DVD Players

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

I love movies. I'm a fan of films from almost every genre, from various countries and in various languages. Last Christmas, Ivy and I received a DVD player from her kids, and since then I've become an unabashed convert to the medium. Images are sharper, sound is clearer and the medium itself permits my choice of amenities such as subtitling, scene selection (aka chapters) and language preference. The only real problem I have with the player is it resides at her house and not mine. I don't even own a television, so purchasing a standalone DVD player also would mean buying a TV, and that's a purchase I'd rather not make. However, I do have a nice 19" monitor attached to my computer and a good video card to drive it. So the logical step is to add a DVD drive to my machine and configure my system for DVD playback. This article describes how I did that, the problems I encountered and my impressions of the software used for the job.

The Test Platform

I learned a lot about hardware while setting up my system for DVD play. My machine is capable of enjoyable glitch-free playback, but it took some tweaking to squeeze the most performance out of it. Here, I describe my system as it was used for this article, but I also describe what I recommend for a more current base system. Hardware matters a lot in this domain, so make sure your system can handle the audio/video requirements for the best DVD viewing and listening experience.

The Real

My DVD drive is an inexpensive unit purchased from a friend who had it lying around his apartment. dmesg reports this information about the drive:


If you're in doubt as to what kind of drive is in your machine, run dmesg | grep DVD for a report. Linux has exceptional support for DVD drives; in fact, the Linux Hardware Compatibility HOWTO states that virtually all ATAPI and SCSI DVD-ROM and DVD-RW drives are supported. If you're looking for recommended brands or are concerned about a specific drive, a quick search on Google should turn up the needed information.

The base machine also includes an 800MHz AMD Duron processor, two 15GB hard disks and 512MB of RAM. The display hardware is a generic 19" monitor connected to an NVIDIA GeForce2 video card with 64MB of video RAM. Audio is handled by a Sound Blaster Live! Value card and a sound system that includes a Yamaha DMP7 digital mixer, a 100-watt QSC power amplifier and a pair of Yorkville Sound YS-10 studio monitors. The kernel is compiled for low latency, and all drives are tuned for optimal disk throughput.

The Recommended

I prefer a faster CPU, something 1GHz or higher. I have received reports of decent DVD playback on 600MHz and slower machines, but at less than 1GHz you need to tune your other system components more finely. If you like to watch films in wide-screen mode, I recommend at least a 19" screen for comfortable viewing. Your graphics chipset should support the XFree86 Xv extension (most do), and your card should have at least 16MB of video RAM. The Creative Labs Sound Blaster Live! or Audigy 2 sound cards are excellent choices for stereo or 5.1 audio output configurations. The low-latency kernel is not absolutely necessary, but your DVD drive performance can and should be optimized. I discuss kernel options and tuning your drive in the next section.

One more note regarding an optimal audio system. Many DVDs support 5.1 Surround Sound and other audio options that may or may not be possible under Linux. An inexpensive 5.1 speaker system is fine for casual use, but if you're serious about sound you probably want to invest in a high-quality system. See the Tom's Hardware Guide URL in this article's Resources section on the Linux Journal Web site (/article/7174) for more information regarding available 4.1 and 5.1 sound systems for PC sound cards.

Configuration Considerations

The base Linux installation used for these tests is a heavily modified Red Hat 7.2, but the methods and procedures described here should apply to any relatively recent mainstream distribution with only minor changes (if any). Plain-vanilla Linux is not likely to yield optimal results for DVD performance, so following are a few tips I gathered from the Web and from the documentation for various players tested. The main considerations concern optimizing the kernel itself, tuning X, tuning the DVD drive and ensuring you have the correct device mountpoint.


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
$ 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.



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.

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

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.

Re: DVD Players

Anonymous's picture

can't seem to find the resources for this article

Re: DVD Players

Anonymous's picture

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