January 7, 2008

Playing and recording music and video

There are many open source music players for Linux, complete with support for MP3 and other audio files, streaming audio like Internet radio, and playing, ripping, and burning CDs.

Rhythmbox and Amarok are the two most widespread players. Rhythmbox is integrated well with the GNOME desktop environment and Amarok with the KDE. Both allow you to browse your music library by genre and artist and create playlists. Both can share music with the Digital Audio Access Protocol (DAAP) protocol, and listen to DAAP shares on other computers.

Both can synchronize music with external devices like portable music players, subscribe to podcasts, and rip and burn CDs. Both support plugins to add extra features such as integration with Last.fm. Amarok comes with a few more features built-in, such as crossfade controls and graphic equalizers. Both support autmatic retreival of album art images, though Amarok can also look up information on Wikipedia and retrieve song lyrics.

Amarok was the first Linux music player to support purchasing tracks from an online store, Magnatune. Rhythmbox now has this feature as well, plus an interface to the Jamendo store.

Another popular audio player is XMMS, which is one of the longest-surviving players on Linux. It sports a wide array of plugins for input, output, special effects, and visualizations.

Songbird is a relative newcomer, a cross-platform music player that boasts easy integration with the Web, allowing you to seamlessly retrieve audio files from Web pages, blogs, and online music stores without ever leaving the program.

Other players include Juk, Quod Libet, Muine, Exaile, Banshee, and Listen. Some of these less-well-known players might be lighter in features, or they might be younger projects. Still, all have loyal followings, and do an excellent job.

Some Linux users prefer to rip music from their CDs with a separate program. The most popular is Grip, which presents a graphic interface and automatically retrieves info like song titles and artists. The GNOME and KDE desktop environments now include built-in CD ripping technology in their respective file managers.

Both environments also include built-in support for burning audio CDs, but standalone burning programs like K3b and GnomeBaker offer more flexibility -- meaning you can easily rearrange, crossfade, and tweak the settings of a CD before you burn it. NeroLINUX is a proprietary, commercial CD burning program from the makers of the popular Nero burning application on Windows.

Watching video

KDE and GNOME each include a default video player that can handle most types of common video content. Kaffeine and Totem, respectively, integrate well with their evironment's file manager and other applications.

More popular are Xine, VLC, and MPlayer -- three independent video players that offer more control over picture, sound, and playback controls, allowing you to use more advanced hardware setups like surround sound and digital output from your computer's sound card. In addition to video files, all three can play DVDs.

The Miro player is aimed at online video. In addition to basic playback, it can subscribe to video podcasts and search popular online video sites such as YouTube.

If you have a TV tuner card, you can use TVtime to watch live NTSC or PAL television through broadcast or cable.

Several Linux projects can turn your computer into more than just a video player, incorporating live television, TiVo-like digital video recorder functionality, and more, rivaling commercial media center applications.

The most popular is MythTV, which supports a wide array of hardware and has a sophisticated plugin system. MythTV can even combine video sources on multiple computers and play them back on multiple screens at once. Freevo is a similar project that, although it does not enjoy the same popularity as MythTV, offers much of the same basic functionality. The proprietary SageTV is a commercial PVR and home theater product; it began as Windows-only, but is now available for Linux too.

For extracting video from DVD, you can choose from among applications such as dvd::rip and Handbrake, both of which allow you to tweak the size and other attributes of the video content before you save it. Thoggen is a simpler alternative, providing a less complex setup by allowing fewer output settings.

CD burners like K3b can also burn content onto video DVDs, although you need to use a separate program to convert the videos themselves and set up the menus. DeVeDe and ManDVD are easy-to-use tools for this task. If you need more flexibility you can try QDVDAuthor or Tovid.


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