DVD Players

We compare features, convenience and performance of the leading DVD-playing software for Linux and cover some important tweaks for smooth playback.
Win32 Codecs and the DeCSS

Much of the magic performed by these players comes from their use of video codecs (compression/decompression libraries) found in Windows and the Mac OS. In particular, MPlayer and xine require certain codecs to play files in formats such as Microsoft's ASF/WMV and Apple's QuickTime MOV. These codecs usually are not provided by the source or binary packages for the players themselves, but they are acquired easily. I advise getting whatever collections are currently available. Most of us want the standard packages, but if you're a die-hard video fanatic you might as well download and install them all. The legal status of acquiring and utilizing these codecs is somewhat unclear, but because they are available now I suggest getting them right away. It might prove difficult to do so at a later date.

The notorious DeCSS is a descrambler for DVDs encrypted with the Content Scrambling System (CSS). The original DeCSS software was proprietary and binary-only, but it has been reverse engineered and has spread through the Internet. A great deal of ink and ill-will has been spilled over CSS, and the DVD legal battles are far from over. For more information regarding the issues involved, please read the material at cyber.law.harvard.edu/openlaw/DVD. None of the players discussed here require DeCSS. The open-source libdvdcss is used for runtime CSS decryption and does not require a region-locked DVD player.

MPlayer

MPlayer is undoubtedly the most full-featured player reviewed here. It is considerably more than a DVD player, handling files in far too many video and audio formats to list here. Suffice it to say that if it's video, MPlayer likely can play it.

Figure 1. MPlayer with Blue Skin

MPlayer's DVD support meets the standard expectations listed above, and it adds a few features I now can't live without, including its equalizer, a control for audio equalization (EQ) as well as video EQ. Brightness, contrast, hue and saturation can be controlled by the equalizer's sliders. Both audio and video EQ can be controlled in real time with smooth responses. Another nice feature is the ability to set the aspect ratio, that is, how much of your available screen space is occupied by the picture. I don't use this feature so much with DVDs, as most discs are available in wide-screen or standard formats, often on the same disc. Finally, MPlayer provides preset normal, double and full-screen modes for your viewing pleasure.

I really like MPlayer, but I must advise that its build procedure can be somewhat complex. Look over the myriad of configuration options carefully before building the program (see the results from ./configure --help). For instance, the MPlayer GUI is not included by default and must be enabled explicitly. DVD menus are supported with libdvdnav, but the documentation for MPlayer 0.90 indicates that menu support currently is not working. MPlayer's extensive documentation explains every aspect of the program, including compilation details. Look there before you post a complaint to the MPlayer mail list.

One more note concerning MPlayer: its developers are not fond of certain versions of GCC 2.96, nor do they particularly recommend NVIDIA graphics cards. Their stated position is to not answer questions from users with systems owning those components, which is a bit of a problem for me because I have an NVIDIA card and a version of GCC 2.96 on my machine. Nevertheless, I have compiled and used MPlayer under those build conditions and am quite happy with the results. If you have problems when compiling MPlayer with those factors, a Google search should resolve them. In all fairness, I must add that the MPlayer developer and user community is otherwise quite helpful.

Ogle

Unlike the other players reviewed, Ogle is strictly a DVD player—but what a DVD player it is. Ogle was the first player to support DVD menus, and its other amenities include bookmarks, time skipping, multichannel audio, SPDIF audio output (a digital audio format) and crop and zoom video. The bookmarks function is unique and sweet: I can stop anywhere within a movie, bookmark my position, then return to that position later simply by clicking on the mark. It may not seem like an exciting feature, but it is handy. With the Goggles GUI, Ogle also supports the option to start play upon opening; that is, Ogle automatically starts playing the disc in the drive.

Figure 2. Ogle with Goggles GUI and gxvattr

Ogle by itself can be used from the command line. It also can be built with a native GUI, and a number of third-party GUIs are available from the Ogle Web site. Personally, I like having a control panel handy, and I especially like the appearance of the Goggles GUI, but Ogle's keyboard mapping is excellent. Also, the Goggles GUI requires the FOX toolkit, which is not commonly found in mainstream Linux distributions. The Ogle Web site can direct you to the Goggles home, where you can find out how to acquire the FOX toolkit.

I'm also happy that Ogle's documentation directed me to the xvattr utility. The xv driver typically is the default video output driver for Ogle and the other players reviewed here, and its capabilities usually can be modified by preference settings in the players themselves. However, xvattr is a standalone utility that queries your video card for its specific xv-related capabilities and allows direct user control over them from the command line (or the gxvattr GUI). I found it to be quite handy when trying to resolve some frame rate difficulties due to my NVIDIA card's default double buffering (I was able to switch it off using xvattr). I advise using xvattr to learn more about your video card's particular xv-related capabilities.

