Implementing DVD Functions in Linux

What this article aims to describe is how to use your DVD drive as a DVD player under Linux Ubuntu 10.04.1 LTS. My aim is not to exhaustively go over all the things you can do with your DVD, but to describe for you what for me was the most troublesome thing to set up, and that is the ability to play DVD disks you bought at the store.

This is difficult in linux because it touches on the one area where Windows trumps Linux, and that it is admittedly easier in Windows to play movies in DVD format than in Linux. It is likely due to the fact that much of the DVD format is proprietary, and choc-a-bloc with DRM roadblocks that is no problem under windows, since the OS is already proprietary. This has inhibited many programmers from writing software that will decode an admittedly proprietary encoding scheme, since they would likely have trouble putting it under the GPL.

First of all, let me introduce you to the hardware I was working with. I was building a system out of a mixture of new and spare parts, rather than parting everything out separately, and selling the parts. Also, it was a while since I built a system, and I had time on my hands.

The motherboard, I think, was an A-Bit AN7, which supported a high-end Athlon K7 processor, which I had to overclock to 1.8 GHz, although I would have gotten DVD video at 1.4 GHz. The native frequency on the chip is 600MHz, and the BIOS enabled me to ramp up the processor frequency to 1.8 Gigahertz. The DVD is not very useable as a video device below 1.2, since at 1.2, I was dropping frames during playback, causing xine, totem, "media player", and everything else I tried to simply give up after much stalling.

One of the big advantages the K7 processor had in its day was that it was wonderfully and easily overclockable, without too much overheating or overpowering the motherboard.

The motherboard had a slightly more powerful power supply, which was new; old RAM that was already on-board (1 gig); an NVidia Geforce card that was also pretty good in its day, and necessary, since the board had no video; there was a SoundBlaster Audigy sound card that was preferred over the on-board NVidia nForce chipset. I felt I had to modernize the machine slightly, so I purchased, for 20 bucks, a card reader that was also able to read floppy disks. It still had the old floppy drive as a second drive, since I didn't want it. They both work on the computer. Also new was a CMOS battery, as I was finding that booting up was a problem, and a dying CMOS battery was the culprit.

Finally, the DVD drive was a Plextor, and it had DRM firmware programmed into it (RPC-II). I have heard that you can upgrade the firmware to do RPC-I (thereby transferring DRM control to the software), but I didn't try. I figured that my aim was only to play DVDs that I bought around town, assuming that all of those DVDs must be playable for the North American region they were intended for, regardless of what the DRM says.

Even using the old hardware I had was no limitation. I was able to go to the Ubuntu website and get advice on getting through whatever DVD-related problems I had. Each time I did a new fix they suggested, I found I had to do a new reboot. Each time I did that, DVD playback became less flaky. One kind of fix, which seems essential to get DVD playback to work on Ubuntu, is to install the "ubuntu-restricted-extras" metapackage. Ubuntu keeps its "restricted" (non-GPL) formats in a group. Following that you had to run a shell script. The process is described here.

After following suggestions on the Ubuntu help site, I had a system I was happy with. When testing your system, remember to use clean DVDs. I was fooled into thinking there was something wrong with my setup, and after hours of going into dead end after dead end, I found that the DVD I was using had marks and smudges on it. All my problems were solved when I replaced that DVD, which I was using for testing with a relatively new, clean DVD with few to no marks and smudges on it. On the former DVD, cleaning it did not prove helpful; it was too marked up.

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since Aug 26 2010