jPSXdec is a cross-platform PlayStation 1 media decoder/converter.
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Saturday, July 30, 2016

PlayStation audio and exceptional video quality

I'm still learning about audio in PlayStation games (Nocash Playstation Specifications is amazing!). The XA ADPCM audio format, frequently seen with STR videos, is what I'm most familiar with. But the PlayStation also has a Sound Processing Unit (SPU) that is used to play all other audio you hear in the game.

XA audio is easy to identify and convert. SPU audio, often referred to as "VAG" ("Very Audio Good"), isn't so easy. The easiest clips to identify are simple sound effects that are played and then end. It gets a little more difficult with audio clips that need to loop. Where it gets impossible to identify is when multiple audio clips are combined to form unique sounds in real-time. I believe this is called "SEQ" and is how a lot of background music is done in games. Each instrument is actually little sound clips being played at different frequencies. This brings up another challenge with all SPU audio: clips can be played at any frequency, and there isn't any way to know what it is.

One case where a game used instrumental audio along with STR video is the Valkyrie Profile opening FMV. jPSXdec can only identify the video clip, but has no way to recreate the music. Thankfully, diligent people have put a lot of effort into extracting these instrumental kinds of audio. These are stored in what's known as PSF files. Lo and behold, someone has taken the time extract the Valkyrie Profile instrumental music into PSF files.

With my growing knowledge around PlayStation audio, I thought it would be fun to create a very high quality conversion of the Valkyrie Profile opening. I assume using a PSF converter could produce better quality audio than what you can get on hardware or emulators. jPSXdec can extract the video with the best possible quality which can be made even better with other tools.

Tools used:


  1. Extracted Valkyrie Profile opening video with jPSXdec in avi:jyuv format. This is YUV using the [0-255] component range.
  2. Downloaded Valkyrie Profile psf audio clips.
  3. Used Audio Overload to convert opening video PSF to wav.
  4. Used VirtualDub to mux the video and audio into a single avi, with a 1 second audio delay to sync them up correctly.
  5. Created an Avisynth script to upscale the video to HD quality and convert to RGB. DGMPGDec plugin was used for deblocking and nnedi3 plugin for scaling.

    # VALKYRIE.BIN[0]HD.avs
    # For deblocking
    # For scaling
    AviSource("VALKYRIE.BIN[0]jyuv+audio.avi", pixel_type="YV12")
    # Deblocking
    # quant is the strength between 1 and 31
    # The quant=31 removed the maximum blocking issues
    # Didn't seem to blur anything else
    # Scale up by 4x for a final resolution of 1280x900
    # The results of nnedi3 appeared slightly better than Spline64Resize
    # Avisynth has the unique ability to choose the matrix
    # and ChromaInPlacement when converting to RGB (available since Avisynth 2.6)
    # matrix="pc.601" indicates input is in [0-255] component range
    # ChromaInPlacement="MPEG1" is the chroma placement used by PSX
    ConvertToRGB32(matrix="pc.601", ChromaInPlacement="MPEG1")
  6. Used ffmepg and this script to convert to an uncompressed/RGB/DIB AVI (5 GB file!):

    ffmpeg -i VALKYRIE.BIN[0]HD.avs -acodec copy -vcodec rawvideo VALKYRIE.BIN[0]HD.avi
  7. That looked good, so then compressed to an almost lossless mp4

    ffmpeg -i VALKYRIE.BIN[0]HD.avi -pix_fmt yuv420p -c:v libx264 -qp 1 -preset veryslow -c:a aac -strict experimental -b:a 192k -ac 2 VALKYRIE.BIN[0]HD.mp4

The result turned out pretty good.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

In The News

It might be a time for celebration because I've finally bumped jPSXdec into 'beta' status. It's pretty much feature complete now. At worst there may be a redesign of a couple modules as I've recently been hit with the infamous Judge Dredd which breaks some assumptions. I also think the GUI leaves much to be desired (thank you user-testing!).

During the life of jPSXdec I've always been really interested in what people were using jPSXdec for.

In recent news, a project to recreate the game Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain looks to be using jPSXdec to help upsample the videos.

