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DVDs for Linux for Not-So-Dummies

by Drew Dunn

Got Linux? Got DVDs? If you want to watch your DVD on your computer, Linux probably isn't your operating system of choice. Due to restrictive licensing requirements and the thought that there probably aren't enough paying customers to make a go at selling DVD software for Linux, there has been a dearth of DVD programs on the market.

For the past year, a team of students at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden has been working on an open source DVD player that, while not as richly featured as some of the commercial Windows offerings, provides a pretty darned good start; certainly one that is well worth taking a look at.

Ogle is a fairly easy to install DVD player that supports Linux, Solaris and BSD. It is released under the GNU General Public License (GPL). Although the source code is freely available, your best bet is to look for RPMs for RedHat, Mandrake and SuSE. Debian debs are also available. Got Solaris or a BSD? You'll need the source.

I installed Ogle on a system running RedHat 8.0 using the RPMs. I found that besides Ogle, I also needed several other libraries, but all were covered and explained by the download web page.

Installation with RPM was a snap. If you've never used RPM before, try typing "man rpm" or "info rpm" at a console prompt.

Operating Ogle isn't quite as easy as some of the Windows-based DVD players I've used, but it wasn't cumbersome, either. In order to watch a disc, it's necessary to open it, first, from Ogle's File menu. Once you've picked the disc, it starts right up.

In its current incarnation, Ogle has a few limitations. It only supports AC3 (Dolby Digital), not DTS. Also, you can't do a fast (or slow) reverse, select the angle or turn on closed captioning...although, subtitles do work. Also, if you want to switch DVDs, you have to restart Ogle.

Those limitations aside, Ogle is quite a nice, though spartan, package. The system that I tested Ogle with included one of those really low-priced IDE DVD-ROM drives, a Duron 1.2GHz processor and 512MB of PC2700 SDRAM. It also has a Sound Blaster Live card and a couple of 30GB Western Digital ATA100 hard drives. The system has two video cards, a GeForce3 and a Diamond card based on a Permedia chip, along with dual monitors using XFree86's "xinerama" feature. Unlike any of the Windows-based players that I've tried, Ogle did not seem to care which monitor was playing the fact, if I was inclined to torture myself, I could center the video window between them.

As you would expect, Ogle supports full-screen mode as well as an infinitely-resizeable windowed display. Display quality was first-rate on my system, even using the six-year-old PCI-based Permedia card, with no detectable frame dropping, even when numerous windows were open.

Sound quality was up to the standards of video, and Ogle's web page claims support for digital output using a sound card's S/PDIF, although I was unable to test that.

My conclusion? Ogle provided me with a viewing experience that was on par with any commercially available DVD player. The few inconveniences that it "features" are counterbalanced by its release under the GPL. I highly recommend Ogle.

The authors of the program have posted a few screenshots on their website.


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