Not Tolerating Flash on Linux

Note to Insomniacs: Not a bad posting IF you’re not a geek. Good luck!

Flash is the world’s standard video player. But Flash has a very bad reputation in the Linux world. People spend hours trying to get flash on Linux to display video at least as smoothly as an early Charlie Chaplin movie. Some common workarounds are to reduce the screen resolution to 640×480, dabbling with settings such as “Enable Hardware Acceleration”, increasing the flash RAM settings and other kludges. It is hit or miss, and usually miss. The slower the processor, the worse the flash performance. Flash needs a powerful processor to operate. And the Linux port was poorly done.

Introducing a very wimpy netbook. It is a Dell Mini 10v. This netbook cannot play flash well when running XP, let alone Linux. It is currently running Linux Peppermint OS V3, which is a lean and mean LDXE based distro. Running Firefox and Chrome with just the Flash plug-in, the only film resolution that was even barely playable were old 320×240 videos.

CIMG0488 CIMG0492

But I have it configured to play Youtube videos from Firefox like a Core I5. How? The simple answer is that I bypass the horrid Flash plug-in and instead I use SMPlayer, which is a graphical UI for Mplayer. Mplayer is a media player designed to run efficiently in Linux. I can now play full screen HD youtube videos outputted to an external monitor at a resolution of 1280×720, and they look and play just like a DVD. And this is with an Atom processor!

Here’s how. First, of course you have to make sure SMPlayer is installed. You then have to install a Firefox plug-in called AppLauncher. and configure it to call SMPlayer with one argument. That argument is specified as “&turl;” and is the URL of the Youtube video. The semi-colon at the end is very important, and leave out the quotes. You can actually drag and drop the Youtube video onto the SMPlayer screen, but using AppLauncher is much easier.

Once AppLauncher is configured properly, everything is ready to go. Find your favorite HD Youtube video. But don’t click on it. That will cause it to play with Flash. Instead, RIGHT click on the Youtube video to invoke the context menu, and near the bottom you will see AppLauncher. Highlight it and you will see SMPlayer appear in a list. Highlight SMPlayer, then do a normal click. See screenshot below. If you can’t read the screenshot, click on it to enlarge it.

screenshot 1

Smplayer will immediately start as an external window playing the Youtube video in glorious HD, without a single jerk or stutter. The picture quality is superb. Just click the upper right X to end the smplayer session. If the picture does stutter, go to preferences and make sure that under General/Video that “Output Driver” is set to GL.

screenshot 2

I’ve tested extensively using the following videos:

I played each one several times, just to stress-test it. They played beautifully from start to finish. And the Dell mini 10v never even got hot. I haven’t yet been able to make this procedure work with other sites like LiveLeak and Vimeo. When I do, I’ll update this posting.

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Update June 30 2:15 AM EST (in a few hours the birds will be singing):  When dealing with video playback on a slow Linux PC, victory sometimes means giving up, and not wasting any more time trying to squeeze water out of a stone. I am declaring victory!

I am not going to waste any more time trying to work around the video playback method called Flash that I truly believe was designed by a descendent of the Marquis de Sade.

My executive decision is entirely pragmatic. First of all, anybody really interested in video playback on Linux is not going to be using a Dell Mini 10v. I knew that from the start. They will be using a much more powerful PC which will play flash much better, even if running Linux.

Second, this netbook was configured as it was so an elderly person could use it (see upcoming post about Linux for Seniors). This senior (my father, actually) needs it for just two reasons, in order of importance: To stream music from a Windows server to a receiver, and to watch Youtube videos on the TV. It works admirably for this, as described above.

And despite my declaration of “victory” above, I actually did make some progress in that smplayer will now play LiveLeak videos. The procedure for starting them is slightly different than Youtube. First, Flash has to be disabled from within Firefox. This is not a tragedy in any sense. It doesn’t really work and absolutely nobody will be using it on a Dell Mini running Linux, except maybe insomniacs desperately hoping that a badly stuttering video will put them to sleep.

Once Flash is disabled, the Youtube procedure is not affected. Youtube plays the video as soon as you right-click on the thumbnail as described above. But with LiveLeak, you’re going to click normally on the thumbnail. Then a bigger screen appears with a start arrow that you would normally just click on again to start the video. But to play it using smplayer, you will RIGHT click the big start screen, then choose AppLauncher and choose smplayer. It is that simple (snicker snicker).

I don’t expect that anybody on the planet will be following these instructions to the letter and thanking me profusely for allowing them to watch ONLY Youtube and LiveLeak on a netbook running Linux. That’s not going to happen.  I’m not bothered by it. This was an intellectual exercise and I learned what I suspected from the start: That being able to smoothly play any flash video from any source on a slow Linux PC with a simple one-size-fits-all procedure is just not possible.

Update Sept 24 2013 11:15 PM EST: I tried this trick on Linux Mint 13 (based on Ubuntu 12.04 LTS) and it didn’t work at first! Smplayer started up just fine, but just sat there with a blank screen. It looked like a problem passing the &turl; argument. If I pasted the Youtube URL directly into smplayer, it worked fine. I noticed the 12.04 copy of smplayer was V7 and the newest version is 8.6 (that is the version tested above). V7 was the latest in the Ubuntu repositories so I added the smplayer repositories to Synaptic and tried again. It did update to V8.6 but still no luck getting it to play Youtube as described above. I was ready to give up when I tried adding a second app to applauncher (actually just a variant of how the applauncher is supposed to be configured). Lo and behold, the first app then worked! So I think there is a bug with applauncher such that a second app entry makes the first one work. I’m glad I stumbled on this. Once I saw that it worked, I left everything alone. Here is the Smplayer website that describes how to add the smplayer repositories (http://smplayer.sourceforge.net/en/downloads).

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