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Play Windows games on Linux with PlayOnLinux

At the core of PlayOnLinux is Wine, a compatibility layer that lets you run many Windows programs over Linux. But Wine isn't always easy to use. I

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Choose the DVD ripper that's right for you

By Andrew Min

 

Linux is sometimes belittled for having inferior applications, but that's simply not the case. Take DVD rippers, for example -- a plethora of them work on Linux machines. With so many to choose from, which is the best?

I performed three tests on five programs: HandBrakeGTK, AcidRip, dvd::rip, Thoggen, and VLC. The first test ripped a minute-long bonus feature (Yoda and some clones rapping) from the commercial Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith DVD (I am a geek). I performed the second test with the same scene, but with libdvdcss2 (a DVD decryption program) installed. I performed the third test with a nonencrypted DVD that I burned myself (Breakdown, which is about 46 seconds long and available on the Brickfilms site. I used a Dell Dimension 4700 with 1GB of RAM and Kubuntu Gutsy 7.10, running as few other programs as possible. The output was (ideally) MP4 with H.264 compression at 30 frames per second (FPS) (dvd::rip did it in Xvid, AcidRip in lavc, Thoggen in Ogg Theora).

Ripping performance (minutes:seconds)
  HandBrake AcidRip dvd::rip Thoggen VLC
Star Wars DVD (encrypted) 2:28 Didn't complete Didn't complete 11:00 Didn't complete
Star Wars DVD (encrypted, libdvdcss2) 2:42 Didn't complete 1:13 2:20 VLC includes libdvdcss2 by default
Breakdown (unencrypted) 2:28 0:30 0:52 1:54 0:13

HandBrake and HandBrakeGTK

HandBrake, originally a BeOS DVD ripper licensed under the General Public License (GPL), gained popularity as a Mac app and was praised for its ease of use and power. About a year ago, developers created a fork known as MediaFork to add Windows and Linux ports. In March 2007 the two merged, and in April, HandBrake 0.8.5b1 was released with Windows, Macintosh, and Linux ports. Unfortunately, there's still no official Linux GUI (although there are rumors of a Qt-based GUI). That meant that for a long time, Linux users who weren't familiar with the command line couldn't use HandBrake. (We detailed how to use it in "CLI Magic: Porting DVDs with HandBrake"). Luckily, Jeffrey Kirk created a GTK-based GUI known as HandBrakeGTK.

HandBrakeGTK is definitely not one of the fastest rippers available. In fact, it was the slowest in almost every category. However, it and Thoggen are the only ones that sucessfully ripped the encrypted DVD without libdvdcss2. It also offers a ton of features. You can choose exactly which titles and chapters to rip, use presets, and much more. So if you don't care how slow it is as long as it just works, HandBrakeGTK is for you.

AcidRip

AcidRip, a powerful GTK2 interface to MEncoder, is one of the most feature-heavy rippers around. It includes lots of powerful utilities.

Rather disappointingly, AcidRip didn't rip the encrypted DVD with or without libdvdcss2. That's a real shame, because AcidRip has so much to offer. Its main strength is its overwhelming amount of features, though when you have a lot of features, it's easy to get confused. And since it can sucessfully rip only nonencrypted DVDs, AcidRip may not be for you.

dvd::rip

dvd::rip may not have the most original name, but it deserves attention. It is, after all, one of the oldest and most well-known DVD ripping programs out there.

Like AcidRip, dvd::rip has tons of powerful features, such as projects, cluster control, and much more. This makes dvd::rip perfect for the power user, but leaves the basic user out in the cold. Additionally, dvd::rip couldn't rip the encrypted DVD without libdvdcss2 (though when it had libdvdcss2, it was the fastest). But if you don't mind installing libdvdcss2 and you consider the overwhelming amount of features good rather than bad, dvd::rip is right for you.

Thoggen

If you dislike AcidRip and dvd::rip for being too confusing, check out Thoggen. It offers almost no features at all. All it lets you do is select the titles to rip, and then rips them to Ogg format.

Thoggen and HandBrakeGTK were the only apps to sucessfully rip the encrypted and the nonencrypted DVD. However, the encrypted DVD took a whopping 11 mintues without libdvdcss2 (with, it took a respectable 2:20). Still, if you're a basic user who's not comfortable with complicated GUIs, Thoggen's your best bet.

VLC

VLC -- the media player that can play any format, encode anything, stream media, and wash dishes -- can also rip DVDs. Unfortunately, it's not the easiest task in the world to get it to do so -- check out this article on how to rip DVDs with VLC.

VLC's performance was pretty disappointing with the encrypted DVDs. Although libdvdcss2 was created by VideoLAN (the developers of VLC), VLC couldn't rip the commercial DVD. However, it was hands down the best for ripping nonencrypted DVDs, clocking in at the fastest speed by far. If you are going to be ripping only nonencrypted DVDs and don't mind the advanced configuration required, VLC is right for you.

The best one

Each DVD ripper has its strengths and weaknesses. If you want to use a ripper without libdvdcss2 (which has questionable legality in some countries), HandBrake is your only option. If you don't mind installing the extra library, dvd::rip (for hard-core users) and Thoggen (for basic users) are the best options. And if you're just ripping old DVDs you burned yourself, give the speedy VLC or the powerful AcidRip a try.

Supported output formats
HandBrake AcidRip dvd::rip Thoggen VLC
Audio Video Interleave (AVI) Audio Video Interleave (AVI) Audio Video Interleave (AVI) Ogg Media (OGM) Advanced Systems Format (ASF)
Matroska Multimedia Container (MKV) NuppelVideo (NUV) Ogg Media (OGM)   MPEG-2
MPEG-4 (MP4) QuickTime (MOV) Super Vicdeo CD (SVCD)   MPEG-4 (MP4)
Ogg Media (OGM) MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3 (MP3)     Ogg Media (OGM)
Advanced Audio Coding (AAC)       QuickTime (MOV)
MPEG-3 Audio (MP3)       Free Loseless Audio Codec
Dolby Digital (AC3)       Waveform Audio Format (WAV)
Ogg Vorbis (OGG)
 

CHM viewers for Linux

Microsoft developed CHM as a proprietary format for Windows 98, leaving behind the previous WinHelp (HLP) format. CHM is still alive and kicking in XP and Vista, though some applications use the newer Microsoft Help 2 format.

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A quick guide to DVD authoring

Let's say you want to create a DVD with video footage made with your camcorder (if you just want to create a photo slideshow, I'll deal with that in a bit).

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All about Linux swap space

Linux divides its physical RAM (random access memory) into chucks of memory called pages. Swapping is the process whereby a page of memory is copied to the preconfigured space on the hard disk, called swap space, to free up that page of memory. The combined sizes of the physical memory and the swap space is the amount of virtual memory available.

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Three MythTV Linux distros compared

My curiosity toward MythTV-specific distros was touched off by MythBuntu's latest release earlier this month, Public Alpha 3. I run Ubuntu on my primary desktop machine, and had a relatively painless experience installing MythTV on it courtesy of the official repositories. Only while waiting for the MythBuntu ISO image to download did I decide to check out its competition.

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