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Playing DVDs on Linux

By Tunji Durodola

Hello dear readers.

My name is Tunji Durodola and I write from Nigeria, West Africa, the largest collection of black peoples on the face of the planet.

The purpose of this article is to give an insight into how to get Linux to play DVDs using one or more of the now readily available tools on the web. You should have basic DVD playing in a matter of minutes; are more detailed section will follow later.


The key to watching DVDs lies in the ability of hardware or software to decode and read encrypted movies. DVDs are encrypted with a special algorithm called Content Scrambling System or CSS, to prevent illegal copying of the material contained on the disc. The algorithm is not a secret, but to get a copy of it to put in your device (hardware or software), you have to pay a license fee plus sign a mean set of agreements to prevent you from disclosing the algorithm to anyone.

Each DVD has its own key, rather akin to each door having a separate key to unlock it. The key itself in Windows is kept secret.

All commercial Windows DVD players have the algorithm contained in it, but they have paid, and as such, charge for their software, or the cost is embedded in the price of the DVD drive your purchase, so in effect you are paying a fee for the “bundled” software player.

The whole philosophy of Linux is freedom, which would be defeated if you have to pay for a Linux DVD player. Some chaps tried to get the algorithm from the owners, but were told they had to go through the same process as the Windows people.

For those earthlings who haven't got a clue as to what DeCSS is, I'll give a brief summary.

A young lad, a few years ago, desiring to watch his legally purchased DVDs in Linux, thought to develop a player for Linux, when none existed at the time, stumbled on a flaw in a now defunct Windows’ player called Xing, which had the unfortunate habit of leaving the key in the program itself. He then used his knowledge of maths to reverse-engineer the code and generate the algorithm.

The software he wrote to do that job was called DeCSS. He then teamed up with a few friends collectively called Masters Of Reverse Engineering (MORE) to develop a DVD ripper on Windows, and a small set of Linux-based utilities to view the un-encrypted files.

No fee was charged, but was posted on the ‘net for anyone with a similar desire to view their DVDs in Linux. The MPAA found out and subsequently obtained a court order forbidding any US site from hosting DeCSS. That of course sparked worldwide interest in Linux-based DVD players. The case is still in court in the Land of the Free. For more info please click here.

Today, there are other software decryptors available for Linux which do not use the original DeCSS code, but do the same job, and are not subject to any litigation. We shall focus on these.

The Goods!

Just to get you warm, I'll tell you what system I've got in my crib.



CPU: Pentium III 750 (old, I know, I'm planning for an Athlon XP 1900+)

RAM: 1GB PC 133 SDRAM (hey, ram was cheeeep when I bought)

BOARD: MSI BX Master, 4 IDE Slots (2 on an on-board Promise Controller)

Case: ATX Extended Tower with 9 5.25 Slots

Sound: SoundBlaster Live! 5.1 Platinum (lovely card!)


HDD: 2x WD400 7200 RPM, 40GB drives, 2MB Cache (I'm showing off here)

Speakers: Front: 80W Kenwood speakers, driven by a Technics 80W Power Amp connected directly to the card

Rear: Some mid-budget 20W RMS computer speakers

Center: As Above

Sub: A no name 40W Sub in a wooden enclosure

Monitor: 18" NEC TFT Flat Panel



OS: SuSE Linux 8.0 Professional

Sound: ALSA 0.9.0rc2, running emu10k1 SoundBlaster driver. This is the only audio driver for Linux capable of using the Surround capabilities of the SB Live 5.1. Even the Windows drivers and software don't have half the features of this driver. Linux driver can handle up to 8 such cards on 1 system, whereas Windows can't handle two (don't bother, I've tried it). Hats off to the ALSA team!


