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Ubuntu and Multimedia

In recent years, multimedia has become an essential part of computing. Watching DVDs and videos and listening to CDs and music have become part and parcel of the modern desktop computer experience. These multimedia capabilities have been further bolstered by the huge popularity of legal music downloading. With a range of online stores for a variety of different types of music, it is not uncommon to listen to most of your music without ever seeing a little shiny silver disk.

Installing Codecs

Multimedia files and disks come in a variety of different types, and each type uses a special codec to compress the content to a smaller size while retaining a particular level of quality. To play this media, you need to ensure that you have the relevant codecs installed. Ubuntu now makes this easier by suggesting packages that provide a suitable codec when you open a file that isn't supported by the ones that are currently installed. Simply double-click the file you want to open, and you should be provided with a list of packages that you can install to enable support for the file you have tried to open. Select the packages that seem appropriate, and click Install.

Codecs still remain a problem for open source software because of the legal restrictions placed upon them. Certain codecs (including MP3, Windows Media Format, QuickTime, and RealMedia) are proprietary and as such have restrictions placed on their use, distribution, and licensing.

Although developers in the open source community have gone away and created free implementations of some of these codecs, the licensing that surrounds them conflicts with the legal and philosophical position that Ubuntu has set. These codecs are excluded not only because they are legally dubious but also because they disagree with Ubuntu's ethic of creating a distribution that consists entirely of free software in the most free sense of the word.

To work toward resolving these problems, a number of developers are working on free codecs such as Ogg Vorbis and Ogg Theora that provide high-quality results and open licensing. The Ogg Vorbis codec is used on audio and can provide better results than MP3 at a smaller file size. The Ogg Theora codec is used for video and competes with the MPEG-4 codec. Ubuntu includes the Ogg Vorbis and Ogg Theora codecs by default, and you can encode and play back any media that uses those codecs out of the box.

Although the world would be a better place if all codecs were free, the reality is different, and many Ubuntu users still want to play media compressed with proprietary codecs. Table 3-2 shows the most typical codecs used to encode and play back media and lists their support in Ubuntu.

Table 3-2. Codec Support


File Type















Windows Media Audio
















Raw DV








Windows Media Video




Listening to Audio Files

Ubuntu includes a powerful music player called Rhythmbox to organize and play your music file collection. By default, Ubuntu will look for music in the Music directory accessible in the Places menu.

Using Rhythmbox

Load Rhythmbox (Figure 3-15) by clicking on Applications > Sound & Video > Rhythmbox Music Player. The Rhythmbox window is split into a number of different panes, each displaying different details about your music collection. The left pane (Source) lets you select the source of the music, such as your media library, podcasts, and Internet radio. Each of these options has a browser pane available to display the source of the content. As an example, when you use the Library, one pane displays the artists and one displays the albums. You can use this to navigate your music.

Figure 3-15

Figure 3-15 Rhythmbox is a great place to look after your music collection.

Listening to Podcasts

Podcasts are audio shows that you can subscribe to, and they are increasingly becoming the new way to listen to audio and music. When you subscribe to a podcast, each new release is automatically downloaded for you. This makes it extremely convenient to regularly listen to audio shows.

Rhythmbox has good support for Podcast feeds, and subscribing to a feed is simple. In the sidebar, right-click the Podcasts entry and click New Podcast Feed. Paste in the feed by right-clicking the box and selecting Paste. The files are automatically downloaded, and you can listen to them by double-clicking on them. Each time you start Rhythmbox, a check is made to see if any new episodes exist, and if so, they are downloaded.

Playing and Ripping CDs

When you pop a CD into your CD drive, Audio CD Extractor (Sound Juicer) automatically loads to play your CD. If you are connected to the Internet, the CD is looked up on the Internet, and the album details and song titles are displayed.

Ripping Songs as Oggs

Sound Juicer is not just a CD player but a ripper too. Using a ripper you can convert the songs on the CD into files that you can play on your computer. By default, Sound Juicer rips the files in the Ogg format, which provides better sound quality than MP3 at a smaller size. By default, the ripped files are stored in the format discussed earlier, with each artist as a folder and albums as subfolders.

To rip the songs, just select the checkboxes of the songs you want ripped (by default, all songs are selected), and then click Extract. Each song is then stored in your Music folder, and the song titles are used as the names of the files.

Ripping Songs as FLACs

Sound Juicer is capable of supporting the audiophile-preferred FLAC format. Just change the output format in the program's preferences.

Ripping Songs as MP3s

Although the default Ogg support or free FLAC formats are recommended in most situations, you may prefer to rip MP3 files if you have a digital audio player that does not support Ogg or FLAC files. To do this, you need to configure Sound Juicer to enable MP3 support.

You should first use Synaptic to install the gstreamer0.10-plugins-ugly-multiverse package (see Chapter 4 for more details on installing packages). Next, in Sound Juicer, click Edit > Preferences and choose the CD Quality, MP3 (MP3 audio) profile from the Output Format options.

