NetBSD and KDE vs. XMMS and MPlayer: ThinkPad Cage Match

This classic matchup in the middleweight class pits the operating system and a popular application framework against two mediaplayers. The venue: IBM ThinkPad T20. Who will win? Only on pay per view!

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For the regular readers that do not consider themselves to be “techies,” please accept my apologies. You might want to skip this one. Read on at your own peril.

Anyway… it really shouldn’t be all that hard to make these things play together. Or so I thought.

After compiling all of the necessary bits (thanks, pkgsrc-folk!), you’d think that these things should all just play together. But they don’t. I’ve recently acquired an old ThinkPad T20 and tricked it out with NetBSD 2.0.2, KDE 3.4.1, and versions of XMMS and MPlayer from the pkgsrc tree. There were no hiccups with the install process, just a lot of time waiting. The first signs of trouble came when logging in the first time to KDE: My, isn’t that audio just horrendous, I thought.

As it turned out I was able to use KDE’s Control Center to set a custom sampling rate of 16000 Hz (you can find it under Sound & MultiMedia > Sound System on the Hardware tab). This allowed KDE to play the startup sound with reasonable faithfulness, though of course lacking in some fidelity. Trying to set the sample rate any higher resulted in distortion that was readily evident.

My next challenge was MPlayer, the popular open source movie player. The main problem here was adjusting to the mplayer installation from NetBSD’s pkgsrc system. Once I found where I needed to put the config file it was a snap. I simply added a line with “srate=11025” to /usr/pkg/share/mplayer/mplayer.conf. Note: I could have set it higher, but opted to use a value that would scale easily to the CD standard of 44100 Hz.

The biggest challenge came in figuring out how to configure XMMS. I’d installed audio/xmms (and audio/xmms-mad) on the suggestion of a friend but found I could produce only uniformly horrid sound. Looking in ~/.xmms/config didn’t help. An hour or more of searching the Internet, even with the best multi-term searches I could muster, yielded nothing. The solution is maddeningly simple: install audio/xmms-arts, then configure XMMS to use aRts Output as the output plugin. Because I’d already set the custom sampling rate for KDE in the Control Center, XMMS inherited the configuration and voila, (reasonably) clear sound!

Now, I’m able to play audio and video clips on the ThinkPad from a variety of sources. I won’t be listening to any music on it, but it will do just fine when watching an occasional TV show or listening to a podcast.

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