[openal] Looking for tips on streaming music.

Chris Robinson chris.kcat at gmail.com
Sat Aug 9 00:05:33 EDT 2014

On 08/08/2014 11:14 AM, Ian Reed wrote:
> I'd like to use alSourceQueueBuffers so I can decode just the first 5
> seconds or so and get it playing, then take my time in subsequent game
> loops to load the rest of the file.
> My first thought was that it would be nice to stop worrying about
> queueing and further decoding overhead once the entire file had been
> loaded into buffers.
> Then I'd just let the normal looping property on a source take care of
> looping it, assuming that works with queued buffers.
> And I'd be able to release the original file handle.
> But I've just done some testing and found these results:
> About 5 seconds of this file would be 95KB of ogg vorbis data.
> The decoded buffer is about 36 megs.
> So 5 seconds is about 871KB of raw data.
> Due to the 36 megs of uncompressed data I now wonder if it would be
> better to keep the file handle open and repeatedly decode the data into
> buffers, including handling looping myself by starting decoding at the
> beginning of the file once I've reached the end.
> Does anyone have experience with this?
> I'd appreciate some advice or thoughts on pros and cons of the 2 ideas.

The first method, loading bits of the audio into an ever-growing queue, 
would have less buffer management overhead, but it'd have more memory 
overhead and make underruns problematic to handle (if you don't get the 
next chunk of audio ready in time, you'll end up prematurely replaying 
everything you've already decoded unless you can keep track of where you 

The second method is the usual way to stream a large audio file. You'll 
only have a handful of relatively small, reusable buffers, and make 
underrun recovery fairly simple. This method is also a good way to 
handle audio sources that may not have an explicit length (e.g. if the 
music is generated in real-time, or continuous voice com streams).

> Also, is there an optimal buffer size?
> How many buffers should I have queued per source?
> Off hand it seems like 2 buffers, one that is currently playing and one
> that is pre-loaded.

I'd have at least 3 buffers. One playing, one ready to play, and one to 
refill. There isn't really an optimal size, although 64KB per buffer 
isn't a bad starting point (~350ms for 44.1khz 16-bit stereo).

> And once I have queued buffers working does it make sense for me to use
> them on all my sound files?  Or just certain ones based on size of file
> and whether it needs to be uncompressed?
> If just certain ones, what rules should I use to choose whether to load
> the whole file or use queued buffers?

Just certain ones. Most sound effects are typically short and reused a 
lot, so it makes sense to load them each into a single buffer once and 
share that buffer with every instance of the sound.

As for the rules, that depends on what criteria you have to work with. 
The simplest setup is to just stream background music, and load 
everything else normally. If your app is voice-heavy, with lots of 
unique voice clips that are several seconds or longer and aren't often 
repeated, it may make sense to stream those, too.

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