VideoLAN Client (VLC) is one part of a project intended to provide a cross-platform client/server solution for A/V (audio/video) streaming over high-bandwidth networks. According to the excellent VideoLAN documentation, the project includes the VideoLAN Server (VLS), which can stream MPEG-1, MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 files, DVDs, digital satellite channels, digital terrestrial television channels and live videos on the network in unicast or multicast. It also includes the VideoLAN Client (VLC), which can be used as a server to stream MPEG-1, MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 files and DVDs on the network in unicast or multicast. It also can be used as a client to receive, decode and display MPEG streams under multiple operating systems.
As a standalone DVD player, VLC's performance is in line with the rest of the players reviewed. Its CPU usage was the lowest measured, making VLC a first-choice solution for networked machines or relatively low-powered systems. VLC's GUI isn't especially exciting, but it works smoothly and flawlessly. If you don't need extensive file format support or if your system fits the target model, then I have no hesitation recommending VLC.
If MPlayer and xine were horses in a race, they'd be side by side at the finish line. xine is somewhat easier to build (the xine developers are not as parochial about your compiler and video card), and it includes all needed libraries within the source package, as well as its GUI in the default build. It also supports DVD menus by default, plays a wide variety of video formats and uses a video EQ similar to the one found in MPlayer. xine's GUI is a little strange at first, but it is actually well organized and easily navigated.
xine's performance is second to none. I was concerned about the results of my original test of its CPU usage, but I discovered the program remembered a “sticky” setting I had made while experimenting with its video output drivers. I had told xine to try the xshm driver, not realizing that subsequent sessions would continue to use that driver. Nothing was wrong with the driver itself, I simply noticed that xine's CPU usage was much higher than the results for the other players. Resetting the output driver to xv dramatically lowered CPU consumption, so I've been a little more careful with any changes I make to xine's default settings. You also can run the handy xine-check for a résumé of your system's capabilities analyzed with regard to xine's performance.
The only feature I miss in xine is an interface for random chapter selection. I can jump to scenes before or after the current location, but at this time there is no graphic representation of the chapters tree à la Ogle or MPlayer. However, scene selection from the DVD menu itself is fully supported, so as long as the disc includes a menu with scene selection, xine performs random chapter jumps. One other item of possible complaint is xine's inclusion of its required libraries within the source tree. Apparently this bothers some people, but I consider it to be a great convenience. I didn't have to run around the Web to find what I needed to complete the build; all I needed (except the Win32 and Apple codecs) was included with the original package.
Incidentally, although xine's default GUI is handsome and perfectly usable, a variety of alternative user interfaces can be found on the xine home page. Some nice-looking GUIs are shown, including one that shows your video output in an ASCII character display.
As with the other players, xine's community maintains a number of highly active mail lists. If you have questions about xine that are not answered in its excellent documentation, you certainly can find help from its community of developers and users.
Rather than trying to rewrite the excellent and exhaustive advice found at bunkus.org, here is some brief advice regarding ripping a DVD. Get a big hard disk, install either mencode or transcode (and its dvd::rip GUI) and follow the detailed instructions on the bunkus site. Ripping a DVD can involve a large number of options, so plan ahead for best results. The author of the bunkus site recommends at least 10GB of free space per disc ripped. Also, even using a fast CPU, the ripping process can consume many hours.
I don't own a DVD burner, so I can give no useful advice regarding the process other than mentioning that Jörg Schilling's excellent cdrecord is at the heart of it. However, as with ripping DVDs, a number of on-line articles are listed in the Resources section on the Web (/article/7174) that describe the process in some detail.
While preparing material for this article I asked members of the Linux Audio Users mail list what DVD software they used. MPlayer and xine were the clear winners, but one respondent asked whether I intended to cover hardware DVD decoding boards. Alas, I have no experience with such hardware and welcome feedback from any readers who have used them.
Similis sum folio de quo ludunt venti.
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