Articles / Linux DVD Players

Linux DVD Players

With DVDs quickly ousting clunky old video tapes from the realms of video rental stores, and DVD-ROMs no longer the expensive beasts they once were, software to turn your everyday Linux box into a home entertainment system is becoming increasingly popular. This review looks at the four major DVD players available to Linux users and the general state of DVD playback under Linux.

Video playback under Linux has come a long way in general, with the addition of DVD playback the icing on the cake for many of the traditional players. There are four major projects that offer this feature, but no player is really good enough for it to be singled out as the player for Linux.

In this review, I will be looking at general features that I think are important in mainstream DVD players: available modes, ease of navigation (through menus or otherwise), subtitle support, ease of installation, reading of encrypted DVDs, and quality of sound and video.

The system I used was a Debian testing distribution on a 700 MHz Duron with 512MB of RAM, a 64MB GeForce 2 video card, and a SoundBlaster Live! sound card. I built all of the players from the latest available source code (instead of using the precompiled Debian packages, which were a little out-of-date). The four test DVDs I used were "Rammstein: Live aus Berlin", "Ghost in the Shell", "Magnolia", and Collection 0:2 of "Neon Genesis Evangelion".

Ogle

Ogle features interactive menus, and was the first Linux DVD player to do so. Although fullscreen mode is really quite necessary in a "home theater" setup, it was disappointing to note that Ogle doesn't support configuration (choosing angles, etc.) whilst in fullscreen mode; the interface is only available when running in windowed mode. Subtitles were generally good and clear, and it is easy to choose between languages and subtitles from the (comparatively bland) user interface. The use of libdvdread/libdvdcss to read encrypted DVDs was an excellent choice, and made Ogle very easy to set up.

The only major gripe I had with Ogle, which prevents me from labelling it the player for Linux, is that the sound was a little flaky at times (when switching between fullscreen and windowed modes) or didn't play at all, and one of the DVDs I tested did not run -- it sat on an introductory screen and displayed mangled video.

However, apart from these issues, Ogle is quite a competent player, and shows a lot of promise. The Ogle Web page says it's also missing a Karaoke mode, but I won't hold that against it.

Xine

Xine seems to be the favorite amongst Linux DVD buffs, and you can see why. It's quite a good player, after you set up all the plugins to make it useful, and if you treat it gently (it was probably one of the easiest-to-crash players I reviewed).

The interactive menus are generally good, though a little jerky, and it's easy to return to them from within a movie by hitting Esc.

The fullscreen mode offers something over Ogle: right-clicking brings up a GUI that can be used to choose angles, languages, and subtitles, and to configure other parts of the player. The subtitle display is generally good, as is the sound. The sound was easily one of the better of the four, and nicely in sync with the video (which was mostly good, if a little jerky at times).

The issues surrounding Xine are mostly about its attitude towards the playing of encrypted DVDs, but a little searching will find various plugins that perform this feature. Although they require more fiddling to install, they bring Xine into the realms of the commercially-available DVD players.

There are several frontends available for Xine for GTK+, KDE, the console, and more.

Video Lan Client

I quickly fell in love with VLC. Although it is probably rivalling Ogle with its bland initial interface, it was a pinch to install and virtually ran "out of the box" with all of the testing DVDs (using libdvdread/libdvdcss). Although it is merely a client for a much larger-scale project, it is definitely an excellent player by itself, and has the best fullscreen navigation features of all of the players reviewed. Right-clicking lists a menu with heaps of options, including the ability to skip to different chapters quickly and easily.

It does, however, lose a little in not supporting DVD menus, which many people like (though I didn't miss them as much as I thought I would). It has good subtitle support and excellent video. With some DVDs, the sound was scratchy, which was distracting in quiet moments. Quite a promising player, VLC is definitely worth a look if you're dissatisfied with your current player.

MPlayer

I've long admired MPlayer's ability to play almost anything I threw at it, and when it finally supported DVDs, I immediately gave it a shot. Although it's mostly a commandline application, there is a GUI available if you compile it with the correct flags.

The video and audio were both excellent, but once again there is no menu support, and the lack of easy-to-navigate preferences, chapter selection, etc. will turn many home cinemagoers away. The seemingly endless amounts of documentation will tell you exactly what you need to do in order to get such-and-such a feature going, but sometimes, it's just nice to be able to point and click. For quick'n'dirty feature presentations, MPlayer is a good choice, but if you want to experience the DVD as a whole, you'll only get frustrated.

Conclusions

There are a number of projects that are aiming towards providing the Linux community with a high-quality DVD experience, and they are all on the way to that goal. You may have a favorite, but, every so often, you'll need to deviate from it in order to find one that plays "that" DVD. This issue aside, you will find the general state of DVD playback under Linux a satisfying one that is worth looking into.