I was going to link to a recently posted, and possibly related HD version of the Blood Omen videos, but to my surprise, Boulotaur2024's YouTube account has been terminated. He's been posting HD versions of several game videos, utilizing jPSXdec for most of the PlayStation ones. It was great because he found a few games that jPSXdec had problems with. Guess Media Interactive Inc. and the Record Industry Association of Japan didn't appreciate his work.

The great ScummVM project has made use of my awesome documentation to add a PlayStation video player so it could utilize the PSX videos from Broken Sword 1 and 2. They've written up a few instructions on how to get your videos ready to play in the emulator.

Saturday, August 13, 2011


On a whim, I ran one of the unique identifiers in the Lain game through Google which led me to a couple interesting sites.

A very impressive Russian site is trying to recreate most of the game's content for browsing on the web. What impressed me even more is the creator managed to reverse-engineer some of the game's data types before I did. He kindly gave jPSXdec a shout out since it was used heavily to extract nearly everything on the site.

This very old Japanese site I've seen before, but did a good job of documenting the game's content as well.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Translation Hacking

There's been a bit of activity with the translation lately, so I've been working more on the translation tools. Here's real video of the proof-of-concept I posted previously.

I figured it would be a bit rough to use this approach. Unfortunately, anything more than this would multiply the amount of work many times.

I've also discovered there are 34 images on the game discs that don't seem to ever appear in the game. They're not particularly interesting, however.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Decoding MPEG-like bitstreams

While developing jPSXdec for the last 4 years, I've run across three different methods of decoding bitstreams.

If you'd like to learn more about what part this plays in MPEG and PlayStation .STR decoding, check out my thorough document on the subject: PlayStation_STR_format.txt

Approach 1: Brute force

This is the most obvious approach. For each code, peek the next n-bits until the bits match something.

Next17Bits = Peek17Bits()
For Each Possible Code
If Next17Bits starts with code bits
Skip bit code length
return matching code
End If
End if

In the worst case, this approach requires 111 conditional checks to identify a bit code. To be honest, I've never actually seen this implemented anywhere besides by me years ago when first learning about bitstream parsing.

Approach 2: Binary tree

I actually ran across this approach implemented in the Serial Experiments Lain PlayStation game. You have a tree of conditionals testing the value of each bit until a match is found.

If ReadNextBit() == '1'
If ReadNextBit() == '0'
If ReadNextBit() == '0'
return ('11+0'.ZeroRun, '11+0'.AC)
return ('11+1'.ZeroRun, '11+1'.AC)
End If
End If
If ReadNextBit() == '1'
If ReadNextBit() == '1'
// '011s'
// '010... and so on
End If
// '00... and so on
End If
End If

The branching can be optimized a bit for most leaves: once the length of the bit code is clear, the remaining bits can be used as the index in several small lookup tables. The jPSXdec implementation only requires (in the worst case) 12 branches to determine the longest bit codes.

Approach 3: Array lookup

I believe this type of approach is used in ffmpeg and the Q-gears decoder. Thanks to the unspoken tradition of never documenting anything, I was unable to understand what it was doing. It wasn't until I reverse-engineered the .iki bitstream parsing that I finally saw how this approach works.

At least for MPEG-1 (and PSX STR), you can take advantage of its particular set of variable length bit codes. Only the first code ('11s') and the end-of-block code ('10') need special parsing. The rest of the codes fall under one of three groups. The group a code belongs to can be determined by looking at how many initial zeros it has.

  • Group one starts with between 1 and 4 zeros (this also includes the escape code 000001).
  • Group two starts with between 6 and 8 zeros.
  • Group three starts with between 9 and 11 zeros.

