Multimedia Linux

Over the last decade, multimedia has become a major part of the way people use their desktop PCs - just as video and sound transformed the PC from a workaday tool to an entertainment device.

As part of the growing effort to make Linux a more attractive option for the desktop, a wide range of multimedia formats is now supported under Linux. Users can play DVDs, watch TV with a TV tuner card, and record and edit video in a wide range of formats. This month we profile some of the better multimedia software available for Linux.

VIEWING MULTIMEDIA

TV

Although a wide range of TV cards is supported in Linux, cards based on the BT848/878 chipsets are best supported. Most cheap (the $100-$150 price range) television cards on the market use this chipset, but it is best to check the card before purchase.

The Linux kernel uses a common driver to interface with TV cards, which means the same software can be used on any TV card supported by Linux. Two excellent TV applications are XawTV and KwinTV.

XawTV is the oldest TV viewer for Linux that is still available. It has a comprehensive range of features including capture and channel searching. The user interface to XawTV is not very intuitive, however, which may make it difficult to use for those new to the technology.

Another option, KwinTV, is a TV viewer for KDE with similar features to XawTV. KwinTV builds on the feature set of XawTV and adds an interface that new users will find friendly and easy to navigate.

DVD

Creation of a free DVD player for Linux has proved to be an extremely controversial project. A core part of the free DVD player is a program called DeCSS, which recently was ruled illegal by a US court and its distribution prohibited. As a result, until legal proceedings over DeCSS are completed, the open source Linux DVD player can only play unencrypted DVDs. Unencrypted DVDs currently make up a very small percentage of the DVD market, so a majority of DVDs can not be watched under Linux with an open source DVD player. Currently, there is "no commercial DVD player available for Linux - leaving users somewhat stranded, with a limited choice of DVDs available for viewing.

Internet media

Many Internet sites provide video content to visitors. This content comes in a wide range of formats, most of which are supported by Linux. For example, Linux users can watch RealVideo from Real Networks by downloading an official version of the popular RealPlayer software. The program operates in an identical fashion to its Windows and Mac counterparts and is available free from www.real.com.

QuickTime from Apple is also supported - albeit in a limited fashion. QuickTime allows for many different methods of encoding video and some of these methods carry high licensing fees. As there is no official QuickTime player from Apple for Linux, only the free methods can be used at this time. This is not a big problem since most QuickTime videos are encoded with these methods. For example, QuickTime videos can be watched with the Xanim player.

MPEG video has long been a popular standard for sharing video over the Internet. Linux supports MPEGs 1, 2 and 4 as well as the derivative of MPEG 4 known as DivX. MPEG video can be viewed with the XMPS player.

CREATING MULTIMEDIA

Broadcast 2000

Broadcast 2000 is a complete non-linear video editing system that gives your Linux system the ability to capture and edit multiple video streams to produce a single video. Broadcast 2000 comes loaded with special effects to polish your video as well as advanced audio processing tools to add a smooth soundtrack.

The interface for Broadcast 2000 is light, meaning it does not consume a great deal of system resources. It supports several video formats through plug-ins, including MPEG 1 and 2, QuickTime and RealVideo. Plus, an almost unlimited number of audio/video tracks can be opened at one time.

Broadcast 2000 requires a TV card to capture video and a sound card to record and play back audio. Your system's CPU speed and memory may limit the power of Broadcast 2000: the faster your system, the more effects you will be able to use on your video at once. Broadcast 2000 supports "multiple CPU systems for maximum performance.

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Alastair Cousins

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