The Very Best Open Source Video and Digital Music Tools

by Sam Dean - Jul. 29, 2011Comments (0)

 If you've used computers for any length of time, you can probably remember when watching video or streaming music was a guaranteed headache. Only a few years ago, the web was teeming with sites that claimed to provide streamlined video and audio experiences when the experiences were in fact filled with hiccups. Now, though, the web and our digital devices deliver perfect multimedia playback and we've come to expect it no matter where we are. In this post, you'll find more than 15 good open source resources for getting the best video and audio available for digital devices, ranging from mobile phones to computers. 

 Top-Notch Open Source Video Tools

Now that video runs rampant on the web, though, there are a whole lot of applications worth getting, even if you're currently happy with your video and encoding tools. Here are many good applications to try.

Miro is widely known as a free, open source video player through which you can watch web videocasts, BitTorrent files, and play almost any type of video file. You can deliver video and audio to Miro's player as a publisher as well.






Linux and Mac users should look into VLC Media Player. It's widely hailed for playing almost any video format.







MPlayer is a popular video player for Linux, Windows and the Mac. It supports a large number of formats, and can save streamed content to files with ease.







SMPlayer is a front-end for MPlayer, and it goes well beyond simple media playing features. It supports filters, lets you add subtitles, and more. It's for Windows and Linux.






SMPlayer Portable is just that--a portable version of SMPlayer. You don't have to install it to run it, and it's easy to run from a USB thumb drive.






Chameleo is an open source media player with a focus on extensibility and widgets. The software, based on GStreamer and other open source projects, supports a wide variety of codecs. The sample widgets that come with Chameleo give video watchers the ability to take screen captures, blog what they’re watching, use video tags and subtitles, open new files, and browse the web.






Prism is a free application that will let you convert video from one format to virtually any other popular format. You can preview the output to guage whether you have all the encoding right.








Simple Theora Encoder is a very popular, easy tool for encoding video on a Mac. See Lisa's review.








MediaPortal is an open source application for turning your PC/TV into an advanced media center. It juggles music, radio, videos and DVDs. It also works like a DVR and lets you record live TV.






 Open Source Tools for a Better Digital Music Experience

Sure the world of digital music is loaded with copyright sharks, DRM and other undesirables, but it's also increasingly teeming with cool, free open source tools and applications. Do you want to sync iPods and iPhones to any computer anywhere? How about playing Doom on your own customized OS for iPods or most other music players? Do you need customized music library management for multiple platforms, including Linux? How about a free, streaming radio application for your phone that will automate interesting playlists for you? Here are many great resources for doing all of this and more.

Synching iPod and iPhone Libraries Anywhere. One of every iPod user's nightmares is having a computer with an iTunes library on it crash beyond repair--when there is no backup of the library. With the free, open source application iPodDisk, (Mac only) you can quickly recover your library from your iPod itself, and here is how to do so. You'll also find an excellent step-by-step tutorial on using iPodDisk and other free apps for synching an iPhone or iPod with any computer, no matter where you are, at TheAppleBlog. Especially check out the easy steps for getting (non-DRM) music from other computers.


Cross-Platform Libraries, Plus Extensions. For a well-liked, cross-platform application for playing and managing music libraries, try Songbird. It's based on open source Mozilla code. You can get it for Windows, the Mac and Linux. Like Firefox, Songbird takes advantage of extensions, such as this one for instantly getting lyrics to songs you're listening to, and this one for managing your album art. You can also bring your existing iTunes library into Songbird. Check out our screenshot-driven tour here.

Roll Your Own Operating System. Lisa covered Rockbox a little while ago, and it's out in a new version. Rockbox is an open source firmware replacement for the standard-issue firmware found on music players ranging from the iPod to players from Archos, iRiver, Olympus and others. Check out the many players that it works with here. Many people swear by Rockbox, and it can breathe life into old MP3 players. It's essentially like having a more robust operating system on your digital player, and you can even play Doom and other games on it. There is an installation utility from Rockbox, plus a QuickStart Guide, and installation is easy.

Banshee and Amarok Across Platforms. The Banshee open source media player and library manager is among the most popular ways to manage music. You can use it with Linux and on the Mac. Banshee can play, import, and burn audio CDs, and supports lots of media players, including the iPod and Creative's ZEN players, as well as the G1 Android phone (complete with one-click Amazon music purchasing). In addition to your tunes, you can manage podcasts, album art, streaming radio from, and much more.

Amarok is a very popular player and media manager for Linux, and there are ports for Windows and the Mac (though support for them is not declared official). It makes use of core components from KDE but is released separately from it. It plays music from many popular formats, and you can manage podcasts, free audiobooks from Librivox, and streaming radio with it. Check out Kristin's thoughts on Banshee and Amarok here. If you're a fan of streaming radio, definitely check out this post. Via the free music service, you can have the application build automatic, customized playlists for you. Artist and tour information are also available, and you can get impressive photo libraries, artist news, and video libraries.  On Android phones, it's possible to browse the Internet or use other mobile apps while music plays in the background. If you've ever shut down the service just to check e-mail, you'll like this. credits its open source developers for making the Android app robust. You can also put on the iPhone and many other platforms.

We have more coverage coming up on open source digital music resources, and we hope some of these tools and applications help you.


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