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Hardware Hacking Media Television Build Hardware

VLC Hits the Device Market 159

Posted by timothy
from the long-time-coming dept.
JoeBorn writes "VideoLAN has long been known as a mature open source project for video playback and transcoding on the PC. Now, Neuros and Texas Instruments have sponsored a port of VLC to their next generation open set-top box. The idea is to allow developers to easily create interesting plug-ins for recording and transcoding applications for the set-top box which will automate functions previously requiring a PC, like formating recordings for a portable player or streaming to another device on the LAN or the Internet, etc."
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VLC Hits the Device Market

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  • subtitles (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Clay Pigeon -TPF-VS- (624050) on Wednesday May 28, 2008 @06:22PM (#23577733) Journal
    Have they made it accurately display subtitles in different positions yet?
    I know giant fighting robot anime that I watch look like crap in VLC when compared to MPC+CCCP, and would hope that VLC would fix that before they start porting it all over the place.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 28, 2008 @06:26PM (#23577799)
      To quote Eclipse:
      "What about VLC?
      No. Just... no."
    • CCCP? (Score:4, Funny)

      by Vectronic (1221470) on Wednesday May 28, 2008 @06:35PM (#23577915)
      Damnit, another cold war?
    • you have a point, MKVs in particular don't seem to play well... half the time the subtitles don't show up at all...
      • MKVs are very badly supported, and seeking is completely broken for FLVs and high-def video in any format. I'm really not much of a fan of VLC.. using individual libraries like libmpeg2 is a much better idea than just copy/pasting tons of code into the project and trying to keep it updated. Oh and VLC transcoding is just awful and it basically says in the transcoder dialogue box "Do Not Use This".
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by pawzle (985995)
      Absolutely ! Subtitle support in VLC is abysmal. New lines created before old ones are removed overwrite the old ones instead of neatly "stacking" vertically. It frequently spews time control information whenever it encounters something it can't understand, and the fonts that it uses to render are at times, bloody awful !
    • Re:subtitles (Score:5, Interesting)

      by zakezuke (229119) on Wednesday May 28, 2008 @06:59PM (#23578229)

      Have they made it accurately display subtitles in different positions yet?
      Valid point!

      I use VLC often simply because it works. I recommend it to people who get a movie file because more often than not it works without having to troubleshoot codec hell. I am not a fan of it's user interface.

      I am a big fan of the WinAmp user interface, esp it's use of the scroll wheel where it does volume or seek if you hold down mouse three.

      Mplayer is pretty spiffy as well. The window front ends are far from stellar but the playback interface is decent.

      Now everyone is going to say you can do custom keys (not that you can define mouse3 + wheel in mplayer AFAIK). Actually what we NEED is for a group to get together and propose a standard layout and propose a purpose for each action.

      • Re:subtitles (Score:5, Informative)

        by owlnation (858981) on Wednesday May 28, 2008 @07:37PM (#23578707)
        Yes I agree. I use VLC all the time. I love what it can do on the whole, but the UI is from 1995. My biggest gripe is the volume control -- it's really hard to fine tune it. The UI has a LOT of room for improvement, and I've never found a skin for it that actually works properly.

        That said, I guess the important thing to remember about VLC is that it's yet to to reach v1.0. It's thus, not really fair to expect it to be perfect yet.
        • Re:subtitles (Score:5, Informative)

          by pherthyl (445706) on Wednesday May 28, 2008 @11:06PM (#23581001)
          >> My biggest gripe is the volume control -- it's really hard to fine tune it.

          This is fixed in the current SVN (which will become 0.9)

          >> The UI has a LOT of room for improvement, and I've never found a skin for it that actually works properly.

