Linux Multi-Media Basics

Written by Kevin Korb
as a presentation for GOLUG
Presented on 2006-07-06

This document is available at

   When I first got into Linux (mid 90s with Slackware 2.0) there were very few multi-media applications available. Linux was pretty much limited to very basic audio file playing with non-interactive command line programs and a very limited motif based CD player program. If you wanted to watch video or listen to real music you pretty much had to use Windows. Luckily over the years Linux has moved from a server and developer OS to one that can also handle desktop functionality like multi-media. Linux even does a very good job of and in most cases a modern Linux distro is even better at multi-media than Windows is.

   The exception to this is DRM. Multi-media applications that use "Digital Rights Management" are often still limited to the Windows environment where they can enjoy the proprietary nature of the OS and prevent the user from enjoying their own data.

Common Linux Multi-Media Applications: Common Multi-Media Tools: Tips for Audio: Tips for Video: Tips for Storage and Archiving: Common Multi-Media formats and how to use them:
.669Amiga OctaMod Modulexmms (with plugins)??????-This is the old Amiga .669 format. It is a tracked music format derived from the .mod format. It was created to increase the number of channels to 8 instead of 4.
.aacAdvanced Audio Codecfaad2, mplayerfaad2faacfaacThis is an AAC audio stream wrapped in an ogg container. AAC is a fairly new audio codec that can provide good quality at lower bitrates than mp3 or Vorbis. I tend to avoid it for video containers however because it tends to have require enough overhead to make up for the difference in bitrate when muxxed. The most common reason for using AAC is that it is the best codec for audio with more than 2 channels (like 5.1 from a DVD).
.ac3A52 or Dolby Digital AC3xmms, a52deca52dec??????This is the somewhat proprietary audio codec that is used on most DVD discs. When someone says Dolby 5.1 this is what they are talking about.
.apeMonkey's Audio---apetagThis is a lossless audio codec (like flac). Unfortunately it is mostly a Windows only codec. The company that made it did release the source and it is being ported to Linux but it isn't really usable yet. It is almost as common as flac so you will probably run into it eventually. Since it is lossless you can convert it to flac with no quality penalty but you have to use a Windows program to decode it to a .wav :(.
.aviAudio Video Interleavemplayer, xine, vlcavidemuxavidemux-Microsoft's audio/video container file. Supports many audio and video codecs. Doesn't like vorbis. Doesn't like multiple audio tracks. Has significant overhead. Most common audio/video container format.
.dtsDigital Theater Sounddtsdecdtsdec??????This is an audio format that is sometimes used on DVD discs. Some movies are recorded in DTS instead of AC3 and some are done in both. DTS is significantly bigger than AC3 and takes MUCH longer to decode.
.flacFree Lossless Audio Codecxmms, flac123flac -dflacflacThis is a lossless audio compression codec. The files will be big but they will be perfect.
.itInertia Tracker Modulexmms (with plugins)??????-This is another tracked music format. It supports higher quality samples and more tracks.
.m2v, .m2pMPEG2 AV containermplayer??????-This is the standard MPEG2 container file. It usually contains an MPEG2 video stream and an mpa audio stream.
.midMidixmms, timidity++??????-This is the midi sequencer format. It is essentially a script that tells a synth how to play something. They are normally very small.
.modAmiga ProTracker Modulexmms (with plugins)Dumb???-This is the old Amiga .mod format. It is a tracked music format that usually has 4 tracks and up to 32 samples. The samples are limited to 8KHz 8bit mono.
.mp3MPEG Layer IIIxmms, madplay, mpg321, mpg123madplay, mpg321, mpg123lameid3v2This is the most common compressed audio format. Contrary to popular belief this is NOT called MPEG3 but rather is only a subset of MPEG1. Mp3 files can be CBR or VBR with bitrates between 32 and 320 Kb/sec. They also can have id3v1 or id3v2 tags.
.mp4, .m4aMPEG4 Audiofaad2, mplayerfaad2faacfaacThis is an AAC audio stream wrapped in an MPEG4 container.
.mpa, .mp2MPEG Audiomadplaymadplay??????This is the audio codec that is used in VCD and other MPEG1 AV files.
.mpcMusepack audio (sometimes called mp3 pro or mpp)xmms, mppdecmppdecmppencmppencThis is a fairly rare audio format. It was created to compete with .mp3 and claims to be better but was quickly surpassed by other codecs such as Vorbis and never really caught on.
.mpgMPEG1 AV containermplayervcdimager (mpgdemux)???-This is the standard MPEG1 container file. It usually contains an m1v and an mp2 stream.
.mkvMatroskamplayer, xine, vlcmkvextract (mkvtoolnix)mkvmerge (mkvtoolnix)-Matroska audio/video/subtitle container format. Handles all open audio and video codecs. Has less overhead than .avi or .ogm. Can also handle embedded subtitle tracks very easily.
.oggOgg/Vorbis audioxmms, ogg123oggdecoggencoggencThis is the ogg/vorbis audio format/codec. Calling it an "ogg file" is a bit of an error because the ogg part is only the container. The audio codec is called Vorbis. Vorbis audio supports VBR and CBR but is almost always VBR.
.ogmOgg Mediamplayer, xine, vlcogmextract (ogmtools)ogmmerge (ogmtools)-Ogg's audio/video container format. Handles Vorbis streams much better than .avi. Has less overhead than .avi.
.s3m, .stmScream Tracker and Scream Tracker 3 Modulexmms (with plugins)??????-This is another tracked music format. It supports 32 channels.
.spxSpeex Audio Codecspeexdec, mplayerspeexdecspeexencspeexencThis is an audio codec that is specifically designed to handle voice data. It gives very good voice quality with a very low bitrate but doesn't work well with music at all. It is sometimes used in phone applications as well as recordings.
.vobDVD containerxine, mplayer??????-This is the container file that is used on DVD discs. It contains MPEG2, AC3, DTS, LPCM, and subtitle streams. VOB files are usually split up at 1GB intervals for backwards compatibility. VOB files are normally stored on DVDs with encryption however that encryption is easily defeated (dvdrip).
.wavMicrosoft WAV audioxmms, sox, wavplay---This is the standard uncompressed PCM audio file format. It is what most audio encoders expect to be given and what most audio decoders give. Technically .wav is just a container and can contain compressed audio codecs (like ADPCM, ULAW, ALAW, etc) but those are rare. Generally .wav is pure PCM with a .wav header.
.xmFast Tracker Modulexmms (with plugins)??????-This is another tracked music format. It supports higher quality samples and more tracks.