A Rant on Actimagine VX Codec

Well, since I don’t do anything useful these days and just give rants on subjects nobody cares about here’s another one.

This codec (there’s also VX container with IIRC PCM audio to accompany video) can be named a Very Mobile H.264 Rip-off. Why? Because the only available binary specification I got seems to come from some game, in ARMv6 I guess and has stride hardcoded to 256 pixels which would be appropriate only for some hand-held consoles. As for the second part—it uses Elias Gamma’ codes (like H.264 does—under different name) and suspiciously similar spatial prediction. Obviously it also differs a lot because it’s intended for a low-power devices and low resolutions too.

So, it operates on 16×16 macroblocks, each one can be coded with one of 24 possible modes that are really just combinations of one of the following techniques with optional residue coding:

  • splitting into 16×8 or 8×16 sub-blocks and processing them in the same way;
  • copying data from one of the previous three frames with or without motion vector adjustment (it’s full-pixel only);
  • copying data from the previous (frame?) block with some offset added to it (actually three offsets—one per component) and motion vector optionally;
  • applying intra prediction that also comes in two flavours—four modes applied to any block size or nine modes applied for 4×4 luma blocks (still only four modes for chroma).

Residual 16×16 block is coded as 5-bit CBP (again, Elias Gamma’ code mapped to CBP value) for four 4×4 luma blocks and two 4×4 chroma blocks. Coefficients are coded like this:

  1. Mode from Xine table (it’s predicted from neighbouring blocks too) that defines how many coded coefficients are there and how many of them are ones;
  2. Signs for known ones;
  3. Elias Gamma’ codes for other coefficients and their signs;
  4. Zero run value for skips between elements (from Xine table depending on maximum coefficient level seen so far).

In other words—nothing like H.264 CAVLC mode at all.

And if you think it was fun to RE I can tell you it was not and there are still challenges to overcome. First, the specification is badly written and optimised too much that decompiler is almost worthless there (for example, refilling bits is done by jumping to the end of the function that reads unsigned Elias Gamma’ code), functions expecting certain registers to be used for the state (like block functions expect R11 and R12 to contain motion vector, bitstream reading functions operate on the context stored in R1-R3 and return result in R6 etc etc), Hex-Rays also can’t decompile anything with switch statements and block decoding functions are full of them, it often decompiles function just to the first function call and ignores the rest of function code (happened to me on x86 too once where it decided to decompile only the head of main Smacker video decompression function without the block decoding loop, that’s why I trust decompilers even less that compilers). Second, the specification seems to miss data for lookup tables used in coefficients decoding.

So if you want to have it fully REd find a better specification and/or more patient and persistent man to deal with it. As for me—it’s dead, Jim®.

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