Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Trying Out Ubuntu 10.04 On A Desktop PC - Part Two

This blog describes the multimedia playback capabilities (both audio and video) of the standard Ubuntu 10.04 - that is, what this 64-bit OS can play 'out-of-the-box'. Let us start with the audio capabilities first.

Multimedia - Audio Playback

It was obvious from the start that Ubuntu can handle sound - but what format? A quick peek into the /usr/share/sounds directory gave me some answers. The sound file formats that Ubuntu can handle 'out-of-the-box' are '.wav' and '.ogg' type files. The wav format is an uncompressed PCM one while the ogg format is a lossy compressed one. Both are 'free' formats and that is the reason they were included on a standard Ubuntu (which has a strict policy regarding non-free or propriety formats - they simply are not included).

A test was carried out by plugging in a USB drive containing several audio and video files of various formats, into the Ubuntu 10.04 PC. The USB drive was recognized by the OS and mounted automatically - an icon for that drive appeared on the desktop. The OS also obligingly open the Nautilus file browser showing the contents of the USB drive. Hovering the cursor over the various audio files on the USB drive, I discovered that Ubuntu can indeed play back wav and ogg type audio files plus it also can play back 'flac' type audio files. This format is a lossless compressed PCM type and it is a 'free' format (flac = free lossless audio codec) - hence it was included in the standard Ubuntu. However, out of the box Ubuntu CANNOT play back mp3, mp4, aac, m4a and ape formatted audio files. Obviously, extra non-free or propriety codecs need to be installed to handle these formats.

A quick check with the official Ubuntu 10.04 document did not help much but checking the community document on restricted formats gave instructions on which package to install in order to get support for the other audio (and video) formats. The package is appropriately named 'ubuntu-restricted-extras' and besides the codecs necessary for play back of the other formats, also includes Microsoft TTF fonts, Java runtime environment, Flash plugin, LAME (to create compressed audio files), and DVD playback. Opening the Synaptic Package Manager, I installed this package - which took a while - mainly due to the downloading of the various TTF fonts from a busy server.

After the ubuntu-restricted-extras package was installed, another test was performed on the other audio files on the USB drive. Hovering the cursor over the files I can now play back mp3, mp4, aac, m4a and ape formatted audio files. This package indeed took care of the most popular audio formats found. By the way, I also found out that the popular Microsoft TrueType fonts (like Times New Roman, Arial, Courier New, etc) were also installed on my system - a big plus and another reason to install this package.

Another audio capability test was then performed - the audio CD playback capability. Inserting an audio CD into the drive resulted in it being recognized and mounted (a icon will appear on the desktop). A message box will also pop-up telling me that I have inserted an audio CD and asked which application to use the CD with - the default is Rhythmbox. Note that I can make this the default action also - however, for this test I accepted the default application by clicking on OK. Rhythmbox, the music management and playback software for GNOME, was launched and I was able to play the CD by clicking on the 'Play' button. The details about the CD (album name, artist, and track/song title) was also displayed. This test confirmed that Ubuntu was indeed capable of handling audio CD's.

That's it as far as my needs for audio playback on Ubuntu 10.04 goes. In my next blog, I will be describing the video playback capabilities of the OS, so stay tuned.

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