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FreeBSD Basics Playing Audio and Video Files with FreeBSD

by Dru Lavigne

In the last few articles, I've concentrated on configuring a FreeBSD system and various applications suited for multimedia. I'll wrap up that series today by tweaking a browser's plug-in support and installing some applications which can be either called by a browser or used on their own.

One of the first things you'll notice if you're new to surfing the web from a Unix system is the lack of "automagic" support for the various audio and video formats splattered throughout the pages of Cyberspace. Do keep in mind that Unix is designed for the roll-your-own crowd who like to do their own customizations. Over time, I've configured my browser to display just about anything I come across on the Net. I've even learned a few things about multimedia and MIME types along the way.

If, like myself, you're using Mozilla as your browser, follow along as I demonstrate the configurations. If you're using Netscape, I recommend the XSwallow site as a good starting point for your own customizations. xswallow is designed to augment Netscape's plug-in support. It may also be found in the www section of the ports collection.

Also in FreeBSD Basics:

Fun with Xorg

Sharing Internet Connections

Building a Desktop Firewall

Using DesktopBSD

Using PC-BSD

In a previous article,Turn FreeBSD into a Multimedia Workstation, I installed the plugger port which integrates plug-in support into the Mozilla browser. In practice, I've found that this allows Mozilla to play just about every audio format I've come across on the Web: mid, midi, mod, mp2, mp3, mpa, sid, au, snd, and wav. It also adds support for text formats, meaning I can display pdf, rtf, and doc files, which is very handy as I do a lot of research on the Internet and constantly come across tech papers in these formats.

The plugger port also supports several audio/video formats, but not all of them. This is where things get a little more interesting. Many of these formats are proprietary and the codes (and even the extensions for the files) tend to change every time the vendor releases a new, improved player.

For example, here are some popular formats and the extensions you could expect to find with each:

  • Windows media: asf, asx, wax, wma, wmv, wvx, wmp, wmx
  • Quicktime: mov, qt, avi
  • MPEG: mpg, mpeg, m1v, mp2, mp3, mpa, mpe, mpvw, m3u
  • Real: ra, rm, ram
  • DivX: divx, avi, mp4

An interesting oddity is the avi extension which is shared by three different formats. An avi file might be a Quicktime video or a DivX video. While both of these formats deliver high quality video, they use very different and proprietary compression methods. It's also possible that an avi file might simply be a lower quality video using the Microsoft avi standard. In the case of avi, it isn't the extension that is important, but rather what the file purports to be. If it is Quicktime, it will say so and will require a viewer capable of playing the Quicktime standard. If it is DivX, it will say so and will require a viewer capable of playing the DivX standard.

The Windows media formats are yet another exercise in fun. As Microsoft improves on its video technologies, it releases new compression methods using new file extensions. New file formats require new versions of a proprietary player which understands those new formats.

Confused yet? Let's see if we can find some players for your FreeBSD system that can play all of the formats you're likely to run across on the Internet. It's always nice to have a testing site when experimenting with players. This Microsoft site even includes explanations of the various file types.

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