There are many, many different ways to view videos or listen to music on Linux. A quick glance at websites such as GnomeFiles.org, for instance, shows more than 100 audio playback applications and close to 40 video playback applications. Now, some of these programs are a little long in the tooth, and there is a bit of duplication between the two categories, but it’s safe to say that a Linux user has no trouble finding a program to play multimedia files. Totem, VLC, MPlayer, Xine, the list goes on and on. The trouble, occasionally, can be that some players are better at certain types of files (MPlayer is better with .flv videos, for instance, than GStreamer-based applications are, at least in my experience), so a Linux user often needs to keep a few different programs installed. With the advent of Gnome Media Player (formerly known as Gnome-VLC), that could soon change.
What is Gnome Media Player? It is a single program which uses other audio/video playback “engines” to do the dirty work. This means that instead of installing all the programs I mentioned above (VLC, Xine and GStreamer in particular), you simply install their libraries, along with the Gnome Media Player frontend. One program with the playback capabilities of all three.
In my view, this is a huge deal. What I really like is that according to the Gnome Media Player developers (and from what you would assume based on the menus), the program “decides” as you open a media file which engine should be used. To be honest, I’m not sure how this works. If the developers have hard-coded into the program which file types behave better with which engine, or if the program somehow divines this… I’m not sure. Regardless, I had a lot of good luck using Gnome Media Player on a wide variety of files.
If you look at the first screenshot, you’ll notice one thing first of all. The interface is very basic. What you see is practically all it offers as far as customization, which is vastly different from programs like VLC and MPlayer, where every setting, every variable, can be configured. This is a big selling point, or a huge drawback, I suppose, depending on whether or not you want that fine-grained control. For me, I like it. But still, it’s only fair to point out that when playing audio/video files with Gnome Media Player, you can pretty much only do the following:
Forward (skip ahead a little bit)
Rewind (skip back a little bit)
Add/remove/rearrange playlist items
That’s pretty much it. Oh, and it does have a volume control, although that wasn’t present in the first release of the program.
Why do I like Gnome Media Player (or at least the idea of what it could be) so much? First, as I mentioned earlier, it’s a Good Thing as far as I’m concerned if a person doesn’t need to have multiple programs installed in order to do a single task. For instance, I don’t want to have to have more than one email client installed. I don’t want more than one web browser. One version of Minesweeper is enough, thank you very much. And one multimedia player ought to be enough. Up until now, I’ve felt the need to keep multiple programs installed, but hopefully as Gnome Media Player matures, that won’t be the case.
Because as I’ve intimated, as much as I like the idea of it, the implementation still leaves a bit to be desired. For instance, if the last thing you played was music, so you minimized the Gnome Media Player as little as possible, the next time you play a video the window stays the same size. It doesn’t automatically readjust to fit the size of what you’re playing. This is a drawback. Similarly, many other programs have an option to resize a video to full-size, half-size, double-size, just by selecting a menu option. Gnome Media Player doesn’t currently have that. There’s nothing wrong with grabbing a corner of the window and enlarging it that way, but in this day and age, I expect better.
There are other little quibbles here and there, but again, Gnome Media Player is a young project. It’s definitely one I can keep an eye on, because the day I open up my Audio/Video menu and only see one audio/video player will be a good day. And Gnome Media Player could make that a reality.