Multimedia applications based on GStreamer usually handle playback with the playbin element. I recently added support for playbin3 in WebKit. This post aims to document the changes needed on application side to support this new generation flavour of playbin.

So, first of, why is it named playbin3 anyway? The GStreamer 0.10.x series had a playbin element but a first rewrite (playbin2) made it obsolete in the GStreamer 1.x series. So playbin2 was renamed to playbin. That’s why a second rewrite is nicknamed playbin3, I suppose :)

Why should you care about playbin3? Playbin3 (and the elements it’s using internally: parsebin, decodebin3, uridecodebin3 among others) is the result of a deep re-design of playbin2 (along with decodebin2 and uridecodebin) to better support:

  • gapless playback
  • audio cross-fading support (not yet implemented)
  • adaptive streaming
  • reduced CPU, memory and I/O resource usage
  • faster stream switching and full control over the stream selection process

This work was carried on mostly by Edward Hervey, he presented his work in detail at 3 GStreamer conferences. If you want to learn more about this and the internals of playbin3 make sure to watch his awesome presentations at the 2015 gst-conf, 2016 gst-conf and 2017 gst-conf.

Playbin3 was added in GStreamer 1.10. It is still considered experimental but in my experience it works already very well. Just keep in mind you should use at least the latest GStreamer 1.12 (or even the upcoming 1.14) release before reporting any issue in Bugzilla. Playbin3 is not a drop-in replacement for playbin, both elements share only a sub-set of GObject properties and signals. However, if you don’t want to modify your application source code just yet, it’s very easy to try playbin3 anyway:

$ USE_PLAYBIN3=1 my-playbin-based-app

Setting the USE_PLAYBIN environment variable enables a code path inside the GStreamer playback plugin which swaps the playbin element for the playbin3 element. This trick provides a glance to the playbin3 element for the most lazy people :) The problem is that depending on your use of playbin, you might get runtime warnings, here’s an example with the Totem player:

$ USE_PLAYBIN3=1 totem ~/Videos/Agent327.mp4
(totem:22617): GLib-GObject-WARNING **: ../../../../gobject/gsignal.c:2523: signal 'video-changed' is invalid for instance '0x556db67f3170' of type 'GstPlayBin3'

(totem:22617): GLib-GObject-WARNING **: ../../../../gobject/gsignal.c:2523: signal 'audio-changed' is invalid for instance '0x556db67f3170' of type 'GstPlayBin3'

(totem:22617): GLib-GObject-WARNING **: ../../../../gobject/gsignal.c:2523: signal 'text-changed' is invalid for instance '0x556db67f3170' of type 'GstPlayBin3'

(totem:22617): GLib-GObject-WARNING **: ../../../../gobject/gsignal.c:2523: signal 'video-tags-changed' is invalid for instance '0x556db67f3170' of type 'GstPlayBin3'

(totem:22617): GLib-GObject-WARNING **: ../../../../gobject/gsignal.c:2523: signal 'audio-tags-changed' is invalid for instance '0x556db67f3170' of type 'GstPlayBin3'

(totem:22617): GLib-GObject-WARNING **: ../../../../gobject/gsignal.c:2523: signal 'text-tags-changed' is invalid for instance '0x556db67f3170' of type 'GstPlayBin3'
sys:1: Warning: g_object_get_is_valid_property: object class 'GstPlayBin3' has no property named 'n-audio'
sys:1: Warning: g_object_get_is_valid_property: object class 'GstPlayBin3' has no property named 'n-text'
sys:1: Warning: ../../../../gobject/gsignal.c:3492: signal name 'get-video-pad' is invalid for instance '0x556db67f3170' of type 'GstPlayBin3'

As mentioned previously, playbin and playbin3 don’t share the same set of GObject properties and signals, so some changes in your application are required in order to use playbin3.

If your application is based on the GstPlayer library then you should set the GST_PLAYER_USE_PLAYBIN3 environment variable. GstPlayer already handles both playbin and playbin3, so no changes needed in your application if you use GstPlayer!

Ok, so what if your application relies directly on playbin? Some changes are needed! If you previously used playbin stream selection properties and signals, you will now need to handle the GstStream and GstStreamCollection APIs. Playbin3 will emit a stream collection message on the bus, this is very nice because the collection includes information (metadata!) about the streams (or tracks) the media asset contains. In playbin this was handled with a bunch of signals (audio-tags-changed, audio-changed, etc), properties (n-audio, n-video, etc) and action signals (get-audio-tags, get-audio-pad, etc). The new GstStream API provides a centralized and non-playbin-specific access point for all these informations. To select streams with playbin3 you now need to send a select_streams event so that the demuxer can know exactly which streams should be exposed to downstream elements. That means potentially improved performance! Once playbin3 completed the stream selection it will emit a streams selected message, the application should handle this message and potentially update its internal state about the selected streams. This is also the best moment to update your UI regarding the selected streams (like audio track language, video track dimensions, etc).

Another small difference between playbin and playbin3 is about the source element setup. In playbin there is a source read-only GObject property and a source-setup GObject signal. In playbin3 only the latter is available, so your application should rely on source-setup instead of the notify::source GObject signal.

The gst-play-1.0 playback utility program already supports playbin3 so it provides a good source of inspiration if you consider porting your application to playbin3. As mentioned at the beginning of this post, WebKit also now supports playbin3, however it needs to be enabled at build time using the CMake -DUSE_GSTREAMER_PLAYBIN3=ON option. This feature is not part of the WebKitGTK+ 2.20 series but should be shipped in 2.22. As a final note I wanted to acknowledge my favorite worker-owned coop Igalia for allowing me to work on this WebKit feature and also our friends over at Centricular for all the quality work on playbin3.


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