          Yep. Luckily VLC decided to drop wxWidgets entirely (which they say was causing a lot of issues) and rewrite the UI in Qt4 for the upcoming version. It's not perfect, but it's already a big step up.
          • Re:subtitles (Score:5, Insightful)

            by JoeBorn (625012) <jborn AT neurosaudio DOT com> on Thursday May 29, 2008 @01:00AM (#23581845) Homepage Journal

            Luckily VLC decided to drop wxWidgets entirely (which they say was causing a lot of issues) and rewrite the UI in Qt4 for the upcoming version. It's not perfect, but it's already a big step up.
            The Neuros device will use its own UI based on Qt4 FWIW. Remember the device will be a TV + remote control living room type device, so it's expected to be full screen and remote navigable, so the UI will be quite different from the PC version.
    • Re:subtitles (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 28, 2008 @07:19PM (#23578491)
      Support of subtitles has greatly improved in development version of VLC: 0.9.0.

      Many new subtitles type have been added as you can see here [jbkempf.com].
      Moreover, SSA in mkv has been completely rewritten in latest Google Summer of Code: project page [videolan.org].
    • Mod parent up (Score:5, Informative)

      by sentientbrendan (316150) on Wednesday May 28, 2008 @07:21PM (#23578521)
      VLC is excellent overall, but their subtitle support is horrendously broken. Subtitles show up in ugly fonts, and are sometimes unreadable. Worst of all, half the time the subtitles from the last segment of dialog will stay on the screen and *overlap* with the next segment of dialog, making everything totally unreadable. Subtitles will also disappear if you pause, and then restart the video. The bugs go on and on...
      • I assumed subtitles were an OS X specific bug with VLC. The text rendering is almost impossible to read, and they show up right in the middle of the screen, not on the bottom where every other video player puts them.
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by catmistake (814204)
          I wonder how much of the subtitling issues are VLC's fault, and how much it is bad or poorly coded or corrupt subtitle files. In my experience its not always screwed up... sometimes it works fine with some files, sometimes its a little wacky with others. Ironically, while aware of the problem, VLC is the only app I've been able to find that allows me to transcode from one video format to another with subtitling included in the transcode, letting me choose subtitle location and point size (cli of course).
          • by SeaFox (739806)

            I wonder how much of the subtitling issues are VLC's fault, and how much it is bad or poorly coded or corrupt subtitle files. In my experience its not always screwed up... sometimes it works fine with some files, sometimes its a little wacky with others.

            The issue is VLC. It does not read any of the text layout or styling information in SubStation Alpha format subtitles. And .SSA/.ASS is the most popular subtitle format in MKVs for anime fansubs because its so flexable. If you're looking at an encoding made

          • Subtitle files are typically an ASCII file with each line having a timestamp (in frames) with the text to be shown at that time.
            Not a lot to get wrong really.
            • Re:Mod parent up (Score:5, Informative)

              by KURAAKU Deibiddo (740939) on Thursday May 29, 2008 @04:02AM (#23582891) Homepage

              While SRT [wikipedia.org] subtitles are simple, SSA [wikipedia.org]/ASS [wikipedia.org] subtitles can be anything but simple. VLC does quite well with SRT subtitles as long as they do not overlap (i.e. one subtitle line is already displayed when another is to be displayed). However, it ignores the vast majority of the SSA/ASS spec apart from timing (and to some extent, color).

              For example, this is a SRT subtitle line:

              10
              00:02:17,679 --> 00:02:19,237
              I'm really sorry.

              From this you can determine the line number, the start --> end times, and the dialogue. It's plain text, although every now and then you might see the use of HTML italics (<i>italic text</i>). You can set what font these type of subtitles are displayed in, within VLC's preferences.

              However, SSA/ASS subtitles are considerably more complex, and are widely used, especially for anime fansubs. An example ASS line looks like this:

              [Events]
              Format: Layer, Start, End, Style, Name, MarginL, MarginR, MarginV, Effect, Text
              Dialogue: 0,0:23:47.10,0:23:51.59,Ed - R,,0000,0000,0000,,{\be1\fad(200,200)\org(0,0)\c&H7B70ED&\2c&HB4AFE2&}{\k20}{\k30}na{\k35}mi{\k29}da {\k62}ga {\k64}ko{\k62}bo{\k26}re{\k30}so{\k40}u{\k37}na

              The "Format:" line specifies what the information displayed in the "Dialogue:" line is. Comments can be included on "Comment:" lines. The text portion of this particular line is karaoke, and includes parameters [sourceforge.net] to specify blurred edges, fade in/out, the origin point, color and alpha transparency (primary and secondary), and karaoke timing for each syllable. This is not simple, and VLC (up to the current release version) ignores basically all of it other than the timing and (to some extent) the colors. The font declarations are ignored by VLC, it would use whatever subtitle font you specified (or the default one). VLC is also often mocked because it will display the contents of {} if they are not valid SSA/ASS parameters. A number of groups tend to include notes inside braces, usually for editing purposes, because most players (other than VLC) do not display them.

