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.
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.
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:
hdd: LITEON DVD-ROM LTD163D, ATAPI CD/DVD-ROM 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.
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.
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.
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