GNU/Linux DVD Player Review
MPlayer is another movie player that can play most MPEG, VOB, AVI, VIVO, ASF/WMV and QT/MOV files supported by many native, XAnim and Win32 DLL codecs. In addition to this you can watch VideoCD, SVCD, DVD, 3ivx and even DivX movies. In this respect it supports more formats than any of the other players reviewed here.
In addition to all of these video formats, MPlayer also supports a wide range of output drivers. It works with X11, Xv, DGA, OpenGL, SVGAlib, fbdev and AAlib, and you can use SDL and some low-level card-specific drivers (for Matrox, 3Dfx and RADEON) as well. Most of them support software or hardware scaling, so you can enjoy movies in full screen. Lastly, MPlayer supports displaying through some hardware MPEG decoder boards, such as the DVB and DXR3/Hollywood+. Blimey that's a list and a half.
So this looks like a one-stop shop for movie playback, but how does it perform? Very well. There are occasionally synchronization problems with DVD playback but nothing too major. The only thing to remember is that MPlayer does need to be run on a fairly powerful PC (greater than 500MHz) to work properly. If you are running on low power, MPlayer definitely is not for you. On lower spec machines the audio synchronization can get very messy, and the video becomes jerky, making the DVD, and other movie types, unwatchable. If you are using a lower spec machine, VideoLAN Client would appear to be the best option.
Encrypted DVDs are supported using the libcss library and, optionally, libdvdread for chapter support. As with the other players, encrypted support is not provided directly by MPlayer; you will need to download the libraries yourself. Unlike Xine, MPlayer does not support plugins, so you need to ensure that the libraries are installed before compiling.
MPlayer does not compile with a GUI by default, which is a little bizarre. To be fair, this is not a negative point as this is not really required if you just intend to use MPlayer to play back DVDs, as it does not support DVD menus. So having a GUI is not really necessary for DVD playback. However, if you intend to use MPlayer to play back other file types, you will need the GUI. To have GUI support you need to specify this if you compile from source by adding --enable-gui to the configure script.
To access the GUI you then either start MPlayer with a -gui switch (MPlayer does not use the standard --, which is usual for switches of more than one letter) or link MPlayer to gMPlayer, and then call gMPlayer instead. Another hurdle to get over with a GUI is that MPlayer is skinnable, but the standard source code has no skin, so the GUI still will not work. You need to download a skin from the MPlayer web site and install it, which is an irritating step. However, once all these additional steps are completed you are then presented with a usable interface to MPlayer. The interface, using the default skin, presents a simple and clean looking interface, that does not take up too much screen space. For those of you that find the Xine interface a little too bulky, MPlayer may suit you.
MPlayer's main drawback, or at least irritation, is that you cannot access a DVD from the GUI; instead you have to start MPlayer with the -dvd flag in order for it to play your DVD. To view another DVD currently means that you have to restart MPlayer. Lastly, there is no support for DVD menus available at present, so you cannot access the additional features of your DVD with MPlayer.
As a one-stop shop for movie playback, MPlayer scores very highly. It is fast (assuming you have a fairly new PC), and DVD playback is very good with no audio synchronization problems. With the support for multiple file format, you may find that MPlayer is all that you need.
Ogle is purely a DVD player and was the first to support DVD menus and navigation, the code of which is now used in the Xine plugin as mentioned earlier. As with VideoLAN Client and MPlayer, Ogle uses libcss and libdvdread to decode and read DVDs. The MPEG decoder features various levels of acceleration to take advantage of MMX processors and some hardware MPEG decoders.
Ogle can be run directly from the shell, but a GUI is also available if you prefer. The GUI is more compact than VideoLAN Client's, but manages to contain more functionality. All of the major functions are present, such as pausing, forwarding the DVD and menu keys. That said, the interface to the control GUI is still larger than the standard MPlayer GUI and is not as nice to look at. Unfortunately, although there is an option to edit preferences, it is not currently functional.
When you first access your DVD from Ogle you are presented with the DVD menu, which you navigate using your mouse. You also can navigate the DVD menu by using the arrows on the GUI, but navigation using the mouse seems to be the easiest method by far. Unfortunately, playback of encrypted DVDs is occasionally not as smooth as with VideoLAN Client or MPlayer as there are freezes and audio glitches. However, this is occasional and does not detract too much from watching a DVD, but it might be a consideration. As with the other players reviewed, you can switch between windowed and full-screen mode, and again, switching between the modes goes smoothly.
Ogle does have a few drawbacks, the main ones being that there is no chapter menu support, no angle selection during playback and no closed-caption support. The most annoying issue is that you have to restart Ogle to play another DVD, which is the same problem MPlayer has. These may not be major issues to you but are worth taking into consideration.
Ogle is the only one of the players reviewed here that only plays DVDs and not any other formats. Its main claim to fame was the DVD menu support, but thanks to the fact that Ogle is open-source, the code base is now being used in other players. If you only want to play DVDs, then Ogle is worth reviewing, but if your needs are wider than that, you probably will want to look at one of the other players.
In conclusion, playing your bought-and-paid-for DVDs under your favorite OS is now achieved easily using any of the players reviewed here. There are many other players available; the ones we reviewed here have the most supporters and users. As always, because there are a wide range of DVD players to choose from, you should be able to find a player to suit your requirements. So go ahead and enjoy your DVDs on your GNU/Linux box.
Jonathan Kent is a system integration consultant working in the financial sector on real-time market data delivery systems. He has been using UNIX for the past ten years and GNU/Linux for four years. He lives with his family in the United Kingdom.
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