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Ubuntu and Multimedia

In recent years, multimedia has become an essential part of computing. Watching DVDs and Web videos and listening to music have become an integral part of modern computer use. 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, or coder/decoder software, 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 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 3-1 shows the most typical codecs used to encode and play back media and lists their support in Ubuntu.

Table 3-1 Codec Support


File Type















Windows Media Audio
















Raw DV








Windows Media Video




AAC Audio




• These codecs involve the installation of nonfree software that may or may not be legal in your country.

Listening to Audio Files

Ubuntu includes a powerful music player called Rhythmbox Music Player 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 3-20) by searching the Dash to find Rhythmbox Music Player. You can also access Rhythmbox quickly using the Sound icon in the Notification area at the right of the top panel. Click the icon for quick access to open or minimize the Rhythmbox window, to volume controls, playlists, and the Sound Settings menu.

Figure 3-20 Rhythmbox is a great place to look after your music collection.

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.

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

Insert a music CD into your computer and Ubuntu will respond with a pop-up box giving you the option to rip (copy) the music to your hard drive or play the CD. If you rip the CD, you can adjust the metadata during the process, such as the song titles or artist names.

Buying Music

Canonical has added options within Rhythmbox. You may now buy music through the Ubuntu One Music Store alongside Jamendo, Magnatune, and the Amazon MP3 Store. 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 (described in Chapter 4) is required to purchase music.

Interacting with Photos

Shotwell 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 Shotwell 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 Shotwell 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.

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 Movie Player

To watch videos in Ubuntu, you use the Movie Player (Figure 3-21). Load it by clicking Dash Home from the Launcher and searching for Movie Player.

Figure 3-21 Movie Player 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.

Movie Player 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 software library that can decrypt these DVDs is installed. Unfortunately, this software 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 Movie Player to view the disk. Alternatively, fire up Movie Player, and click Movie > Play Disk to play the DVD. Movie Player 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. 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:

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:

sudo /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.

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