Our Android app has an ability to record videos and also process frames as they are coming from camera. Processing includes traffic sign discovery and hard subtitles addition (GPS coordinates and timestamp). So, our final goal is to be able to access raw frames (byte[]) and to record video at the same time. It turned out that it’s quite hard to perform such kind of tasks on Android simultaneously, but we came up with our own way of doing it. Let’s start with what did not work.


MediaRecorder is the default and most easiest way to record video in Android. It has been there since API 1 and can record both audio and video. It’s the best way for recording if you’d like to get consistent behaviour and minimize number of errors across various devices. Using it as easy as configuring a couple of parameters and calling MediaRecorder.prepare followed by MediaRecorder.start:

Unfortunately, it has one big downside which makes it completely unusable for our needs. It does not supports frames processing. You’re setting the source (camera) and destination (file). MediaRecorder does all the magic inside and we can’t access frames as they’re coming. There is a way to access those frames though, but it’s pretty complex and has some issues. Also, it uses MediaExtractor which was first added in Android 4.3.


Jelly Bean introduced MediaCodec API. It’s a low level way to work with device’s media codecs. You can take frames coming from camera preview callback, send and then receive them back from specific hardware or software codec on application level.

Android 4.3 adds some new fancy things which improve MediaCodec significantly. You can now mux received frames into video file using MediaMuxer API. It’s also became possible to pass Surface as an input to MediaCodec which it will be using to get frames directly. Every device has it’s own codecs and every codec supports it’s own color formats. Specifying Surface as an input is a better alternative to sending raw bytes because you don’t have to deal with codec-specific color transformations anymore. It’s too bad we can’t leverage these features right away because we obviously have to support pre-Android 4.3 users.

We also have one big problem with MediaCodec. It’s only working stable and consistent since Android 4.3. The reason why it’s working bad in pre-Android 4.3 systems is that it was missing all necessary CTS tests. Anyway, we’ve decided to proceed with MediaCodec since we’ve had no other choices. MediaCodec is the only alternative to MediaRecorder to encode video using device’s hardware encoders.


According to Dashboards, there are still quite a few devices running Android versions older than Jelly Bean. That’s why we’ve decided to support all Android devices running API 11 and higher. We need a fallback to allow older devices to encode videos. We use dependency injection framework guice by Google which allows us to perform class bindings in runtime:

Note MediaCodecFormatSelector which we use to determine if we should go with MediaCodec or not. We have to use it to minimize number of crashes and various bugs because of older Android versions. Examples of such issues:

  • Device freezes while calling MediaCodec API function
  • MediaCodec treats input color format incorrectly and produces videos with invalid colors
  • App crashes randomly when calling MediaCodec API functions
  • MediaCodec works inconsistently with various codecs

We’ve created a list of affected devices and we’re forcing MJPEG encoding for them:


VideoEncoder is a general encoder interface:

We are sending and receiving frames in 2 separate threads for maximum throughtput. Muxer also occupies dedicated thread because otherwise it can block receiving thread which, in turn, eventually will block sending thread because of MediaCodec buffer which was not released in due time. Don’t forget to pass System.nanoTime() / 1000 as 4th parameter to MediaCodec.queueInputBuffer function, otherwise produced video will have invalid duration.

Converting color

While received frames can be feeded directly to the muxer, we still need to do some color format processing when we’re sending frames to MediaCodec. Let’s set camera preview format to ImageFormat.NV21 which is guaranteed to be supported in all devices. It’s a YUV format with Y plane going first followed by interleaved UV plane (YYYYYYVUVUVU). Unfortunately, MediaCodec does not supports it as input format. The most popular formats supported by MediaCodec are COLOR_FormatYUV420SemiPlanar and COLOR_FormatYUV420Planar and we need to ensure that we’re converting input frames properly:

Muxing video

Since we’re supporting older Android versions, we can’t use MediaMuxer yet. There’s a good Java library which allows to do video muxing called Jcodec. We’ll be using it to build final video files out of raw h264 frames sent to us by MediaCodec.

One important line to note is mMp4Track.setTgtChunkDuration(new Rational(2, 1), Unit.SEC). It tells Jcodec to dump video to the disk every 2 seconds. Otherwise every new frame will produce disk write. According to our tests, disk writing time on some devices may be a subject for slowdown spikes. For example, let’s say that problem device usually writes 30kb chunks in 1ms. Every few seconds this time can grow to 200-300ms randomly. That’s why it’s better to do as less disk writes as possible. I’ve also modified Jcodec slightly because it was throwing OutOfMemoryError from time to time.

Unfortunately, Jcodec currently does not supports muxing audio. We have to mux audio separately with another library.

Muxing audio

There’s another well-known Java library called mp4parser which knows how to deal with video and audio. We’re using it for merging video and audio together. That’s it, we’re muxing video and audio streams simultaneously into 2 separate mp4 files. When recording finished, we’re merging them together with mp4parser. Here how it looks:

You must have noticed BufferedWritableFileByteChannel which is not a part of java.nio nor mp4parser. It’s a simple wrapper for WritableByteChannel which buffers data up to BUFFER_CAPACITY bytes and only does write when it’s filled. It helps to overcome random disk write slowness issues.

Also, mp4parser was really slow on Android. It took almost 20 seconds to mux 1 minute audio and video together. I went ahead and performed some profiling using Debug method tracing and it resulted in this patch which speeded it up significantly (5 seconds for 1 minute video).


The whole process is a bit awkward, but it works good for us. Android 4.3 market share is still pretty low (24% of devices are running Android 4.3 and higher) and I guess that we won’t be able to utilize MediaCodec APIs efficiently in nearest future.