I’ve just spend a good portion of this afternoon trying to understand why Apple’s ScreenCaptureKit did not behave as expected. My goal was simple: creating the simplest possible program to capture the entire display and analyse the generated buffers.

Here was a simplified version of my first attempt, in Objective-C:

#import <Foundation/Foundation.h>
#import <ScreenCaptureKit/ScreenCaptureKit.h>
#import <CoreGraphics/CoreGraphics.h>
#import <AVFoundation/AVFoundation.h>

@interface StreamOutputDelegate: NSObject <SCStreamOutput>

@implementation StreamOutputDelegate
- (void)stream:(SCStream *)stream didOutputSampleBuffer:(CMSampleBufferRef)sampleBuffer ofType:(SCStreamOutputType)type
    NSLog(@"buffer received!");

    // Analysis here

int main(int argc, const char * argv[]) {
    @autoreleasepool {
        if (!CGPreflightScreenCaptureAccess()) {
            NSLog(@"CGPreflightScreenCaptureAccess failed");
            return 1;

        CGSize displaySize = CGDisplayBounds(CGMainDisplayID()).size;

        // Get the first display
        __block SCDisplay *display = NULL;
        dispatch_semaphore_t semaphore = dispatch_semaphore_create(0);
        [SCShareableContent getShareableContentWithCompletionHandler:^(SCShareableContent * _Nullable content, NSError * _Nullable error) {
            display = content.displays[0];
        dispatch_semaphore_wait(semaphore, DISPATCH_TIME_FOREVER);

        NSArray *empty = @[];

        // Select display, excluding no window
        SCContentFilter *filter = [[SCContentFilter alloc] initWithDisplay:display excludingWindows:empty];

        SCStreamConfiguration* config = [[SCStreamConfiguration alloc] init];
        config.width = displaySize.width;
        config.height = displaySize.height;
        config.queueDepth = 8;
        config.showsCursor = true;
        config.pixelFormat = kCVPixelFormatType_32BGRA;
        config.colorSpaceName = kCGColorSpaceSRGB;

        StreamOutputDelegate* delegate = [[StreamOutputDelegate alloc] init];

        SCStream * stream = [[SCStream alloc] initWithFilter:filter configuration:config delegate:nil];
        NSError* error = nil;
        BOOL did_add_output = [stream addStreamOutput:delegate
        if (!did_add_output) {
            NSLog(@"addStreamOutput failed");
            return 1;

        dispatch_semaphore_t semaphore2 = dispatch_semaphore_create(0);
        [stream startCaptureWithCompletionHandler:^(NSError * _Nullable error) {
            NSLog(@"capture started");
        dispatch_semaphore_wait(semaphore2, DISPATCH_TIME_FOREVER);

        [[NSRunLoop currentRunLoop] run];

    return 0;

We can compile and run this program from the terminal by running:

clang -mmacosx-version-min=12.3 -fobjc-arc -framework Foundation -framework CoreGraphics -framework ScreenCaptureKit -framework AppKit main.m -o main && ./main

After providing the necessary permissions on the Settings, we are greeted with this output:

2024-01-27 20:19:41.567 main[6246:145858] capture started

So the capture started, but where are all our juicy buffers? I expected buffer received to be printed many times per second, but it seems like our callback is never called.

I’ve spent many hours trying to debug the issue, until I’ve started experimenting more with the SCContentFilter: instead of calling the initWithDisplay:excludingWindows: initialization, I’ve tried initWithDesktopIndependentWindow:, passing a random window… To my surprise, many buffer received! logs started to appear!

For some reason, it seems that passing an empty windows array to initWithDisplay:excludingWindows: causes the stream to never start (apparently I’m not the only one that experienced this problem).

A workaround I’ve came up with is using the initWithDisplay:includingApplications:exceptingWindows: initialization method instead, passing all the available applications as input:

// ...
// Get all the running applications
__block NSArray<SCRunningApplication *> *apps = nil;
dispatch_semaphore_t semaphore = dispatch_semaphore_create(0);
[SCShareableContent getShareableContentWithCompletionHandler:^(SCShareableContent * _Nullable content, NSError * _Nullable error) {
    display = content.displays[0];
    apps = content.applications;
dispatch_semaphore_wait(semaphore, DISPATCH_TIME_FOREVER);

NSArray *empty = @[];

// Select display, including all applications
SCContentFilter *filter = [[SCContentFilter alloc] initWithDisplay:display includingApplications:apps exceptingWindows:empty];

Running this program produces:

2024-01-27 20:34:04.269 main[6365:151907] buffer received!
2024-01-27 20:34:04.278 main[6365:151896] buffer received!
2024-01-27 20:34:04.287 main[6365:151907] buffer received!
2024-01-27 20:34:04.294 main[6365:151907] buffer received!
2024-01-27 20:34:04.303 main[6365:151896] buffer received!
2024-01-27 20:34:04.311 main[6365:151907] buffer received!
2024-01-27 20:34:04.320 main[6365:151896] buffer received!
2024-01-27 20:34:04.328 main[6365:151896] buffer received!
2024-01-27 20:34:04.336 main[6365:151907] buffer received!
2024-01-27 20:34:04.345 main[6365:151907] buffer received!
2024-01-27 20:34:04.352 main[6365:151896] buffer received!
2024-01-27 20:34:04.361 main[6365:151907] buffer received!
2024-01-27 20:34:04.369 main[6365:151896] buffer received!
2024-01-27 20:34:04.378 main[6365:151907] buffer received!
2024-01-27 20:34:04.386 main[6365:151896] buffer received!


Note: I’m currently running macOS 12.6.3, so newer versions might have already fixed this problem.