raaka1 / nvvl

A library that uses hardware acceleration to load sequences of video frames to facilitate machine learning training

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NVVL (NVIDIA Video Loader) is a library to load random sequences of video frames from compressed video files to facilitate machine learning training. It uses FFmpeg's libraries to parse and read the compressed packets from video files and the video decoding hardware available on NVIDIA GPUs to off-load and accelerate the decoding of those packets, providing a ready-for-training tensor in GPU device memory. NVVL can additionally perform data augmentation while loading the frames. Frames can be scaled, cropped, and flipped horizontally using the GPUs dedicated texture mapping units. Output can be in RGB or YCbCr color space, normalized to [0, 1] or [0, 255], and in float, half, or uint8 tensors.

Using compressed video files instead of individual frame image files significantly reduces the demands on the storage and I/O systems during training. Storing video datasets as video files consumes an order of magnitude less disk space, allowing for larger datasets to both fit in system RAM as well as local SSDs for fast access. During loading fewer bytes must be read from disk. Fitting on smaller, faster storage and reading fewer bytes at load time allievates the bottleneck of retrieving data from disks, which will only get worse as GPUs get faster. For the dataset used in our example project, H.264 compressed .mp4 files were nearly 40x smaller than storing frames as .png files.

Using the hardware decoder on NVIDIA GPUs to decode images significantly reduces the demands on the host CPU. This means fewer CPU cores need to be dedicated to data loading during training. This is especially important in servers with a large number of GPUs per CPU, such as the in the NVIDIA DGX-2 server, but also provides benefits for other platforms. When training our example project on a NVIDIA DGX-1, the CPU load when using NVVL was 50-60% of the load seen when using a normal dataloader for .png files.

Measurements that quantify the performance advantages of using NVVL are detailed in our super resolution example project.

Most users will want to use the deep learning framework wrappers provided rather than using the library directly. Currently a wrapper for PyTorch is provided (PR's for other frameworks are welcome). See the PyTorch wrapper README for documentation on using the PyTorch wrapper. Note that it is not required to build or install the C++ library before building the PyTorch wrapper (its setup scripts will do so for you).

Building and Installing

NVVL depends on the following:

  • CUDA Toolkit. We have tested versions 8.0 and later but earlier versions may work. NVVL will perform better with CUDA 9.0 or later1.
  • FFmpeg's libavformat, libavcodec, libavfilter, and libavutil. These can be installed from source as in the example Dockerfiles or from the Ubuntu 16.04 packages libavcodec-dev libavfilter-dev libavformat-dev libavutil-dev. Other distributions should have similar packages.

Additionally, building from source requires CMake version 3.8 or above and some examples optionally make use of some libraries from OpenCV if they are installed.

The docker directory contains Dockerfiles that can be used as a starting point for creating an image to build or use the NVVL library. The example's docker directory has an example Dockerfile that actually builds and installs the NVVL library.

CMake 3.8 and above provides builtin CUDA language support that NVVL's build system uses. Since CMake 3.8 is relatively new and not yet in widely used Linux distribution, it may be required to install a new version of CMake. The easiest way to do so is to make use of their package on PyPI:

pip install cmake

Alternatively, or if pip isn't available, you can install to /usr/local from a binary distribution:

wget https://cmake.org/files/v3.10/cmake-3.10.2-Linux-x86_64.sh
/bin/sh cmake-3.10.2-Linux-x86_64.sh --prefix=/usr/local

See https://cmake.org/download/ for more options.

Building and installing NVVL follows the typical CMake pattern:

mkdir build && cd build
cmake ..
make -j
sudo make install

This will install libnvvl.so and development headers into appropriate subdirectores under /usr/local. CMake can be passed the following options using cmake .. -DOPTION=Value:

  • CUDA_ARCH - Name of a CUDA architecture to generate device code for, seperated via a semicolon. Valid options are Kepler, Maxwell, Pascal, and Volta. You can also use specific architecture names such as sm_61. Default is Maxwell;Pascal;Volta.

  • CMAKE_CUDA_FLAGS - A string of arguments to pass to nvcc. In particular, you can decide to link against the static or shared runtime library using -cudart shared or -cudart static. You can also use this for finer control of code generation than CUDA_ARCH, see the nvcc documentation. Default is -cudart shared.

  • WITH_OPENCV - Set this to 1 to build the examples with the optional OpenCV functionality.

  • CMAKE_INSTALL_PREFIX - Install directory. Default is /usr/local.

  • CMAKE_BUILD_TYPE - Debug or Release build.

See the CMake documentation for more options.

The examples in doc/examples can be built using the examples target:

make examples

Finally, if Doxygen is installed, API documentation can be built using the doc target:

make doc

This will build html files in doc/html.