Recent comments

27 May 2003 21:00 Avatar fishynet

Re: Pretty Disappointing

> Hi,
>
>
> % [snip]
> % Now, there are reasons for most of
> these
> % deficiencies. Xine is an American
> % project and they would rather not go
> to
> % jail for decoding DVDs. MPlayer is
> run
>
>
> First, call this "xine" please.
> Second, why are you saying that xine is
> an american project ??? It's absolutely
> false.
> Most of the developers are european.
>
> thibaut


Wow Ive had no problems with mplayer (although DVD menu support would be nice)

20 Nov 2002 19:10 Avatar kat

Swings and Roundabouts
There are a number of projects that are aiming towards providing the Linux community with a high-quality DVD experience, and they are all on the way to that goal. You may have a favorite, but, every so often, you'll need to deviate from it in order to find one that plays "that" DVD.


Totally agreed. I have tried VLC, Ogle, and Xine; and I find myself still switching between them depending on what particular features I want to use, or what DVD I am playing -- none of them are the "perfect" DVD player, and each one has features which the others lack.


For example, my favourite VLC feature is the slidebar which enables one to jump to the spot in the DVD one wants, instead of being limited to scene selection and fast-forwarding -- which makes sense, considering that a DVD is a random-access device, not a video tape, so why should one be forced to use fast-forward to get to where one wants, or be limited to just "chapter" selection?

Ogle and Xine have the DVD menu access, which can be both and advantage and an annoyance.
Ogle's angle selection seems to work better than the others. While Xine has really easy screen-shot abilities.

And even if one isn't looking for a particular feature, one can still run into the problem of a DVD playing with one player and not with another. This
is compounded when one is playing DVDs from different regions (I, like the reviewer, live in Australia, and there are certain things one simply can't get on DVD here, which means buying them from overseas, which means multi-region. Which is perfectly legal here, thank god!)

17 Oct 2002 09:59 Avatar tmattern

Re: Pretty Disappointing
Hi,


> [snip]
> Now, there are reasons for most of these
> deficiencies. Xine is an American
> project and they would rather not go to
> jail for decoding DVDs. MPlayer is run


First, call this "xine" please.
Second, why are you saying that xine is an american project ??? It's absolutely false.
Most of the developers are european.

thibaut

14 Oct 2002 17:00 Avatar Seeratlas

Mplayer Recomendation
Having never before messed with linux, I
downloaded the new Mandrake 9.0 dist.on Friday
the 11th. I burned the iso's on Saturday morning,
then installed on a Compaq m700 armada laptop
with a pre-existing win98se installation. The
installation amazed me, no problems, cleaner than
the win98 install had gone. I then set about
trying to figure out how to play a dvd. A quick
net search showed some good comments on mplayer,
I found the mplayer homepage, followed his
instructions and downloaded the requisite
packages, went into KDE's package manager, told
it to install the gui version, pushed the enter
key and away it went. I admit it took me a bit to
figure out how to turn it on, but it came up, i
chose a suitable graphic skin, plugged in Return
of the Mummy and was amazed at the speed and
clarity of the display. submenu's and chapters
came up on menu. In other words, everything
worked. This was the very first thing I've done
on linux and I am most impressed. I would
recommend visiting mplayer's homepage and
following his instructions and using his
packages. The dvd if anything runs clearer with
fewer dropped frames than the same machine under
windows with the dedicated ati dvd player. Sound
is similarly superior.
atlas

11 Oct 2002 11:33 Avatar tak

MPlayer
I'm not quite sure why MPlayer is taking so much heat in this comparison. I have built it on several distributions and hardware configurations (from a Pentium Pro 200/32MB RAM to an Athlon XP 1700+ with 512MB) with nary a problem. In fact, the only build problem I've really heard of is somebody trying to build it with (broken) gcc 2.96.

MPlayer's best feature, the one that sets it above the rest in my opinion, is its flexibility with regard to input and output.
It will play a wide variety of video formats, including mpg, every type of obscure-codec avi I've encountered, Real video, VCD, and DVD. It does a good job handling broken/corrupted files.
Output is where MPlayer really shines. There are well over a dozen video plugins, including XVideo, OpenGL, X11, Direct Graphic Access, SDL, General Graphics Interface, framebuffer, SVGALib, VESA VBE, and even aalib (so that you can even view your video in ASCII, should you really wish to do so). This means you don't need an accelerated video card, nor even X.

Finally, I need to address the gui, gMPlayer. In form and function, it is very similar to XMMS; it's even skinnable. I would like to point out that DVD title selection, chapter selection, audio language/settings, and subtitle selection are indeed easily navigable by mouse-click, as is nearly every other setting.

So, if you remember MPlayer as "just" a commandline tool, or have never used it, I encourage you to give it a try.

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