What are H/W and S/W Video Decoders?
If you’ve used (or still using) MX Player for watching videos on your Android device, then chances are you’ve come across the H/W and S/W video decoders. Now if you’re wondering what these jargon mean and which is better than the other, then we’re here to try and shed some light about it.
First of all let’s understand what a video decoder is and what purpose it serves. Video decoder, as its name implies, allows a device to process a video file in order to be viewed on that device.
The responsibility of decoding the video is typically delegated to a hardware component, the multimedia chipset to be exact, which specifically meant to handle this task – hence the term Hardware Decoding or H/W for short.
There are, however, some instances that the video decoding is passed on to the device’s processor. Although the video decoding is still handled by a hardware component – in this case the CPU – the process actually requires a software, thus being called Software Video Decoding or S/W.
Just to set things clear, neither H/W nor S/W can magically turn a low quality video file in to a high definition clip. Therefore, the quality of media playback is, first and foremost, dependent on the actual video file.
Now that’s out of the way, which of these video decoders provide better media playback? In general, the device’s dedicated multimedia chipset is better at processing videos than the CPU, thus resulting to a smoother video playback.
Thanks to advancements in both software and hardware segments, S/W video decoding is slowly catching up to H/W, albeit requires a powerful processor in order for the playback quality to be comparable to a file handled by the H/W decoder.
Since these video decoders utilize different hardware components when processing video files, the mileage of our device will vary depending on what decoder we’re using to process the video.
It’s been said that users will get better mileage by using H/W decoder when watching a video since the S/W decoding requires more CPU horsepower in an effort to match the quality and smoothness of the video processed using the H/W decoder.
We’ve scoured the internet for any form of illustration that would support the aforementioned claim, but we came out empty handed. As a result, we had to run our usual battery benchmark test on the same device, with an identical set of parameters, using H/W and S/W video decoder to put this claim to its paces.
Device: MyPhone Uno
Device State: Airplane Mode, GPS turned OFF
Display Brightness: 50%
File Type: mp4, 1280 x 536
Video Bitrate: 1011 kbps
Frame Rate: 23 frames/second
Audio Bitrate: 93kbps
Media Player: MX Player
Result H/W Video Decoder: 6 Hours and 50 Minutes
Result S/W Video Decoder: 4 Hours and 40 Minutes
Based on our test, the MyPhone Uno’s 1700mAh battery lasted 46% longer when we looped an HD movie using H/W video decoder. While there was no noticeable difference in the quality of the playback, using one over the other clearly dictates how much mileage one can get out their handset’s battery.
We’ve also ran the test on other devices with the same parameters, and although the mileage, as well as the difference in battery life varied from device to device, it’s clear that H/W video decoder is better than S/W decoder at power efficiency.
Video file compatibility
One of the few reasons why would anyone prefer to play video files using S/W decoder is because that it can decode a wider variety of video formats compared to H/W video decoder.
That is slowly changing though as newer processors have better dedicated media framework which can decode more file formats compared to older ones. But as it stands, S/W video decoder is still better at this aspect.
Cranking the volume to 100% should, oftentimes, suffice for most users. However, for those who still need that extra oomph out their audio device or their handset’s loudspeaker, J2 Interactive offers extra sound amplification through the MX Player. But there’s a catch…
The catch is that you have to use S/W decoder in order to get that extra 100% sound amplification. The updated version of the popular media player app, however, allow users to use S/W decoder for the sound and H/W decoder for the video which is quite convenient as users technically gets the best of both worlds.
That’s pretty much it guys, that’s our short crash course to H/W and S/W video decoders. We hope that we were able to give you guys a general overview of these two video decoders, and which one to use when watching media on your smartphone or tablet. Leave a comment below if you wish to add more insights to this post so that other users will benefit from it.