Buying Music

Canonical has added a special new option within Rhythmbox. You may now buy music through the Ubuntu One Music Store alongside Jamendo and Magnatune. While Jamendo and Magnatune are great sources for creative commons and other open-licensed music, for the first time, major and minor label artists will have their music available directly from within Ubuntu. These are the songs you would typically find in your local record shop or on a radio station. Music in the Ubuntu One Music Store will be encoded at a minimum of 256 kbps in MP3 format without any digital rights management (DRM). An Ubuntu One account (mentioned earlier in the chapter) is required to purchase music.

Interacting with Photos

F-Spot is a photo management program that you may use to import your pictures, organize them, and perform basic touch-ups like removing red eye, cropping, or simple color adjustment. When F-Spot imports photos, it reads the metadata embedded in the image file and then sorts the images by date. Once done, it creates a timeline that allows you to view photos easily as a group, individually, and even as a full-screen slideshow. You can export your photos individually or in groups directly from F-Spot to well-known Web services like Flickr or Google's Picasa, to a folder, or even to a CD you could give to a friend or family member. You can find F-Spot in the menu at Applications > Graphics > F-Spot Photo Manager. More information about F-Spot is available at https://help.ubuntu.com/community/F-SpotHowto.

Watching Videos

To watch videos in Ubuntu, you need to ensure that you have the correct codecs installed. As discussed earlier, some of these codecs are available separately due to the legal implications of including them with the Ubuntu system. Although the new process for suggesting and installing codecs should cover most popular types of files, you should still refer to the Ubuntu wiki at http://wiki.ubuntu.com for details of how to install ones that are not recognized.

Using Totem

To watch videos in Ubuntu, you use the Totem media player (Figure 3-16). Load it by clicking Applications > Sound & Video > Movie Player.

Figure 3-16

Figure 3-16 Totem is a simple and flexible media player.

To watch a video on your hard disk, click Movie > Open, and select the file from the disk.

Totem also supports video streams. To watch a stream, click Movie > Open Location, and enter the Internet address for the stream. The video feed is then loaded and displayed.

Getting DVDs to Work

Ubuntu comes with DVD support for unencrypted DVDs. With the DVD industry being what it is, the majority of DVDs come encrypted, and if you want to watch them, you need to ensure that a library that can decrypt these DVDs is installed. Unfortunately, this library needs to be installed separately and is not included with Ubuntu. Refer to the Ubuntu restricted formats page at https://help.ubuntu.com/community/RestrictedFormats for details.

With the library installed, insert a disk into your computer, and Ubuntu will automatically start Totem to view the disk. Alternatively, fire up Totem, and click Movie > Play Disk to play the DVD. Totem doesn't support DVD menus but you can still use it to play a DVD.

If you are settling down to watch a movie, you may want to configure a few other settings. First click View > Aspect Ratio to select the correct aspect ratio for your screen, and then select View > Fullscreen to switch to full-screen mode. To exit full-screen mode, just move your mouse, and some on-screen controls will appear.

If you want to use a remote control with your Ubuntu computer, you need to install the Linux Infrared Control (LIRC) package in Synaptic. LIRC is the library, and it supports a wide range of remote control units.

The first step is to determine which LIRC driver is required for your particular remote control. Take a look at the list of remotes on the LIRC site at www.lirc.org, or use your favorite search engine if your remote is not listed on the site.

LIRC includes a number of built-in drivers. You can see which ones are included by running the following command:

foo@bar:~$ lircd –driver=help

When you know which driver is required and you know your installed LIRC supports your hardware, you can edit the hardware.conf file in the /etc/lirc file to configure which one is used. Simply set the DRIVER line to the driver you selected. Then restart LIRC:

foo@bar:~$ /etc/init.d/lirc restart

With LIRC ready and running, you can test it by running the following command:

foo@bar:~$ /etc/init.d/lirc restart

When you press the buttons on your remote control, a code should appear. This code can be mapped to a button on your remote by editing the lircd.conf file in /etc/lirc. For more information, see http://help.ubuntu.com/community/LIRC.

Creating Videos

PiTiVi is a movie editor that is based on the same media framework as Rhythmbox and Totem, GStreamer. As a result, it handles any video format supported by GStreamer, which makes it very powerful indeed. It has interface options ranging from the simplicity of iMovie to a more complex professional view, as in Complex View. The goal is an easy-to-use but powerful piece of software for taking your video footage from your camera and editing it, adding effects and transitions, and mixing audio to create your own personal cinematic masterpiece. More information about PiTiVi is available at www.pitivi.org. PiTiVi can be found in your menu at Applications > Sound & Video > Pitivi Video Editor.

