Multimedia components and proprietary programs

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Csuka Laszlo,

Csuka Laszlo,

That's Entertainment


Movies, music, and Internet telephony are easy to use in Ubuntu. You just have to load the right software packages onto the computer. We present some favorite multimedia apps.

Playing movies and music, ripping DVDs, and making Skype calls – that's all possible with Ubuntu. Although the Ubuntu installer already provides basic "third-party" multimedia codecs, these options might not fulfill everyone's wishes. At least, the distribution loads the legitimate MP3 codec from Fluendo onto the computer through the ubuntu-restricted-addons package, along with components for the GStreamer framework (plugins-ugly, plugins-bad, ffmpeg) and a Flash plugin installer from Adobe.

As a result, you can play MP3 files, burn audio CDs, and view more than 90 movie formats right after installation. However, the installed package is not compliant with the ubuntu-restricted-extras package that you should install after the installation. It provides additional codecs for GStreamer, some typical Microsoft fonts (for which you need to sign an EULA first) and the UnRAR unpacker. You'll also need to install the LAME library so that you can create and play MP3 files from audio CDs.


Generally, numerous programs in Ubuntu play music and movies, but there are also some standard apps. Rhythmbox (Figure 1) is the preinstalled solution for playing music. You can use the software to convert CDs to MP3 format, although RipperX [1] is much better suited for it. Totem is the very simple default video player, and it uses the GStreamer format.

Figure 1: Rhythmbox plays MP3s as well as radio stations, and it provides integrated music shops. Better software exists for converting from audio CDs.

The drop-down menu used to access the videos and podcasts from YouTube and the BBC in the past is missing in the current version (Figure 2). Many users, however, still also install VLC: The multimedia player plays everything, provides more features than Totem, and can be extended easily through modules. You can find these modules in Software Center if you search for vlc-plugin- .

Figure 2: The Gnome developers removed some functions from the current Totem. On the right, the drop-down menu that previously allowed access to YouTube is missing.

Brasero is still used as a CD burner, and it provides an integrated cover editor. Burning Blu-rays works only with the commercial Nero Linux 4 product that has a demo version [2].

Running in the background for the previously mentioned programs is GStreamer, which is a modular multimedia framework that's available to many audio and video apps. Thus, many programs don't need to support special codecs because GStreamer provides the playback capability.

To play an MP3 file, Rhythmbox hands over the task to GStreamer, which rummages through its resources for a plugin that takes care of the MP3 format. Using the contained codecs, GStreamer converts the files into audible material (Figure 3). To teach Totem and Rhythmbox new data formats, often you can just install the matching GStreamer plugin.

Figure 3: Rhythmbox and Totem rely on the GStreamer framework that provides the necessary plugins with new codecs.

Dangerous Liaisons

Although you can use these "limited extras" for multimedia formats, you can't watch encrypted DVDs – which covers just about all commercial DVDs. Bypassing the Content Scrambling System (CSS) requires libdvdcss2 , provided by the VideoLan [3], but this is considered a legal gray area in many countries. Use of this software is banned, because it cancels the CSS playback protection and is therefore considered to violate the "effective copy protection mechanism."

In some countries, you can resort to two commercial Linux programs for legal playback: LinDVD from Corel [4] and the Fluendo DVD player [5], whose developers also participate in GStreamer. You can find the latter in the For Purchase repository.

Until a couple of months ago, you could use the Medibuntu repository. It used to house – apart from MPlayer and Mencoder – other codec packages that you needed to play and edit movies in all formats. Medibuntu has since been closed (see the "Bye-Bye, Medibuntu" box), and all its packages have been moved to the main repositories (except for libdvdcss mentioned above).

Bye-Bye, Medibuntu

Medibuntu was closed a few months ago because of lack of maintenance and because it was becoming a security risk for users. So, now, if a movie won't run, usually activating the Proprietary drivers for devices (restricted) and Software restricted by copyright or legal issue (multiverse) will help. Apart from libdvdcss2 , these repositories provide MPlayer, Mencoder, fonts for Adobe's Acroread PDF reader, and additional multimedia codecs that are in non-free-codecs .

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