September 11, 2008

SMPlayer: A high quality wrapper

Author: Federico Kereki

Loosely speaking, in software terms, a wrapper is something that provides an alternate interface to another object. SMPlayer is an advanced multimedia player wrapped around MPlayer that provides a friendlier and more powerful front end to the underlying application. SMPlayer can play practically anything -- you can watch DVDs and VCDs, stream videos from a URL, or play audio CDs or MP3s.

SMPlayer version 0.6.2 was released last month, and is licensed under the GPLv2. It is written using the Qt libraries (as most of KDE is; this practically ensures good integration with the KDE desktop) and thus can be used not only under Linux, but with Windows too.

Before you install it you must have installed MPlayer, but MPlayer is included or available for just about all distributions. Also, be sure to have the libqt4 libraries, as the latest version of SMPlayer uses Qt 4.4.1. You will probably be able to install SMPlayer using the standard package application of your distribution; in my case, I use Smart, so a simple sudo smart install smplayer did the trick. You can check the downloads page for some distribution-specific versions, or download the latest development version (careful; it might be unstable!) and compile it on your own by following the instructions in the included install.txt file.


The first time you run SMPlayer you must specify the drives it should use for CDs and DVDs; you can change this later if you like by going to Options -> Preferences -> Drives. SMPlayer can be used in most European and several Asian languages. In the same Preferences window, click the Interface option to select Autodetect (to have SMPlayer select which language to use based on on your environment) or specify your preferred language. Finally, go to the Advanced option and select your monitor aspect ratio; in my case, at 1400x900, it is 16:10.

The application offers several options related to its appearance, including changing its default icons. You can set up an on-screen display showing time information. You can also opt for a smaller "mini GUI," but you will have to restart SMPlayer in order to see the change.

SMPlayer offers many more configuration options. Among other things, you can change all the keyboard and mouse shortcuts. For example, if you have a mouse wheel, you can use it to go forward and backward in a movie, or as a volume control, or to change the zoom factor, or even to speed up or slow down playback. There are more than 150 possible keyboard shortcuts you can assign.

You can also directly specify MPlayer options, and thus get access to further capabilities of that player. Other video and audio options (and onscreen equalizers) allow you to tweak SMPlayer for optimum performance with your box.

SMPlayer is no performance hog. I read elsewhere reports that MPlayer can require a lot of CPU resources when playing full-screen movies, but in my case, on a 1.8GHz dual-core Pentium CPU running openSUSE 10.3, usage was around 10% tops. I compared it to Kaffeine, my usual option for video, and results were similar.

One of the most touted features of SMPlayer is that it can resume playback at the exact point you stopped it, even after you restart the program. Another original feature is the ability to define a playlist, so SMPlayer can show a list of videos one after another. You can reorder items if you like, and even shuffle them at random. A "repeat" feature allows for viewing loops.

SMPlayer offers great flexibility in dealing with subtitles. Not only it can deal with just about every format out there, it also allows plenty of configuration. At the Preferences window you can select the font, color, and scale for the text, and also whether to use the SSA/ASS library for better rendering. (Check out the online tips for more on subtitle styles. You can get to these tips and others on topics such as toolbar configuration and using the audio equalizer by going to Help -> Tips.) When playing a movie, you can change subtitles on the fly, opt for closed captioning, move the subtitles up and down, change their size, and advance or delay them should they happen to be badly synchronized. Finally, if you haven't got the subtitles, there's an option for looking them up in, or for uploading your subtitles to that site.

I usually opt for Kaffeine for viewing videos, but SMPlayer is an impressive application that offers users many options. It's not hard to imagine switching over and using it exclusively.


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