              Unlike SRT, the lines in SSA/ASS are not numbered, and do not need to be in the order in which they are displayed.

              Here is the style information the line above uses:

              [V4+ Styles]
              Format: Name, Fontname, Fontsize, PrimaryColour, SecondaryColour, OutlineColour, BackColour, Bold, Italic, Underline, StrikeOut, ScaleX, ScaleY, Spacing, Angle, BorderStyle, Outline, Shadow, Alignment, MarginL, MarginR, MarginV, Encoding
              Style: Ed - R,Cascade Script LT Std,45,&H00856232,&H00AB956E,&H00000000,&H00000000,0,0,0,0,100,100,0,0,1,2,0,7,40,20,20,1

              Note that the first two characters of each color are for transparency.

              Also, the assertion that subtitles are typically an ASCII file is generally untrue; while both of these types of subtitles can be a text file, they're more commonly found muxed into a container that supports multiple tracks, usually either as a .mkv [wikipedia.org] or (less commonly, these days) an .ogm [wikipedia.org] file. (Anime .mkv files are most likely to be x264 video.)

              With regards to soft-subs, though, MPlayer [mplayerhq.hu] is vastly superior to VLC, in that it handles subtitles properly, and you can set it to auto-play specific subtitles and audio (for multiple audio/subtitle track files) by adding the following lines to your ~/.mplayer/config:

              ass=yes
              embeddedfonts=yes
              c

              • That was an awesome post.
                • Thanks for the positive comment; I guess all the time I've spent idling on various IRC channels (which, with the exception of #mplayer [irc] and #mplayerdev [irc], are mostly anime-related) has to count for something.

                  I'm involved with a couple of fansub groups, as well, and that's where most of the knowledge of subtitle formats comes from; most groups are moving towards soft-sub (ASS) MKVs with x264 video for their primary releases, and the quality of stuff out there is very good, with subtitles that are generally be

          • I realise I am talking at slightly cross-purposes with the other posters in this thread. I have only used VLC to play subtitles from DVDs, not from any other sources, and other DVD players have been able to display them correctly with the same disk.
    • Re:subtitles (Score:4, Insightful)

      by houstonbofh (602064) on Wednesday May 28, 2008 @07:33PM (#23578671)
      I would not be surprised if Ti and company fix this. That would mean the code comes back and it fixes it for all of us.
    • Re:subtitles (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ruinevil (852677) on Wednesday May 28, 2008 @08:32PM (#23579379)
      VLC subtitle support doesn't follow the SSA/ASS specifications at all. It essentially converts it into an srt file, and tries to play it. AAC audio with high-profile h.264 video in a Makrosta wrapper with ASS subtitles is the current standard in the anime fansubbing world. VLC not only renders the subtitles stripped of all styling, but since it is optimized for video streaming, it drops frames like crazy. The combination of these two issues leads "n00b leechers" to complain to the fansubbers, which annoys them greatly. This, and other encoding issues lead to the formation of CCCP, which attempted to standardize what people use to watch fansubs, and also provides a single location for fansubbers to send leechers for encoding support. I believe that CCCP only uses Free software, making it somewhat unusual in DirectShow filter packs.

      Anyways, last year, an anime fansubber found that VLC would not render lines with more than 256 characters. Therefore he created a script that would put hundreds of characters into bracketed comments after each line. VSfilter, the DirectShow subtitle renderer on Windows, and libass, the renderer that is part of mplayer, would ignore bracketed comments. VLC, however, tried to render the contents of the brackets, and the bug was triggered, and no subtitles were displayed.

