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Open source media player embraces HD

Jun 23, 2010 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 2 views

VideoLAN is shipping version 1.1 of its cross-platform, open source VLC media player, adding hardware acceleration, WebM support, and faster HD decoding, but deleting Shoutcast support. Meanwhile, several industry reports suggests possible reasons for Adobe's temporary suspension of its beta 64-bit Linux version of Flash.

Available for Linux, Mac, Windows Vista, and Windows 7 computers, the new version of the open source VLC media player is most notable for offering hardware accelerated GPU (graphics processing unit) decoding on all but the Mac platform.

For GPU decoding, VideoLAN is recommending Nvidia GPUs for Windows users, "until ATI drivers are working with VLC architecture, and until the VLC developers get access to some Intel hardware supporting GPU decoding," says the VideoLAN project. No recommendations are made for Linux users.

Other key enhancements for the VLC 1.1 media player include support for the Google-sponsored WebM web media file format, which will be included in the next "Gingerbread" release of Android. The royalty-free, HTML-ready WebM is based on the MKV (Matroska Video) media container, and works together with the VP8 video codec and the Vorbis audio codec.

VLC 1.1

HD support is another major push for VDC 1.1, with improved MKV support for HD, as well as HD decoding claimed to be 40 percent faster. Overall performance for the player is said to have improved due to extensive code pruning.

Specific enhancements to VLC 1.1 are said to include:

  • GPU decoding on GNU/Linux, and Windows Vista and 7, using H.264, VC-1, and MPEG-2, as well as VAAPI (Linux only) and DxVA2 (Windows only)
  • Improved support for MKV HD, including seeking fixes, and 7.1 channels codecs
  • Support for new codecs for technology including Blu-Ray subtitles, MPEG-4 lossless, and VP8
  • Lua extensions with scripts for content add-ons and functionalities like metadata searching or subtitle lookups
  • Support for WebM decoding and encoding
  • Improved web plugins and streaming
  • Enhanced audio features including integrated playlist and multiple views in the Qt4 interface, DVD-Audio file support, and support for AMR-NB, MPEG-4 ALS, Vorbis 6.1/7.1, FLAC 6.1/7.1, and WMAS
  • Faster decoding, with up to 40 percent speed-ups, in HD resolutions
  • Overall faster performance
  • Developer enhancements like simplified libVLC, better C integration, new phonon-backend for Qt , and new C++ bindings

As noted by Seth Rosenblatt in a CNET story on the release, the VDC 1.1 has subtracted support for AOL's Shoutcast Internet radio service. As noted in a press release from VDC (see link farther below), several injunctions were received from AOL, asking the project to "either comply to a license not compatible with free software or remove the Shoutcast capability in VLC." VideoLAN says it is working to resolve the issue.

Inside Adobe's suspension of 64-bit Linux Flash

Two weeks ago, the 32-bit Flash Player 10.1 for Windows, Linux, and Mac went final, released with security updates for versions and earlier, and the mobile version went out yesterday. Yet, an Adobe Labs blog tersely announced a temporary end of beta development of Flash 10.1 for 64-bit Linux, which had been announced back in 2008.

According to the surprise blog announcement, "We have temporarily closed the Labs program of Flash Player 10 for 64-bit Linux, as we are making significant architectural changes to the 64-bit Linux Flash Player and additional security enhancements. We are fully committed to bringing native 64-bit Flash Player for the desktop by providing native support for Windows, Macintosh, and Linux 64-bit platforms in an upcoming major release of Flash Player."

The blog went on to ask users to stay tuned for future developments, but gave no more reasons for its abandonment of 64-bit Linux, or any timetable for when the project might pick up again.

Does Steve Jobs have it right?

Some of the online discussion about the suspension of 64-bit Flash suggests that this is one more reason for open source Linux folks to abandon Adobe's products for open source alternatives such as Gnash. Steve Jobs is not completely out to lunch in his criticisms of the technology on its own merits, commenters add.

As one forum poster noted, "Adobe is doing a poor job of reminding people why Flash should continue to live." To which came the reply, "And a good one on why it has to die."

If Adobe has shown its insensitivity to the Tux tribe by its sudden, Sony-like removal of a popular Linux technology, the reversal has little to do with Linux and everything to do with difficulties in transitioning to 64-bit, according to a Stephen Shankland story in CNET on Monday. After all, the Linux beta implementation of Flash for 64-bit was the only one available because Linux users asked for it, and Adobe probably figured they were more likely to handle the rough edges than Windows or Mac users.

Blame it on the libraries …

Shankland quotes Tom Nguyen, Adobe's Flash Player product manager, as saying on Saturday that 64-bit Flash was still a "top priority." According to Nguyen, the problem is not with the core of the Flash engine, but rather the supporting software, especially libraries.

"If a library that Flash Player depends on isn't available in 64-bit, we need to rewrite code for new libraries," he was quoted as saying. He added that in order to handle a wide array of media and video formats, all of the library dependencies must be available or rewritten for 64-bit, says the story.

Nguyen was said to have concluded, "We expect 64-bit to be in wide use, and Flash Player will take advantage of native 64-bit."

… or blame it on security updates?

Meanwhile, a story last week on The H suggested that the withdrawal may be related to the release of the 32-bit Flash Player 10.1 on other platforms. The 10.1 release was said to have closed 32 security holes, in response to a zero-day vulnerability in Adobe Flash Player, Reader, and Acrobat.

Without a supported native 64-bit plug-in, 64-bit Linux systems are now shipped with the 32-bit version, "using wrapper code to bridge the gap between the two versions," says the story. The 32-bit Flash Player 10.1 update will work on these systems unless users have already installed the native beta version of the 64-bit Linux Flash Player. In this case, they will be stuck with the vulnerable 10.0 release, says the story.

Adobe has recommended that users upgrade to 10.1 to close the hole, but it appears that an updated version of the pre-release 64-bit Linux version was not ready in time, says The H. "Rather than leave a vulnerable version online, Adobe withdrew it," concludes the story.


VLC 1.1 is available for free download now at VideoLAN, here, and release notes may be found here.

The VideoLAN press release about the Shoutcast removal should be here, and the CNET story should be here.

The Adobe blog announcing the temporary halt to Flash Player 10 for Linux may be found here. The forum discussion on the 64-bit question should be here.

The CNET story on Adobe's 64-bit plans should be here, and the earlier report from The H may be found here.

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