All codes in their groups:

    [Special handling]
01 // end-of-block
---- [Group 1] ----
0 11s
0 100s
0 101s
0 0101s
0 0110s
0 0111s
0 00100s
0 00101s
0 00110s
0 00111s
0 000100s
0 000101s
0 000110s
0 000111s
0 00001 // escape code
0 0100000s
0 0100001s
0 0100010s
0 0100011s
0 0100100s
0 0100101s
0 0100110s
0 0100111s
---- [Group 2] ----
000000 1000s
000000 1001s
000000 1010s
000000 1011s
000000 1100s
000000 1101s
000000 1110s
000000 1111s
000000 010000s
000000 010001s
000000 010010s
000000 010011s
000000 010100s
000000 010101s
000000 010110s
000000 010111s
000000 011000s
000000 011001s
000000 011010s
000000 011011s
000000 011100s
000000 011101s
000000 011110s
000000 011111s
000000 0010000s
000000 0010001s
000000 0010010s
000000 0010011s
000000 0010100s
000000 0010101s
000000 0010110s
000000 0010111s
000000 0011000s
000000 0011001s
000000 0011010s
000000 0011011s
000000 0011100s
000000 0011101s
000000 0011110s
000000 0011111s
---- [Group 3] ----
000000000 10000s
000000000 10001s
000000000 10010s
000000000 10011s
000000000 10100s
000000000 10101s
000000000 10110s
000000000 10111s
000000000 11000s
000000000 11001s
000000000 11010s
000000000 11011s
000000000 11100s
000000000 11101s
000000000 11110s
000000000 11111s
000000000 010000s
000000000 010001s
000000000 010010s
000000000 010011s
000000000 010100s
000000000 010101s
000000000 010110s
000000000 010111s
000000000 011000s
000000000 011001s
000000000 011010s
000000000 011011s
000000000 011100s
000000000 011101s
000000000 011110s
000000000 011111s
000000000 0010000s
000000000 0010001s
000000000 0010010s
000000000 0010011s
000000000 0010100s
000000000 0010101s
000000000 0010110s
000000000 0010111s
000000000 0011000s
000000000 0011001s
000000000 0011010s
000000000 0011011s
000000000 0011100s
000000000 0011101s
000000000 0011110s
000000000 0011111s

Each group has its own lookup table of 256 entries, and each code will be associated with one or more entries in the lookup table. After stripping off the minimum number of zeros in the group, no entry in the group will have more than 8 bits remaining in the bit code. For codes that have 8 bits remaining, its value identifies the associated table index. For the bit codes that have fewer than 8 bits remaining, you have to walk through every combination of the remaining bits to find all associated indexes.


Group 1 code: 00110s
Use 0 for sign bit for now: 001100
Strip off first leading 0: 01100
Find all combinations of remaining bits:

    01100+000 = 96 (table index)
01100+001 = 97
01100+010 = 98
01100+011 = 99
01100+100 = 100
01100+101 = 101
01100+110 = 102
01100+111 = 103

Thus bit code 00110s will be associated with table indexes 96-103.

Now each table entry needs three values: the inverse discreet cosine transform (IDCT) run of zero-value alternating current (AC) coefficients, the non-zero AC coefficient value, and the length of the bitstream bits that should be skipped.

Once all three tables are constructed, the following pseudo code will parse your bitstream.

If ReadNextBit() == '1'
If ReadNextBit() == '0'
If ReadNextBit() == '0'
return ('11+0'.ZeroRun, '11+0'.AC)
return ('11+1'.ZeroRun, '11+1'.AC)
End If
End If
Next16Bits = Peek16Bits()
If NumberOfLeadingZeros(Next16Bits) <= 4
Match = LookupTable1[(Next16Bits >> 8) & 0xff]
Else If NumberOfLeadingZeros(Next16Bits) <= 8
Match = LookupTable2[(Next16Bits >> 3) & 0xff]
Else If NumberOfLeadingZeros(Next16Bits) <= 11
Match = LookupTable3[Next16Bits & 0xff]
// bitstream error
End If
return (Match.ZeroRun, Match.AC)
End If
End If

Of course the implementation details can vary, but this gives the idea. The Approach 3 I implemented for jPSXdec requires about 8 conditionals to identify a bit code in the worst case. I've found it to be about 10%-15% faster than the Approach 2 I've been using.

Monday, September 6, 2010

PlayStation Video Decoders:
The Final Showdown

Updated from the previous comparison with the lastest versions, and three new decoders!