      After the script was tested in a GIANT ROBOT ANIME, much hilarity ensued. Eventually driven by complaints, a VLC developer came by and claimed they lack the developing manpower to implement a subtitle renderer. However, the "excess length" bug was patched within a week. Maybe TI money will provide them with the developer resources to actually implement a ASS/SSA renderer.
      • by JoeBorn (625012)

        \Maybe TI money will provide them with the developer resources to actually implement a ASS/SSA renderer.

        Neuros and TI are good candidates for funding this kind of stuff since Neuros and TI make money on every device sold, regardless of the type of software. It's to TI's benefit to have VLC working well on their silicon, since enlarging the body of open software that runs on their silicon makes it easier to get TI based devices to market. It's good news for any potential customer trying to get a device to market, and that's good for TI.

      • by zakezuke (229119)

        AAC audio with high-profile h.264 video in a Makrosta wrapper with ASS subtitles is the current standard in the anime fansubbing

        Is it? I rather thought that Anime fansub groups preferred to hardsub than to softsub. Reason is this, so some other group doesn't steal their styles, or so their subs don't get ripped and then in turn get sold as a commercial product. Also there is playback performance, advanced SRT/ASS effects does suck up CPU time which you might notice on lesser systems.

        My info could be out of date.

        • Most groups that release the higher-quality H.264 + SSA in Matroska containers follow a pattern of hardsubbing the OP and ED, and softsubbing the rest of the ep. Allows for very fast subbing, while still putting an original touch on the video.
        • by SeaFox (739806)

          Is it? I rather thought that Anime fansub groups preferred to hardsub than to softsub. Reason is this, so some other group doesn't steal their styles, or so their subs don't get ripped and then in turn get sold as a commercial product.

          OCR Subrippers are surprisingly good nowadays.

          So many people like VLC for it's "play anything" attitude that perhaps this is a case of the "industry" being held back by VLC lousy subtitle support. I personally think the popularity of hardsubbing and AVI files is still the resu

    • It's also still unable to seek properly in a lot of mkv files, and doesn't support their chapter functionality. I stopped using it on OSX when Perian (ie Quicktime Player) started supporting MKV (including chapters), subtitles (including styled ones!), etc. It's become my strong preference.
      • You're right about Perian and QT Player, but it unfortunately cannot handle alternate audio tracks. I have a few mkv files that have commentary tracks embedded, and QT Player freaks out and only plays that track with no way to turn it off. So it's still VLC for me.
        • by SeaFox (739806)
          Have you checked out Chroma [chromaplayer.com]?
        • by Pope (17780)
          You may need QT Pro for this, but if you Command-J to get the movie advanced options, you can enable or disable every track present, including audio and video tracks.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Tyrdium (670229)
      About half a year ago, I discovered SMPlayer [sourceforge.net] while looking for an alternative to VLC. Formatted subtitles render properly and look great. Unformatted subtitles also render quite nicely if you select "Use SSA/ASS library for subtitle rendering" under preferences. Works on Linux as well as Windows, which is nice. I highly recommend giving it a try.
  • by GigaHurtsMyRobot (1143329) on Wednesday May 28, 2008 @06:24PM (#23577767) Journal
    Everybody needs a little Vendor Loving Care.
  • CueCat 2.0 (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Collective 0-0009 (1294662) on Wednesday May 28, 2008 @06:31PM (#23577871)
    Can we now have ads that can "link" to perform actions?

    A good example is... When I see an ad for a new show starting next Thursday, I want to press a button (or soft button) and say "record that show". Same goes for PPV. There is tons of money in this for advertising. Linking televisions ads to websites, programs, or anything else related to a PC is the future, but I am too lazy to try it. Will this be the ticket?
    • Re:CueCat 2.0 (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Sparks23 (412116) * on Wednesday May 28, 2008 @07:05PM (#23578309)
      TiVo actually supports this when a provider marks ads accordingly; you will on occasion see a little '(Thumbs Up Icon) To Record' banner atop an ad for a new television show or a TV movie. (Some ads, like those for a new SUV or whatever, also occasionally have 'Thumbs Up For More Information' banners, where you can get an informational video about the product.)

