Playing Windows Media on Ubuntu 8.04 (for those damn TASI videos)


Richard recently asked for instructions for enabling wmv files to be played on Ubuntu 8.04 (Hardy Heron). This is important since TASI has uploaded its summer school videos in wmv format. After reinstalling Ubuntu, I followed the instructions at Ubuntu Geek and that seems to have worked well. Here’s a summary.

First enable “Universe” and “Multiverse” repositories. (No anthropic jokes today.) You can do this by going to system > Administration > Synaptic Package Manager > Settings > Software Sources > Ubuntu Software and making sure that the appropriate boxes are checked. Alternately, command line jockeys can manually modify the sources.list file: type in

sudo gedit /etc/apt/sources.list

and append the following two lines at the end of the file:

deb hardy universe multiverse
deb-src hardy universe multiverse

Save and close.

Next update the source list with the following command: (for absolute beginners, you type these commands in at the Terminal, which you can access from Applications > Accessories > Terminal. Note that you can copy and paste these commands into the Terminal. Insert your password when prompted and respond ‘y’ when given the option.)

sudo apt-get update

Now install Win32 video codecs package. Note that the commands might be slightly different for those with older Ubuntu versions. Use the following commands:

sudo wget -O /etc/apt/sources.list.d/medibuntu.lis
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install medibuntu-keyring
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install w32codecs

The last line is for “i386″ (Intel) chips. If you’re using an AMD 64-bit chip, replace the last line with

sudo apt-get install w64codecs

Please note that there may be issues with the Win64 codecs and their support for wmv files, c.f. this series of forum posts.

Ok, that’s it for the codecs… but you’ll still need to install MPlayer to view the files properly. For some reason the default player (Totem) had very poor resolution and no audio. Using the Synaptic Package manager (or Applications > Add/Remove) you can just install the mplayer and mozilla-mplayer packages. If you want to be fancy and use the Terminal, you can use the commands

sudo apt-get install mplayer
sudo apt-get install mozilla-mplayer

You’ll need to be sure to use MPlayer when opening the wmv file. When you download your first wmv file, right click and go to Properties > Open With and select MPlayer Movie Player (not “Movie Player” which is Totem).

And with that, you should be able to watch the TASI videos—and any other wmv files—using Ubuntu 8.04.

But seriously, if you have any influence on the University of Colorado Physics Learning Laboratories people who host the TASI videos, please urge them to use more reasonable file formats. Flash is accessible using any modern browser and any modern operating system. The files stream very well and take up a fraction of the space on the server.

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2 Responses to “Playing Windows Media on Ubuntu 8.04 (for those damn TASI videos)”

  1. 1 Richard

    Thank you for the post. Unfortunately, I think the w64codecs don’t have the necessary support. On Ubuntu Forums, it’s suggested that creating a 32-bit mplayer will allow you to use the w32codecs (and so you can watch them) but the instructions didn’t work for me.

    The google videos method works and if you want to have the videos on the hard drive you can use something like DownloadHelper for firefox to save the FLV files (which do work in things like Totem).


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