1.     Xine 0.9.12 (Complete with its plugin capabilities makes Xine hard to beat)

2.     Ogle 0.8.2 (Fast and quick DVD-only player that supports DVD menus)

3.     Mplayer 0.90 (Mainly Console-based player with an unusual assortment of options. Mplayer will play almost any type of file format available today including VOB, VIVO, ASF/WMV, QT/MOV, Xanim, AVI, DiVX, VCD, SVCD, and of course DVDs It has a GUI option with skins.)

Both Xine and the Mplayer now offer FULL multi-channel (5.1) surround audio.

To compile mplayer:


libdvdread 0.8 and libcss (not libdvdcss)


libdvdread 0.9 and libdvdcss 0.0.3 (not libcss NOR libdvdcss 1.0)

all may be obtained at

The libdvdcss is used to decrypt the DVD and libdvdread to read its contents, and for chapter support.

I recommend you use ALSA 0.9.0rc2, for audio, if you have a modern sound card, such as the SoundBlaster Live! 5.1 series. The Audigy range may work, but alas, I don't have one :-(

Please read the INSTALL and README files in all packages

Step 1



compile install it with "make && make install && ldconfig"

Step 2


compile and install as above

Step 3

mplayer 0.90

./configure –help

make && make install

It should then install itself in /usr/local/bin as mplayer

Step 4

(a) if /dev/hdc is your dvd drive, make a link ln -s /dev/hdc /dev/dvd

(only needs to be done once)

type mplayer -dvd 1 -ao oss

The software should give some info such as the encryption key for the DVD, and then start to play the "encrypted" movie.

There are a gazillion options available, too numerous to dig into here, but multichannel audio is possible with -channels x, where x is 2,4 or 6 speakers. Remember, it is pointless if you have a basic 2-channel card. These multichannel cards are affordable these days so spoil yourself and get one!

Other useful options:

-title x                  – select DVD title

-chapter y               – select chapter in title specified above

-ss hh:mm:ss           –jump to specific time point

-vcd x                  - play vcd chapter

-channels 4 - play thru 4 discrete channels (front & rear)

On-screen display is also available, but not regular DVD subtitles.

Mplayer has rapidly become the most widely downloaded Linux software by a far margin (see if you don’t believe me), but it is not as easy to set up as Xine, if you don’t like compiling apps.0

To get Xine up and running in 5 minutes flat.

Step 1

download the latest xine releases from

You will need the following RPMs if you do not feel like compiling. x86 refers to your type of Pentium processor; i686 for Pentium III or higher, i586 for Pentium and AMD K6

There are others, but these are the bare essentials.

Step 2

Copy all the RPMs into an empty folder and from there, logged in as root, run the following:

rpm -Uvh xine*.rpm

If you are averse to using the console, call up kpackage or gnorpm and install them in the GUI instead.

Step 3

In GUI, open up a console (purely to see the output from the player, once you are comfortable with the settings, you won't need the console), and type the following (mind the case sensitivity of each letter) xine -pq -A oss -V xv -u0 dvdnav://

It may look cryptic but it is easy to explain. The purpose of the switches is to set defaults for audio and video in the config file which is stored in

“.xine/config” in your home folder.

-pq play immediately, and quit when done

-A oss use oss as the audio driver

-V xv use xv as the video driver

-u0 select the first subtitle (usually English, u1 refers to French, etc.)

dvdnav:// is the optional plugin that actually plays the DVD. It also has menu functionality and allows you to jump from chapter to chapter with 9/3 on the numeric keypad.

Type "xine --help" or man xine for full details.

As stated earlier, the skin may be changed in the menu. All settings are also possible in the menu including multichannel audio.

Xine plays a whole range of media: DVDs, VCDs, CDs, ogg, mp3, wav, DiVX... on and on and on.







xinedvdnav plugin (to decrypt DVDs, with DVD menus):

I hope to keep you posted with a more detailed paper sometime soon, with tips and tricks.



Tunji Durodola

Tunji is a Lagos-based computer consultant specialising in Linux solutions.

Copyright © 2002, Tunji Durodola.
Copying license
Published in Issue 81 of Linux Gazette, August 2002

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