Multimedia Features of Linux - Video Players

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While Linux isn’t the most popular OS on the desktop, it’s taking huge strides towards making itself simple and useful enough to be used in homes and by the normal public. One of the most important things which Linux has to get right, if it wants to be considered a serious contender in the desktop scene, is the ability to be used as an entertainment device. Whether it’s playing music or movies, Linux has to be as good at playing them as Windows is.

Luckily for us, a few teams of developers have been developing many applications which, in some cases, are better than their Windows counterparts! We take a look at a few of them in this article.


MPlayer is a free and open-source media player which runs on multiple operating systems like Linux, Windows and OS X. MPlayer has been one of the best players for playing media in Linux, since it supports a large number of codecs and includes lots of features. Here are the codecs and formats it supports:

  • Physical media: CDs, DVDs, Video CDs
  • Container formats: 3GP, AVI, ASF, FLV, Matroska, MOV (QuickTime), MP4, NUT, Ogg, OGM, RealMedia
  • Video formats: Cinepak, DV, H.263, H.264/MPEG-4 AVC, HuffYUV, Indeo, MJPEG, MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4 Part 2, RealVideo, Sorenson, Theora, WMV
  • Audio formats: AAC, AC3, ALAC, AMR, FLAC, Intel Music Coder, Monkey’s Audio, MP3, Musepack, RealAudio, Shorten, Speex, Vorbis, WMA
  • Subtitle formats: AQTitle, ASS/SSA, CC, JACOsub, MicroDVD, MPsub, OGM, PJS, RT, Sami, SRT, SubViewer, VOBsub, VPlayer
  • Image formats: BMP, JPEG, PCX, PTX, TGA, TIFF, SGI, Sun Raster
  • Protocols: RTP, RTSP, HTTP, FTP, MMS, Netstream (mpst://), SMB

MPlayer should be available in your distribution’s repository and you should be able to install it using your distro’s package manager.

VLC media player

VLC is another cross-platform free and open-source media player. It is also a lot more powerful than MPlayer, allowing you to stream all sorts of media across the network. Proof of it’s awesome-ness is in the fact that version 0.8.6 alone has been downloaded over 100 million times. Here are the media formats and codecs it supports:

  • Container formats: 3GP, ASF, AVI, FLV, MKV, Musical Instrument Digital Interface (.mid/.midi), QuickTime, MP4, Ogg, OGM, WAV, MPEG-2 (ES, PS, TS, PVA, MP3), AIFF, Raw audio, Raw DV, MXF, VOB.
  • Video formats: Cinepak, Dirac, DV, H.263, H.264/MPEG-4 AVC, HuffYUV, Indeo 3, MJPEG, MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4 Part 2, RealVideo, Sorenson, Theora, VC-1, VP5, VP6, WMV.
  • Subtitles: DVD, SVCD, DVB, OGM, SubStation Alpha, SubRip, Advanced SubStation Alpha, MPEG-4 Timed Text, Text file, Vobsub, MPL2, Teletext.
  • Audio formats: AAC, AC3, ALAC, AMR, DTS, DV Audio, XM, FLAC, MACE, MOD, MP3, PLS, QDM2/QDMC, RealAudio, Speex, Screamtracker 3/S3M, TTA, Vorbis, WavPack, WMA.

Output formats for streaming/encoding

VLC can transcode into several formats depending on the operating system:

  • Container formats: ASF, AVI, FLV, Fraps, MP4, Ogg, Wav, MPEG-2 (ES, PS, TS, PVA, MP3), MPJPEG, FLAC, MOV
  • Video formats: H.263, H.264/MPEG-4 AVC, MJPEG, MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4 Part 2, VP5, VP6, Theora, DV
  • Audio formats: AAC, AC3, DV Audio, FLAC, MP3, Speex, Vorbis
  • Streaming protocols: UDP, HTTP, RTP, RTSP, MMS, File

VLC will also be available in your distro’s package manager.


MythTV is an application which turns your computer into a complete media center, capable of recording TV signals, streaming media off the network, playing all kinds of media and acting as a home theater personal computer. MythTV could be called the free open-source alternative to Tivo, with features such as pausing/rewinding/skipping TV, automatic recording of TV signals at preset times, TV listings, support for many decoder cards, and acting as a media server with the ability to stream media off a separate server in the network.

MythTV has been bundled with many media-only Linux distributions like KnoppMyth, Mythbuntu and LinuxMCE. Although it should be available in your distribution’s package manager, I wouldn’t recommend MythTV until you’ve decided that you need all the features the application supports. Until then, keep using the other applications mentioned in this list.


Amarok is one of those applications which is better than almost any other media player that’s available in Windows. Until now, Amarok was not available in Windows, but with the advances in KDE4, we can check out Amarok in Windows itself. Amarok is just an audio player, but it supports a large variety of files and includes a lot of features:

  • Integration with services like Magnatune, Jamendo, MP3tunes, and Shoutcast.
  • New scripting API and plugin support for better integration with plugins.
  • Podcasting support.
  • Playing media files in various formats including but not limited to (depending on the setup) FLAC, Ogg, MP3, AAC, WAV, Windows Media Audio, Apple Lossless, WavPack, TTA and Musepack. Amarok does not play digital music files embedded with DRM.
  • Tagging digital music files (currently FLAC, Ogg, WMA, AAC, MP3, and RealMedia).
  • Creating and editing playlists, including smart and dynamic playlists. The dynamic playlists can use such information as the “score” given to a song by an Amarok script, and the play-count which is stored with the song.


Audacious is a lookalike of Winamp, a media player available in Windows. Audacious is a fork of Beep Media Player, which was a fork of XMMS, a Winamp clone. Audacious has a huge number of features, thanks to its extensible nature and large number of plugins. One of these plugins gives Audacious the ability to play MP3, Ogg Vorbis, FLAC and Monkey’s Audio files out of the box. Audacious also supports old Winamp 2 skins.

Here are a list of plugins categories for Audacious:

  • Decoder plugins, which contain the actual codecs used for decoding content.
  • Transport plugins, which are lowlevel and implemented by the VFS layer.
  • General plugins, which provide user-added services to the player (such as sending tracks with AudioScrobbler).
  • Output plugins, which provide the audio system backend of the player.
  • Visualization plugins, which provide visualizations based on fast Fourier transforms of the wave data.
  • Effect plugins, which provide various sound processing on the decoded audio stream.
  • Container plugins, which provide support for playlists and other similar structures.
  • Lowlevel plugins, which provide miscellaneous services to the player core and are not categorized into any of the other plugins.

As always, check your distribution’s package manager to install Audacious.


Together, these four applications are capable of playing any media format you throw at them. Whether it’s high-definition videos, lossless music, videogame sounds, or Internet radio, these applications will support them all. And with more and more people starting to use mediacentric distributions like GeeXboX and MythTV, development on these applications should speed up, and we might even see new applications coming out soon. Stay tuned!