Friday, January 15, 2010

Audio Playback on the Lenovo S10-2 with UNR 9.10

Out of the box, Ubuntu Netbook Remix 9.10 (henceforth called UNR) does not support playback of various audio formats (e.g., mp3). In order to get these supported, you need to install the 'ubuntu-restricted-extras' package. To do this, start the Synaptic Package Manager and type 'ubuntu-restricted-extras' into the Quick search box. Mark this package for install (you will find a lot of dependent files that need to be installed - mark them also) and click the Apply button. There are about 60 packages that will be downloaded and installed so just be patient during the install process.

Once the packages have been installed, you can now test audio playback for the various format. I had a USB stick containing music file using FLAC (a lossless audio format), APE (another lossless format), MP3, OGG, WAV, AAC and MP4 formats. When this stick was plugged into a port on the netbook, it was automatically mounted and UNR opened a File Browser showing the contents of the USB stick. Placing the cursor on any of the music files, UNR will attempt to play that file if the format is recognized. I'm pleased to report that it will play all the formats mentioned above without any problem.

The Rythmbox player installed on UNR by default (System -> Sound & Video), can be used to manage audio media. For example, if you have an external CD drive connected to the netbook and you insert an audio CD into that drive you will be prompted on which media player to use. If you select Rythmbox and check the box that says always do this for any audio CD, Rythmbox will always play the CD.

Rythymbox, however has a problem - it fails to scan a removable media (such as a USB stick) although there is an item labelled as "Scan Removable Media" under the "Music" menu. What this item do is anybody's guess as I simply cannot make it work. The only way I could get all the music files on my USB stick into the library is to use the "Import Folder..." item under the "Music" menu and the type Ctrl-A to select all my music albums on the USB stick and then click on the "Open" button. Then and only then will all my music files be listed on the library.

Audio playback through the S10-2 netbook's internal speakers is adequate - not hi-fi by any standard but just simply good enough. This is not surprising considering the size of the internal speakers. However, if you use a good stereo headphone (not the earbud type), then the sound quality is much better. I have a Nokia WH-600 headset (for use with my Nokia 5320 Xpress Music mobile phone) and the difference in quality of sound over the internal speakers is simply amazing. This is the way to go if you are serious about playing music on the netbook.

The playback volume can be controlled by clicking on the volume control icon (to the right of the network icon) and adjusting the slider. The netbook's Fn+<- and Fn+-> keys will also work in order to decrease or increase the volume. I am glad to note that UNR 9.10 finally got this right - UNR 9.04 had this reversed. I was also amazed to discover that the Fn+F9 - Start/Pause playback, Fn+F10 - Stop playback, Fn+F11 - Skip to previous track and Fn+F12 - Skip to next track worked with Rythmbox! The Lenovo S10-2 manual states that these worked for Windows Media Player but I guess they meant a media player and not specific to WMP.

In conclusion, UNR 9.10 running on the Lenovo S10-2 provides good audio playback support if the 'ubuntu-restricted-extras' package is installed on the netbook.