All-in-one media player

For a long time, Linux has lacked an all-in-one media player along the lines of Windows Media Player. All this changed with the launch of MPlayer, an all-purpose media player and encoder supporting most popular audio and video file formats. In this column, we preview the wide range of features in MPlayer 1.0.

Features

MPlayer (www.mplayerhq.hu/homepage) supports most popular video and audio formats very well. QuickTime, MPEG, DivX... if you can name it, MPlayer probably supports it. MPlayer achieves this high level of compatibility through a combination of open source implementations of popular codecs and the use of many codecs compiled originally for Windows. The support for Windows codecs is particularly useful as some are heavily protected by patents and could not legally be implemented as open source.

MPlayer can also play DVDs and VCDs. To play a DVD with MPlayer you may need to make a symbolic link for your DVD-ROM drive so MPlayer can find it. If you encounter problems with MPlayer unable to locate /dev/dvd, in a shell as root type the following:

$ ln -s /dev/cdrom /dev/dvd

When you first try to play a DVD with MPlayer it will need to decrypt each track. This may take several minutes, but each time you play the DVD in future this will not be necessary.

The MPlayer GUI is easy to use. Once started, right-click on the playback window to access most of the functions of the player. Here you can select the type of media to play (video file, DVD, VCD, etc.), resize the screen and access the preferences control (see here for a screenshot).

The preferences menu shows off the flexibility of MPlayer. A particularly useful feature is the audio output plug-in section, where you can select the PCM output plug-in which allows you to save the audio from any media being played to a .wav file on your hard disk. Most aspects of MPlayer can be customised from the preferences menu.

The encoder portion of MPlayer is a very handy tool if you’re into editing video in any way. MEncoder is capable of converting between any of the formats supported by the player while also performing useful tasks such as resizing and dropping frames. The range of functions provided by MEncoder is too long to list here so, to find out more, try typing "mencoder" in a shell and reading the output.

Installation

Installing MPlayer from source is quite an involved process. There are several packages you must download from the MPlayer Web site to install the program, all available from www.mplayerhq.hu/homepage/dload.html. The following instructions will get you started.

Before starting to compile MPlayer, you will need to install a collection of video and audio codecs. A codec is a method of compression for video or audio, for example RealMedia or MPEG. The MPlayer codecs can be downloaded from www.mplayerhq.hu/homepage/dload.html. Your best bet is to download the first collection, named extralite.tar.bz2. Once downloaded, untar the collection and move its contents to /usr/local/lib/codecs. You will probably need to make this directory before moving the codecs.

Next, you will need the source code to MPlayer. Once downloaded, untar and change into the directory created. In a shell, type the following to compile and install MPlayer:

$ ./configure --with-codecsdir=/usr/local/lib/codecs --enable-gui$ make $ make install

You will need to be the super user (root) to execute the last command. Compiling MPlayer in this way requires the GTK+ 1.2 development library to be installed. Your distribution will include it.

Before you can begin to use MPlayer you will need to download and install a skin and the correct fonts. There are many skins available for MPlayer, a good starter being Blue.tar.bz2. To install it, type the following:

$ bunzip2 -c Blue.tar.bz2 | tar xv $ mv Blue ~/.mplayer/Skin/default

You may need to create the directory ~/.mplayer/Skin before executing the above. To install the necessary fonts, first download "Arial - Western (ISO 8859-1)" from the MPlayer Web site. Type the following to install the fonts:

$ bunzip2 -c font-arial-iso-8859-1.tar.bz2 | tar xv $ cd font-arial-iso-8859-1/font-arial-18-iso-8859-1/ $ cp * ~/.mplayer/font

You may need to create ~/.mplayer/font before executing the above instructions. The player portion of MPlayer can be launched from within a shell by typing:

$ mplayer

or a GUI version can be started with the command:

$ gmplayer

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