      However, most ads do not have the appropriate flags.
  • Will it be really open?
    Open enough so that I can modify its software circumvent those pesky broadcasting flags [arstechnica.com] and record whatever I want, even American Gladiators?
    If so, we're on to something.
  • by spazdor (902907) on Wednesday May 28, 2008 @06:40PM (#23577983)
    Not to poo-poo what looks like an awesome technology, but we're all free culture varmints around here and we're well-acquainted with the reality that the more useful things a media-playback appliance lets us do, the harder Big Media will work to bury it.

    Here's hoping that once this box is ready, it's still legal to buy one and plug it in.
  • Sweet!

    Could not resist. :D
    But having tried a couple of the "bring your files from your computer to your tv in another room" devices, this would be a great advancement.
  • this is definitely great news. VLC has become my media player of choice for both Linux and Windows and hell even in NetBSD. i'm looking forward to seeing how it performs with some new devices. in particular, it'd be nice to see a mobile version for Windows Mobile and other mobile OS's. However it'll be tough to beat TCPMP. but for those looking for the least bloated media playing software loaded with all your typical codecs, VLC is definitely the way to go. any Linux users out there know why VLC won't play
    • I find VLC highly lacking in several departments. It's gotten so bad that I switched back to WMP on Windows, while I've been using xine and mplayer under Linux after short forays into VLC. At least the default user interface is worse than what gmplayer has, and I've found some "amusing" issues with video playback, e.g. broken seeking in WMV (fails to display correctly until the next keyframe comes along).

      The UI and configuration is an exercise in magic numbers, trying to play a DVD routinely requires more

  • by yincrash (854885) on Wednesday May 28, 2008 @07:28PM (#23578613)
    there are a lot of patents that VLC implements that the market generally says other people own. For the most part, the patent holders don't go after personal downloaders, however I would think that this company would have to pay for quite a few licenses if they want to sell this.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by TheRaven64 (641858)
      Most of the world does not recognise algorithmic patents as legitimate. VLC is developed primarily in France and so can be distributed with no legal issues. They can make devices using them in China and sell them in the EU without any legal problems. Sure they'll miss out the US market, but with the way the US economy is going at the moment it's not likely to be a market with a lot of spare cash to spend on luxuries for much longer anyway.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by hakr89 (719001)

        Sure they'll miss out the US market, but with the way the US economy is going at the moment it's not likely to be a market with a lot of spare cash to spend on luxuries for much longer anyway.
        You overestimate the financial responsibility of the US.
    • They ripped all the codecs out of VLC and replaced them with legally licensed versions. So yes, they will be paying a lot of license fees.
      • by Neil (7455)

        VLC is licensed under GPLv2 - surely that's not compatible with the kind of per-copy royalties that organisations like MPEG LA want in their licensing deals?

  • VLC ASCII art codec (Score:4, Informative)

    by ortholattice (175065) on Wednesday May 28, 2008 @08:23PM (#23579259)
    A neat thing about VLC (for nerds anyway), that may not be well-known, is that you can ssh into your Linux box and watch movies as ASCII art on the terminal window. See http://www.linuxactionshow.com/forum/comments.php?DiscussionID=1466 [linuxactionshow.com] . (I see you can do it in Mplayer too according to that page.)
    • by ruinevil (852677)
      If you have it compiled into mplayer, all you need to do is type -vo aa for black and white ascii art using AAlib, or -vo caca for colored ascii art using libcaca. Personally, I find the black and white ascii art to be more watchable.
    • by karmatic (776420)
      I had a laptop that simply wasn't fast enough to do DVDs in Linux (many years ago). It could barely handle it in Windows, and the drivers weren't as good for Linux.

      I ended up watching a number of DVDs in an AALib enabled version of Xine. This would have been around 6-7 years ago.
  • Hmmmm. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by WindBourne (631190) on Wednesday May 28, 2008 @09:25PM (#23579935) Journal
    Might these be Cable set-top boxes that are no longer going to be needed? They should have done this long ago to make the set-top box indespensible. Yet, they are like so many companies that do it when they are on the way down. Sad.
  • uh ? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by glazou (691682)
    My ISP here in France already offers that. I have a port of VLC able to view the TV-over-DSL channels streams on any computer of the house, record, transcode on the fly and so on.
  • by NitroWolf (72977) on Thursday May 29, 2008 @02:07AM (#23582261)
    I've really tried to liked VLC. Everyone talks about how great it is... but it's interface is pretty poor. The deal breaker for me, however, is the fact that it does not (and will not EVER, according to the developers I've seen talk about it) play files directly from RAR's.

