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Linux Multimedia Hacks

Kyle Rankin
Published by O'Reilly Media
330 pages
£ 20.95
Published: November 29, 2005
reviewed by Roger Whittaker
   in the June 2006 issue (pdf), (html)

The ``Hacks'' format is particularly well-suited to this title which includes a good deal of practical information about disparate subjects, linked only by the work ``multimedia''.

There are five sections: Images (12 hacks), Audio (34), Video (26), Broadcast Media (16) and Web (12), making up a round 100. Apart from the last section (Web), which is a curious mixture of oddments, the sections proceed in what for me at least was order of familiarity, with the Images and Audio sections covering mostly things that I have discovered for myself over the years, but much of the material in the Video and Broadcast Media sections was new to me and will make a useful reference in future.

In the Images section there is a useful discussion of the use of the convert command line utility from ImageMagick, with example scripts. There is discussion of the various tools available for use with digital cameras, and a fairly lengthy look at f-spot. The last hack in the section is about creating screen capture movies as animated GIFs, by using a set of scripts which the author has created for the purpose.

The Audio section includes coverage of the various music players which are available for Linux, and how to add mp3 functionality to your Fedora setup (but equivalent information is not given for other distributions, unfortunately). CD ripping and encoding tools are discussed, including something that I only discovered purely by accident: the fact the KDE's Konqueror browser will rip audio CDs to mp3, ogg or FLAC formats. Using an iPod with Linux is discussed, but at a low level, and oddly Banshee is not mentioned, which currently seems to be the best way to do this. Various utilities for tagging mp3s are discussed, including picard. One of the oddest hacks in the book concerns playing music files backwards (to hear whether or not the famous words ``Paul is dead'' were ever spoken).

The Video section discusses mplayer in detail, as might be expected, and how to get DVDs to play in Linux. Oddly there is very little discussion, either here or in the Audio section of the legal issues which make all this so fraught with difficulty, but there is informative technical detail about how to get things working. Interesting hacks (which I have not tested) include converting dual layer DVDs to single layer, and converting DVD movies to self-booting movies on CD. The oddity in this section is ``watching videos in ASCII art'': I doubt if there will be many takers for that one.

The Broadcast Media section discusses watching TV on your computer, and MythTV as a digital video recorder. Of more interest to me at least were the hacks about ripping audio streams to files and browsing streaming radio stations.

The final section ``Web'' includes information about getting various browser plugins to work properly, but also a section on Asterisk (probably too short and slightly out of place here) and one on w3m (not really anything to do with multimedia).

Overall this is an interesting book that brings together useful information about the topics covered, and thus makes a useful reference.

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