Preparing Data

NVVL supports the H.264 and HEVC (H.265) video codecs in any container format that FFmpeg is able to parse. Video codecs only store certain frames, called keyframes or intra-frames, as a complete image in the data stream. All other frames require data from other frames, either before or after it in time, to be decoded. In order to decode a sequence of frames, it is necessary to start decoding at the keyframe before the sequence, and continue past the sequence to the next keyframe after it. This isn't a problem when streaming sequentially through a video; however, when decoding small sequences of frames randomly throughout the video, a large gap between keyframes results in reading and decoding a large amount of frames that are never used.

Thus, to get good performance when randomly reading short sequences from a video file, it is necessary to encode the file with frequent key frames. We've found setting the keyframe interval to the length of the sequences you will be reading provides a good compromise between filesize and loading performance. Also, NVVL's seeking logic doesn't support open GOPs in HEVC streams. To set the keyframe interval to X when using ffmpeg:

  • For libx264 use -g X
  • For libx265 use -x265-params "keyint=X:no-open-gop=1"

The pixel format of the video must also be yuv420p to be supported by the hardware decoder. This is done by passing -pix_fmt yuv420p to ffmpeg. You should also remove any extra audio or video streams from the video file by passing -map v:0 to ffmpeg after the input but before the output.

For example to transcode to H.264:

ffmpeg -i original.mp4 -map v:0 -c:v libx264 -crf 18 -pix_fmt yuv420p -g 5 -profile:v high prepared.mp4

Basic Usage

This section describes the usage of the base C/C++ library, for usage of the PyTorch wrapper, see the README in the pytorch directory.

The library provides both a C++ and C interface. See the examples in doc/examples for brief example code on how to use the library. extract_frames.cpp demonstrates the C++ interface and extract_frames_c.c the C interface. The API documentation built with make doc is the canonical reference for the API.

The basic flow is to create a VideoLoader object, tell it which frame sequences to read, and then give it buffers in device memory to put the decoded sequences into. In C++, creating a video loader is straight forward:

auto loader = NVVL::VideoLoader{device_id};

You can then tell it which sequences to read via read_sequence:

loader.read_sequence(filename, frame_num, sequence_length);

To receive the frames from the decoder, it is necessary to create a PictureSequence to tell it how and where you want the decoded frames provided. First, create a PictureSequence, providing a count of the number of frames to receive from the decoder. Note that the count here does not need to be the same as the sequence_length provided to read_sequence; you can read a large sequence of frames and receive them as multiple tensors, or read multiple smaller sequences and receive them concatenated as a single tensor.

auto seq = PictureSequence{sequence_count};

You now create "Layers" in the sequence to provide the destination for the frames. Each layer can be a different type, have different processing, and contain different frames from the received sequence. First, create a PictureSequence::Layer of the desired type:

auto pixels = PictureSequence::Layer<float>{};

Next, fill in the pointer to the data and other details. See the documentation in PictureSequence.h for a description of all the available options.

float* data = nullptr;
size_t pitch = 0;
cudaMallocPitch(&data, &pitch,
                crop_width * sizeof(float),
                crop_height * sequence_count * 3);
pixels.data = data;
pixels.desc.count = sequence_count;
pixels.desc.channels = 3;
pixels.desc.width = crop_width;
pixels.desc.height = crop_height;
pixels.desc.scale_width = scale_width;
pixels.desc.scale_height = scale_height;
pixels.desc.horiz_flip = false;
pixels.desc.normalized = true;
pixels.desc.color_space = ColorSpace_RGB;
pixels.desc.stride.x = 1;
pixels.desc.stride.y = pitch / sizeof(float);
pixels.desc.stride.c = pixels.desc.stride.y * crop_height;
pixels.desc.stride.n = pixels.desc.stride.c * 3;

Note that here we have set the strides such that the dimensions are "nchw", we could have done "nhwc" or any other dimension order by setting the strides appropriately. Also note that the strides in the layer description are number of elements, not number of bytes.

We now add this layer to our PictureSequence, and send it to the loader:

seq.set_layer("pixels", pixels);

This call to receive_frames will be asynchronous. receive_frames_sync can be used if synchronous reading is desired. When we are ready to use the frames we can insert a wait event into the CUDA stream we are using for our computation:


This will insert a wait event into the stream stream, causing any further kernels launched on stream to wait until the data is ready.

The C interface follows a very similar pattern, see doc/examples/extract_frames_c.c for an example.


If you find this library useful in your work, please cite it in your publications using the following BibTeX entry:

  author = {Jared Casper and Jon Barker and Bryan Catanzaro},
  title = {NVVL: NVIDIA Video Loader},
  year = {2018},
  publisher = {GitHub},
  journal = {GitHub repository},
  howpublished = {\url{https://github.com/NVIDIA/nvvl}}


[1] Specifically, with nvidia kernel modules version 384 and later, which come with CUDA 9.0+, CUDA kernels launched by NVVL will run asynchronously on a separate stream. With earlier kernel modules, all CUDA kernels are launched on the default stream.


A library that uses hardware acceleration to load sequences of video frames to facilitate machine learning training



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