — which might play if WebM (not if Ogg Theora) but it might also be a 1080p original which you don’t want to pull down on 3G! And neither audio nor video has worked on iOS.

This patch adds a simple mobile target for TMH, which fixes the popup transforms to look better and actually work by loading up an embedded-size player with the appropriately playable transcodes (WebM, Ogg, and the MJPEG last-ditch fallback).

ogv.js is used if available and necessary, for instance in iOS Safari when the CPU is fast enough. (Known to work only on 64-bit models.)

Future: codec.js and WebM and OGVKit

For the future, I’m also working on extending ogv.js to support WebM for better quality (especially in high-motion scenes) — once that stabilizes I’ll rename the combined package codec.js. Performance of WebM is not yet good enough to deploy, and some features like seeking are still missing, but breaking out the codec modules means I can develop the codecs in parallel and keep the high-level player logic in common.

Browser infrastructure improvements like SIMD, threading, and more GPU access should continue to make WebM decoding faster in the future as well.

I’d also like to finish up my OGVKit package for iOS, so we can embed a basic audio/video player at full quality into the Wikipedia iOS app. This needs some more cleanup work still.

Phew! Ok that’s about it.