linux distros

Capturing from Canon Vixia HV40 in Ubuntu

I am very pleased to report that capturing from my new camera works like a charm.  I hardly had to do any tweaking to get it to work.

Here are some commands that worked for me to begin with:

  • grab video
    sudo dvgrab –autosplit –frames 0 –size 0 –format hdv –buffers 1000 –showstatus –timestamp /home/video/foo-
  • convert to avi format for facebook, etc.
    ffmpeg -i foo.m2t video.avi
  • convert to dv format for editing
    ffmpeg -i /home/video/foo.m2t -target ntsc-dv foo.dv

Auditioning Multimedia Distros (part 3 – Ubuntu Studio)

After trying dyne:bolic and pure:dyne, I reverted to my last resort:  Ubuntu Studio (Intrepid Ibex version).

It isn’t that I dislike Ubuntu.  I’ve had it installed on my laptop and on our family computer for years.  I’ve also recommended it to friends several times with great success.  There were, however, two reasons why I wanted to avoid it for my multimedia workstations:

  1. Ubuntu uses the Gnome desktop, which, although it is great, needs more system resources than, for instance, Xfce.  I wanted to leave as much CPU and memory as possible for Cinelerra.
  2. Ubuntu Studio comes pre-configured with loads of good multimedia applications, but Cinelerra itself isn’t one of them.

It turns out that I needn’t have worried on either score.  Installing Cinelerra turned out to be painless.  I used the community version (see Cinelerra :: a video editor and compositor for Linux for information on adding the repository to apt and installing the package).  Further tips for installing Cinelerra on UbuStu can be found here.

Once I had Cinelerra installed, it seemed to be working, but I still needed to do some tweaking of Cinelerra’s own settings to make it usable.  I’ll cover that in another post.

Beyond that, UbuStu worked like a charm without any performance issues on my aging hardware.  I’m also really enjoying the artwork and styling of the default UbuStu desktop.  Very snazzy.

Auditioning Multimedia Distros (part 2 – pure:dyne)

So, after my brush with dyne:bolic, I decided to try pure:dyne. PD was originally a revised version of dyne:bolic, but the producers of it decided to go upstream and recreate their distro based on Debian — The Universal Operating System (the ultimate ancestor of many specialized distros, including Ubuntu).

I’ve been using Debian for nearly ten years now, and I believe it is a good foundation to start from.  Unfortunately, the pure:dyne folks have a lot of work to do in order to customize their version to the same extent as dyne:bolic.  For example, where dyne:bolic has organized its apps and utilities into a very hierarchical menu system which makes it easy to find the function you want, even if you don’t know the name of the application, pure:dyne dumps everything into a single menu folder.  Unless you already know all of the multimedia apps you want to use, you have to spend a long time exploring to begin to be productive.  This is a minor complaint, of course, and otherwise pure:dyne looks like it would suit my purposes just fine.

When I tried to run Cinelerra on “leek and potato,” the latest pure:dyne release, I couldn’t get past loading my project.  This was due to the USB hard drive problem I’ve been having with certain kernel versions.  Pure:dyne, through no fault of its own, inherited the same issue.

At this point, not yet understanding the source of the problem, I gave up and moved on to Ubuntu Studio.  Since my drive worked with Ubuntu Hardy on another machine, I reasoned that UbuStu might work better.  Meanwhile, PD looks like a good distro which I would happily use again.  I expect it will be even better in future versions.

Auditioning Multimedia Distros (part 1 – dyne:bolic)

Cinelerra is a full-featured non-linear video editor for Linux. It has capabilities which, while nowhere near as polished, are roughly comparable to Final Cut Pro, the only commercial NLVE I am familiar with.

I’ve had a lot of trouble with Cinelerra over the years. I managed to successfully create a 40 minute rough cut of my latest project over a year ago, but then, due to upgrades on my Debian box, I couldn’t do any further edits. Cinelerra would hang or crash at times. Other times, I could load my project, but I couldn’t playback anything or make edits. In short it was an unusable pain and I nearly gave up.

Fortunately, I had faith that it was indeed possible to use Cinelerra successfully (in fact, I think it is a very good NLE tool which I enjoy using). Now that I’ve finally decided to tackle setting it up again, I decided rather than invest a lot of time messing with my existing Debian install (which refused to let me install Cinelerra and Kino at the same time due to library conflicts), I decided to start fresh with a setup intended for multimedia production.

I started with d y n e : b o l i c version 2.5.2.  I loved the XFCE desktop and the piles of cool multimedia software.  Dyne:bolic (made by Rastafarians! — I think that should be the distro’s motto) also allows you to copy the live CD to your hard drive without dual booting or disrupting your regular OS.  Cool.

Unfortunately, the live CD doesn’t include apt for upgrades (apt is a package manager in Debian-based distros which allows simple, one-command upgrades of all installed applications and easy installs of new packages from on-line repositories), so it isn’t really easy to fix problems with the pre-installed apps.  I was happy to use dyne:bolic anyhow until I discovered that Cinelerra simply doesn’t work in this version of the distro (at least on my crappy old hardware).

dynebolic screenshot

dynebolic screenshot

Due to a configuration problem with the kernel (or something? see Cinerella dont work :-(: msg#00020)) Cinelerra will load, but won’t allow the user to interact with the menus or controls.  This was a showstopper for me.

So, I’m not using dyne:bolic at this point.  I gave the CD to my musically-inclined son, however, and he used the “dock” method to install on his Windows laptop (to dock, simply copy the “dyne” folder from the CD onto the root of your hard drive — see Install on harddisk? Dock! — then use the “Nest” function to save your settings to the same folder, reboot with the CD, and you’re running db from the hard drive).  He’s had good fun using the drum machine and synth programs so far.

Note: one quirk which I noticed about db is that all of your drives are mounted with an extra layer of subfolder called simply “1.”  No doubt there’s a simple and good explanation for this, but it seems a bit odd to me.

Choosing a Multimedia Linux Distro

For reasons I won’t go into yet, I decided to take my tried and true Debian server and turn it into a multimedia workstation.

The machine is a Shuttle barebones case with an Athlon XP 1700+ CPU, 2GB of RAM, and a ATI Radeon video card.  It contains two WD 200GB drives, plus I’ve added a WD 1TB (I love writing that!) external USB drive.

The system isn’t exactly ideal for it, but my ultimate goal is to use it for video editing with Cinelerra in particular.  My old Debian install had too many idiosyncracies to continue with, but I really wanted to stay with a distro in the Debian family, which I’m very familiar and happy with.

I narrowed the choice down to three options.  There are other similar distros out there which might do (64Studio, Musix, for example), but these seemed like the best options for me:

  1. d y n e : b o l i c

    • plenty of great software, including Cinelerra
    • uses low-resource window manager
    • seems to have a good user base and a bit of history behind it
    • made by Rastafarians!
    • doesn’t use Debian’s apt for package management, so you must wait for the next dyne:bolic release for upgrades
  2. pure:dyne

    • entirely Debian, with traditional package management
    • uses low-resource window manager
    • supported by Arts Council England
    • although it used to be based on dyne:bolic, the latest versions have been recreated from scratch from Debian, so there’s probably still work to do
  3. Ubuntu Studio

    • Ubuntu-based, so it will have plenty of support
    • uses Gnome
    • doesn’t include Cinelerra

I tested all three, but I ended up using Ubuntu Studio. Why? Because of hardware problems of one sort or another. I’ll explain more later.