    Their "excuse" for the lack of an extremely important feature (to me and many others, anyway) is that they don't want to support piracy. Well, just like the FOSS community always harps that BitTorrent is used for legitimate traffic, well so are video's distributed in RAR's. Yes, the majority of video's in multi-part RAR's are illegal video... but then again, so is most of the BitTorrent traffic.

    To leave this feature out of VLC is ridiculous. Before anyone tells me to add it myself: I have offered to submit a patch and it's refused based on the grounds above.

    VLC is pretty useless to me, since I have no desire to unrar all of my video. Not only does it waste time, it also wastes space.

    Fortunately, XBMC is pretty stable under Linux now, at least for watching/streaming video... as such, it's the best media center/video player out on the market right now. It does everything VLC does, except it does it properly and works. In fact, XBMC does just about everything "right" when it comes to video watching. MythTV, VLC, etc... can learn a lot from the XBMC project.
    • by Dwedit (232252) on Thursday May 29, 2008 @07:32AM (#23584193) Homepage
      Do you really think that applying some lossless compression algorithm to a heavily compressed video file will save space? Un-rar your damn stuff. It doesn't get any smaller from being inside a .rar file.
      • by NitroWolf (72977)
        Do you really think that applying some lossless compression algorithm to a heavily compressed video file will save space? Un-rar your damn stuff. It doesn't get any smaller from being inside a .rar file.

        Hmm... lets see:

        -rwxrwxrwx 1 root root 365255320 2007-03-05 00:00 battlestar.galactica.s03e17.avi
        -rwxrwxrwx 1 root root 362100230 2007-04-18 16:42 battlestar.galactica.s03e17.rar

        Hey look at that! It's smaller! Now multiply that by 1000... or more. That's just on a 365MB file. The ratio goes up slightly o
  • Freebox (Score:3, Informative)

    by Yvanhoe (564877) on Thursday May 29, 2008 @04:14AM (#23582987) Journal
    The French ADSL operator Free has been doing this for years. The set-top box is called a Freebox, VLC is used to receive several channels and I heard that the latest version can use it as a VCR. Of course they made their own GUI and didn't release the sources (as I am aware of)
  • I have an OSD so I'm all for Neuros getting involved and bringing VLC to the platform, as it should fix a few of the shortcomings of the current video player, which out of the box won't play most QuickTime movs and streaming WMV files. However, I also get the feeling that VLC has been moribund for while: 1.0 was tentatively announced a couple of years ago yet there hasn't been an update from 0.8.6 for far longer, and there are bugs that have been unresolved for as long. I've started playing with media serve
  • VLC is "mature"? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dangitman (862676) on Thursday May 29, 2008 @06:30AM (#23583803)
    If VLC is considered "mature" for an Open Source project, then that's a pretty damn low standard of maturity. Is Open Source held to a completely different level of user expectations than proprietary software or something?
    • The user interface sure isn't much to write about, but it's ability to basically play video files and play them well is better than Totem, Xine and even Mplayer in my experience - and also quite a lot better than the proprietary software/hardware set-top box combination that I work with.

      So I would say it's video playback is very good and that is a certain kind of maturity, but it's user interface (and as others have said, subtitle support) are not.

      VLC also does unusual things - that it was the original poin
  • God, I could shoot all of you "this and that doesn't work properly"-crybabies. It's OPENSOURCE ... you don't like the way it works ... change it. VLC is the first player that I didn't need a ridiculous codec pack for. It was the only software that properly played DVDs from different regions for me. And god damnit it's free as in "you're free to leave if you don't like it". Now I use Linux and there are good alternatives. For Windows on the other hand ... not so much. I'd still rely solely on VLC for playin

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