The Netbook Newbie's Guide to Linux


The Eee PC and video

The Asus Eee comes with a video player application called smplayer which is a fancy front-end to the multi-talented, cross-platform command line utility mplayer. It seems to do a pretty good job, but there have been complaints on that Web about limitations of the formats it can handle. And, of course, some suggested remedies.

smplayer on the Eee PC

smplayer on the Eee

mplayer has its own set of inbuilt codecs, ready to play most of the common multimedia file types. Notably missing from the version supplied with the Eee is H.264, widely used by Apple and others. It was withdrawn allegedly for intellectual property reasons, but the Eee User Wiki gives instructions on how to revert to the earlier version.

I couldn't get this to work - it appears that the earlier version of mplayer is no longer in the repositories. Instead, I tried this method of extending mplayer's codec list. The script recommends running sudo apt-get install netselect first. netselect reads the list of servers in your /etc/apt/sources.list file and picks the fastest one to download from.

Alas, this didn't add the H.264 codec to mplayer either. The solution seem to be to install an alternative video player, the venerable vlc, which, like, mplayer, brings its own comprehensive list of codecs to the party. Unlike mplayer, this list includes H.264. Installation is simple:

sudo apt-get install vlc

Once you've done this, vlc is available from the command line, or you can add it as an icon to the Simple Desktop using the procedure we discussed last time. If you're running your EEE PC in full desktop mode, vlc turns up automatically as an option in the Launch Menu under Applications/Multimedia.

Eee Full Desktop

Full Desktop Mode

If you've found a way of getting (s)mplayer to play H.264 encoded files, or have come up with a better solution than vlc, perhaps you'll let me know*.

In the next episode, I'm hoping to explore the Bluetooth possibilities of these machines, and we'll be discussing some more of the underlying Linux/Unix fundamentals that underpin these netbooks. ®

Stop Press

As of the time of writing, there's a copy of mplayer 1.0 at It's listed there as mplayer_1.0~rc1-12etch1_i386.deb, so with an as yet incomplete understanding of what I was doing I kluged an install by adding the following line to my /etc/apt/sources.list file:

deb pool etch

...and then running the command:

sudo aptitude install mplayer=1.0~rc1-12etch1

The install threw up some minor errors, but I now have an smplayer that works with H.264. Perhaps helpful readers with more experience of apt-get can help fill out the details. Meanwhile proceed - if at all - with caution.


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