PC-BSD Day 17: Multimedia
Any desktop that wants to cater to the needs and wants of end users has to be multimedia enabled or at least be enabled as easy and quickly as possible. There are Linux distributions that have solved this problem by just adding all the necessary drivers and codecs and as long as they are unchallenged by authorities, license and patent holders they appear to have the edge. The problem is that some drivers and codecs are perfectly legal in some parts of the world and illegal in others. The Ubuntu Linux community solved the problem by making them available in the various repositories, but leaving it up to the user to install them. How is PC-BSD holding up in this regard?
The test circuit
When it comes to multimedia each one has it’s own desires. I decided to make a short list of multimedia features I consider either important or which I know to be important for a larger group of users.
the ability to use websites with flash. I use the Dutch website woonnet-rijnmond.nl for this
the Dutch newssite Nu.nl, especially the video items
the Dutch site Voorleesbijbel.nl, which reads parts of the Bible out loud
The interesting thing is that solutions that work with nu.nl sometimes hinder voorleesbijbel.nl.
What works out-of-the-box?
For this I installed PC-BSD on a fresh virtual box so as to emulate the new users experience as closely as possible. I had various MP3 files and one xvid video file. By default PC-BSD uses Kaffeine to play both the music and video files. Simply double-clicking them is enough to launch Kaffeine and play the files. Basically, both MP3 and xvid are supported out of the box, but playback was very buggy.
KMPlayer is also available on the default box and I tried to play the same files with it. That was much better. The sound and sights were as they should be. In contrast, the third mediaplayer -Amarok- had similar issues with the MP3 files as Kaffeine. Trying to play a DVD had mixed results. One dvd would play, whereas the other would result in warnings that I didn’t have sufficient rights and that it couldn’t be found.
On to the websites. The flash based woonnet-rijnmond.nl was a disaster. It didn’t work at all. Youtube was much better, though it did appear a bit buggy. Nu.nl was a pleasant surprise. It takes some fiddling to get it working under Ubuntu, but it worked without any needed configuration. The same thing was true voor voorleesbijbel.nl.
When you have worked with Linux for some time you know that solutions exist. Some are quite recent like the Flash 9 support. Going over the forums revealed that I shouldn’t expect too much for PC-BSD. There is no Flash 9 support yet and Gnash, the open source version, provides mixed results and leads to instability. I tried Gnash nonetheless and a few other solutions mentioned, but none led to a usable website. Gnash yielded no results and installing swfdec and swfdec-plugin only resulted in grey boxes where the flash-based items should have been.
Since I was playing anyway I tried out some websites that have Quicktime and RealMedia mediastreams. Kaffeine had no problem with the Quicktime streams, but didn’t work well with RealMedia. I had sound, but no image. I went to http://www.pbis.in and got the RealPlayer PBI and the Windows codecs, just for good measure.
PC-BSD does have multimedia support out-of-the-box. Sort of. The default mediaplayer Kaffeine seems to have problems with handling audio and video files, though it did a masterful job with WMA, MP3 and Quicktime streams. In the end I still couldn’t get the RealMedia stream to work. For local playback KMPlayer is a much better solution.
Flash is a serious bottleneck. The woonnet-rijnmond website is used to find housing in the greater Rotterdam area and people need to sign-up for new houses through this site. I can only hope that this will improve between the RC1 version and the final version of PC-BSD 1.4. DVD playback came with mixed results. Even after installing the â€œinfamousâ€ libdvdcss there was no improvement. That makes it a hit-and-miss thing.
Overall, that leaves PC-BSD with a decent multimedia support. As it is often said: â€œYour mileage may varyâ€.