Most importantly, I finally captured what it ACTUALLY looks like on PlayStation hardware (in the dead center).

Those on top get it (more) correct, those on the bottom get it (more) wrong (and ffmpeg and Q-gears are just weird).

Naturally jPSXdec dominates in quality and accuracy. :)

The lineup:See the download for all the jucy (and technical) details.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Immaculate Decoding

Just writing a straight-forward PlayStation 1 video decoder has been a lot of work. However, for the absolute most impeccable quality, there is so much more that can be considered in the process.


When PlayStation videos are created, the pixels are broken up into luma (brightness) components and chroma (color) components. Like with JPEG and MPEG formats, 3/4 of the chroma information is thrown away because the human eye can't really tell (this is an example of lossy compression).

When decoding, that lost chroma information needs to be recreated somehow to convert the pixels back into RGB. Unfortunately there is no one 'right' way to do it, because there's really no way to get that lost information back. All you can do is 'guess' by filling in the blanks based on the information around the pixels using some kind of interpolation. Some of the most well known kinds of interpolation are: nearest neighbor, bilinear, bicubic, and lanczos. I've read about more advanced chroma upsampling approaches that also take into account the luma component. This works because there is often a lot of correlation between the luma and chroma components--when the luma changes, the chroma probably will also. I'd like to try to find the best one, but I haven't had much luck on finding many good resources about them all.

Now, because this is essentially just scaling of a 2D image, I've been worried about this article that points out a nasty little gremlin called gamma correction. It seems nearly everyone has been doing image scaling wrong since the popularization of the sRGB gamma corrected color space. I'm assuming video isn't immune to the same problem, yet I've never seen anyone mention it.


Assuming we find the upsampling method of choice, there are still ways the image can be improved. Most video codecs break the frames down into 'blocks', then encode each block separately--again losing information along the way. When everything is reconstructed, that lost information can often be seen as visible distortions between blocks. This problem has been addressed in more recent video codecs such as h.264, but is still a problem with the older MPEG2. I believe nearly all DVD players do some deblocking before showing the final frame.

Even though MPEG2 has been around a long time and deblocking is so common, I've had the darndest time trying to find much mention of what deblocking algorithms are in use today. UnBlock, and this page on JPEG Post-Processing are the best I've come by. I think I've read somewhere that some advanced deblockers can even make use of the original MPEG2 data to improve the deblocking.

I still consider myself a multimedia novice, so there are probably more post-processing methods that would really make the output shine. A big bummer among all research in that area is that if you can think it, you can pretty much count on it been patented.

Given how difficult all this stuff is, I really really wish I could just pass that problem off to the big players in the field, such as ffmpeg (i.e. libavcodec). I've even considered writing a PSX video to MPEG2 video translator so the MPEG2 video can be fed into ffmpeg. Unfortunately there are some big reasons why doing this still makes me uneasy.


The PlayStation uses its own particular IDCT approach that I've never seen anywhere else. Given how important it is that the DCT used to encode the video matches the IDCT used to decode, there are no existing decoders that can do it (except jPSXdec of course).

Differences in YCbCr

Another worry is that a real good quality MPEG2 decoder will spatially position the chroma components in the proper location (vertically aligned with every other luma component) as opposed to how I believe PSX does it (the MPEG1 way: in-between luma components).

To make things a bit more complicated, MPEG2 uses the proper Rec.601 Y'CbCr color space with [16-235] luma, and [16-240] chroma range. PSX on the other hand, uses the full [0-255] range for color information. Many video converters don't handle that discrepancy very well. Related to that, pretty much all converters store the data as integers, so any fractional information is lost after every conversion. In contrast, jPSXdec maintains all that fractional information until the very end.

In general though, I have not been impressed with ffmpeg's quality, so I can't suggest people use it when looking for good quality.

One advantage that comes when incorporating all these enhancements in jPSXdec is it provides a much nicer user experience. No need to be hopping between multiple tools to get the best results.

So if I were to actually implement all these features, where would I get the information I lack? Perhaps the forums could help. If any multimedia gurus happen to pass by this post, please, if you could, toss some wisdom my way.