Fighting with computers

Computers are not always friendly.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

MPlayer rules

I've been using MPlayer quite extensively since I built my digital satellite receiver two years ago. I use MPlayer to play AVI/MPEG/MPEG2/OGM video files and I use MEncoder to actually create such files from MPEG2 broadcasted shows.

These command-line tools that are both great and free software. Tools are based on standard video codecs and there is even support for commercial codecs (provided you get their dll files). I've used MPlayer on Windows, Linux and OSX without any problem.

If you are a perfectionist a great deal of fine tuning of codecs parameters is possible. If you are "good enough" guy (as I am) you'll be pleased with default behavior most of the time (both in terms of computing speed and output quality).

MPlayer is a program to play video/audio files that can also dump audio to a file. MEncoder allows you almost any transformation of your multimedia files (video+audio) plus different filtering options and limited stream cutting. My main use is to recompress a recorded show for long term storage and/or for viewing it on a hardware DivX player.

The only thing I've needed to get another software on board is to create dual audio AVIs, as MEncoder allows you to select just one audio stream from input source. Sometimes I want to keep both original and dubbed soundtracks (you know this romantic thing; one of these days I want to learn English). Keeping two AVI files, one with the original soundtrack and another with the dubbed version defeats the purpose of compressing, so once I learned two audio tracks could be packed on an AVI file I started searching for a suitable tool for the task.

VirtualDubMod is a Windows software that allows you do play a lot with the streams contained on AVI and OGM files. You can either extract or add audio streams to an AVI file. This software allows you too a great number of editing operations (I am not using at the moment) and it allows you to append an AVI file to another, which is feature I was not able to get done with MEncoder cleanly.

Today I realized that VirtualDubMod runs over wine (I'm actually using Codeweavers CrossOver Office). It's not working fully as it only allows direct stream copy operations due to lack of support for DirectX on wine, but it is more than good enough for my needs (and I do not need to stop my kids from playing in their Windows box).

Just to stimulate your curiosity: Did you know MEncoder can perform a DVD rip with just a single-line command?

Monday, February 07, 2005

SuSE 9.2, not this time

This distribution is available on ftp.suse.com for a month or so. You can dowload the installation DVD or you can do an FTP-based install by booting your computer with a small (60MB) ISO image.

I've been using SuSE for three years now and I am, most of the time, quite pleased with it. It is my main distro and I like to have DVD full of software I can install without having an Internet connection. I do like the online update feature too.

I have been upgrading my systems every now and then, mostly because newer KDE versions use to inlcude lots of fixes and new cool features. But when I tried 9.2 to install in my trusty but old Toshiba Satellite (128MB RAM only) it took around 6 hours. Afterwards the system took, everytime, a lot of time to boot because it froze for a long while on udev. And when it booted KDE was almost useless as it was slow to a crawl.

The system was still acceptable, but slow, on SuSE 9.1. Because I had an Ubuntu install CD around I used this instead and now my old laptop is usable again. Ubuntu is a GNOME-based distro, easy to install and it detected properly my old DWL-650 D-link wireless card. It also includes Firefox, Evolution, GIMP and OpenOffice, among other useful software though it does not support MP3 files out of the box.

I am not planning to use this computer for more than a quick browsing, what I get with Ubuntu is just good enough and the install time was also below the one hour mark.

Installing SuSE 9.2 Professional on a fast computer (AMD XP2800+ with 512MB RAM) took only twenty minutes and everything was smooth and clean. I recommended the software to several companies and untrained personnel were able to do a clean install without a problem, so all in all, it is still a very good choice if your machine has at least 256MB and your processor is less than two years old.