______________________

Similis sum folio de quo ludunt venti.

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Things have changed

Jason's picture

While this was a great article back when it was written, things have changed very much sense then. Installing DVD playback software is now much easier, and with a growing number of Distributions (Ubuntu for example) everything is pre-optimized for video and DVD playback. All the user needs to do is launch into the terminal and type the following (for Ubuntu)

$ sudo su
[password]
$ apt-get install libdvdread4 (this command is not required for 10.04 as 10 comes pre-loaded with libdvdread4. With mine it did anyways, not sure if thats the norm though.)
$ /usr/share/doc/libdvdread4/install-css.sh (Installs libdvdcss2)
$ apt-get install vlc (Because the default video player in Ubuntu is a b**ch to get working with libdvdcss2... says you don't have it when you do).

And done. Watch DVDs to your hearts content.

Right you are. Infinitely

Dave Phillips's picture

Right you are. Infinitely easier than "back in the day". Oh well, at least there's some historical curiosity to the article. Thanks for the comment, Jason, I appreciate the read.

Best,

dp

Similis sum folio de quo ludunt venti.

i m a new user of fedora 8

bhupendra yadav's picture

i dont know that how softwares are instlled in linux and how we can use software that are inbuild . and how java,sql,c,c++ programs run in linux. plz give me any solvable solution

NEWBIE step-by-step compile tutorial.

Harding Leite's picture

Howdy...I'm trying to spend more and more time on the Linux "side" of my dual-boot PC but don't have enough mileage yet using the Terminal and the command-line to perform functions such as the ones demanded to get a DVD player up and running (i.e., Xine, Mplayer, etc).

Can anyone point me at a newbie-geared tutorial on how to compile sources? Can it be done from within KDE or must be using comands from the console?

I'm using OpenSuse 10.1.

Thanks!
Harding Leite
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

It works!

Anonymous's picture

Re: DVD Players

Anonymous's picture

I just can't understand the hardware requirements for DVD playback. What is the claims about >1GHz processor etc?

I had RedHat9 with vanilla 2.4.20-8 kernel, 450MHz Celeron, 320MB of RAM, Matrox Millennium G550 videocard, TerraTec DMX XFire 1024(Only stereo playback), Eizo 17" TFT and Plextor PX-116A DVD-drive.
First I didn't do any "optimization" for DVD playback, just hit xine and movies are running very smoothly at full-screen (1280x1024x32bit). DVD-drive was also working with 16bit I/O and DMA disabled. CPU load is approx. 60%.

I didn't notice much difference w/ 32bit I/O and DMA enabled.

-rushi, Finland

My wife would love this,

Scott1202's picture

My wife would love this, right now she’s going to have twins in July and she is pretty big, it would be nice if she could lay on the bed and watch some dvd’s in our bedroom, great. thank you!

Re: DVD Players

Anonymous's picture

Being new to Linux, I have been searching for a printed source of info on many things that have been vexing me. I found a source in your magazine ( the first one I have seen) which is the article on DVD players. I downloaded and compiled XINE, and after many tries I have finally got it to work. Somewhat. I still cannot get it to play many of my DVDs. I either get an error message, it locks up, or crashes. I have found that documentation for XINE, as well as many Linux programs, assumes that the user is a programmer. I would appreciate any help I could get on setting up XINE properly! I must say, I do not plan on ever going back to Windows and the daily, or more often, crashes that I suffered. Thank You for the article.
Michae Driver
daddy-d_rn@comcast.net

Re: DVD Players

Anonymous's picture

Hi Michael: You should write directly to the people at xine and describe your troubles to them. Perhaps you should join the mail-list or search its archive, you might find some users have had the same particular problems. When sending a report be sure to detail whatever error messages or reports occur after xine crashes, the developers will need that info. To make a good report you should indicate the version you have; be aware that xine comes in two pieces, the UI (user interface) and the player engine, so hopefully you can let the developers know what versions of the pieces you have. Btw, I use xine daily, I've had no problems with any discs or files except for some recent WMV files. I'm even able to play DVDs with regional codes from other countries, something our standalone player won't do. I truly hope you're able to get it working better, it's a wonderful program.

Dave Phillips

Re: DVD Players

Anonymous's picture

Great article! I was able to get the packages for xine, install them, and start watching my DVD's in under 30 minutes. I'm using SuSE 9.0 on an P-III/933Mhz, and it works flawlessly.
THANKS!

Re: DVD Players

Anonymous's picture

can't seem to find the resources for this article

Re: DVD Players

Anonymous's picture

Doncha love a new article with fresh borken links? Try this:
http://www.linuxjournal.com/article.php?sid=7174

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