Exploring the Ubuntu Landscape

Unlike many other operating systems, Ubuntu includes a comprehensive suite of applications right inside the system. This range of tools has been selected to allow you to install Ubuntu and get your work done, communicate with other people, read and create documents, watch and/or listen to media, and more. Unfortunately, due to space restrictions, this book can only skim over the surface of available applications.

To help remedy this a bit, here is a quick summary of many of the applications listed on the Applications menu in Ubuntu, including how to find the applications and a brief description.

  • gedit Text Editor

    Applications > Accessories > gedit Text Editor

    This simple yet powerful text editor is ideal for editing documents, making quick notes, and programming. Included is a range of plug-ins for spell checking, statistics, file listings, and more.

  • Calculator

    Applications > Accessories > Calculator

    For those times when you need to figure out a percentage or calculate whether you are getting a raw deal from your employer, the calculator is there. It provides a range of functionality for simple and scientific calculations.

  • Terminal

    Applications > Accessories > Terminal

    Underpinning the desktop is an incredibly powerful command-line core. This application puts a window around a command-line interface and allows you to configure transparency, fonts, behavior, and more. Essential for the command-line junkies among you.

  • Quadrapassel (ex-Gnometris)

    Applications > Games > Quadrapassel

    If you have too much time on your hands, a surefire way to waste it is to play this version of Tetris. If you decide that single-player Tetris is not enough, you can install gtetrinet from the Ubuntu Software Center.

  • Mahjongg

    Applications > Games > Mahjongg

    For those of you who actually understand the rules of Mahjongg, this application provides a great implementation of the game.

  • Sound Recorder

    Applications > Sound & Video > Sound Recorder

    If you need to record something, such as your voice for a podcast or audio message, you can use this simple tool.

  • System Monitor

    System > Administration > System Monitor

    To get an idea of the current performance or load on your computer, click on this tool. The System Monitor lets you know which applications are running and how much memory/processing power they are using, and it also allows you to kill or restart processes that are hogging the resources.

  • Sudoku

    Applications > Games > Sudoku

    The increasingly popular logic game arrives on Ubuntu.

  • Disk Usage Analyzer

    Applications > Accessories > Disk Usage Analyzer

    Bits and bytes never looked so good! In case you were wondering exactly where all your disk space had gone, this will help solve the mystery.

Other Applications to Try

There are literally thousands of available packages that can be installed on your Ubuntu computer. These packages span a range of different areas, and this section highlights some of the popular ones. Software installation is covered in Chapter 4.

  • Inkscape

    Package to install: inkscape

    Inkscape (Figure 3-17) is a drawing package for creating Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG). Ever since the SVG format was introduced, it has taken the design world by storm. SVG allows the creation of graphics that can scale to any size. Inkscape is a hugely flexible tool for creating such graphics, and a huge range of icons and artwork in open source projects are made in Inkscape.

    Figure 3-17

    Figure 3-17 Inkscape

  • Gimp

    Package to install: gimp

    The GIMP Image Editor (Figure 3-18) is a powerful raster or bitmap graphics program that lets you draw, paint, edit images, and much more. It is similar to proprietary graphics programs and has the ability to process and create images using layers, plug-ins, and much more.

    Figure 3-18

    Figure 3-18 GIMP Image Editor

  • Blender

    Package to install: blender

    Blender (Figure 3-19) is an incredibly powerful 3D modeling, animation, rendering, and production studio. Blender amasses an impressive range of functionality for creating photorealistic scenes, animations, and real-time virtual walkthroughs. Blender is also fully scriptable in Python.

    Figure 3-19

    Figure 3-19 Blender

  • Scribus

    Package to install: scribus

    Scribus (Figure 3-20) lets you lay out pages graphically and create publication-ready output in PDF and Postscript formats. It is ideal for newsletters, magazines, technical documentation, and more. It supports CMYK color, Unicode text, and many graphic formats in the creation process.

    Figure 3-20

    Figure 3-20 Scribus

  • Bluefish Editor

    Package to install: bluefish

    For those of you who want to create Web pages but prefer to write code, Bluefish Editor (Figure 3-21) is a lightweight but feature-rich editor with support for a range of languages as well as HTML and CSS.

    Figure 3-21

    Figure 3-21 Bluefish

  • Tracker Search Tool

    Package to install: tracker

    Have you ever tried to search your computer for a file, but couldn't remember the file's name? Tracker (Figure 3-22) was created to help in these situations by indexing the contents of your hard drive using the metadata and tags attached to your files and allowing you to search with greater precision and accuracy.

  • Audio CD Extractor

    Package to install: sound-juicer

    Many of us have legally purchased compact disks that we would like to listen to using our computer or portable music player. Audio CD Extractor (Figure 3-23) will help you record the songs to your hard drive so you may do so. With this package installed, it is also possible to rip a CD from within Rhythmbox, making the process even more convenient.

Figure 3-22

Figure 3-22 Tracker

Figure 3-23

Figure 3-23 Sound Juicer: An audio CD extractor

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