Why do media players have such complex interfaces?

Posted by ajt on Sat 9 Jul 2005 at 10:14

Once upon a time one started a media player picked a file, pressed play, and music came out of the speakers. The interface was simple and inobtrusive. Time passes. MP3s arrive. Time passes. Media players aquire graphic "skins". Interfaces degenerate into complex goo.

Although I've been fighting with media players on my new Debian Etch/AMD64 system, this rant applies to all other Linux and even Windows systems. I'm not even ranting about buggy mediaplayers, or MP3 patent and licence problems.

Why is it so difficult to create a media player with a easy to use interface?

I've eventually found Zinf which I like on Windows, and with the right skin I can see what the buttons are. I find the Debian version of Zinf somewhat unstable, so on Debian I use amaroK which I've found to be stable. Xine is okay for video but I find it quite wobbly, it crashes when playing MP3s on Etch/ADM64.

See also: muttley hates software: media players.

 

 


Posted by Anonymous (193.237.xx.xx) on Wed 13 Jul 2005 at 06:13
I'm not sure they all do but.....

I believe for Windows Media Player version mumble, Microsoft hired a "usability consultant", whose idea of usability was to make the interface totally unlike any other Windows application. There is an artical on the chap and what he was trying to achieve, try Google.

Fortunately they made it skin-able, and included a classic skin, so those of us who can use computers, but dislike learning a new layout for every application we use can make it work more or less like every other Microsoft Windows application.

Other than that, the need for a fullscreen mode, and a desire this actually give you all of the screen in that mode, demands a few extras. And video and audio are quite complex beasties if you want to get the absolutely best quality, and people who work on these things see that as a point of competition.

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Posted by Anonymous (62.254.xx.xx) on Wed 13 Jul 2005 at 16:12
i like xmms , beep-media-player (xmms fork), mplayer and xine. On windows i use windows media player (6.4) media player classic, power dvd and vlc.

All work great for me.

sno

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Posted by Anonymous (62.252.xx.xx) on Sat 1 Jul 2006 at 06:11
For me surely audio quality is a factor of the media, the decoding backend, the soundcard, amplifier and speakers in use. I expect a lot of users don't have the latter two right. For me, probably old enough now I no longer have "golden ears" at least above 13kHz or so, high bitrate MP3 and Ogg sounds great on a good amplification system.

I'm currently using MPD and NCMPD on my low power embedded system - an advantage of which is that with only the 2.5" hard drive to make noise it's quieter than this keyboard which also adds to the musical enjoyment. A good front end to MPD would be nice - perhaps a plugin for Amarok, though Amarok would need changes to its catalog management too which may be fiddly as I expect it assumes a filesystem. NCMPD is effective as vim is effective, though features such a queueing would be great.

- Richard

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Posted by Anonymous (80.229.xx.xx) on Wed 13 Jul 2005 at 07:54
I quite like mplayer, while not in the main debian archive for various dodgy legal issues around DeCSS [and others?], you jsut type "mplayer foo.mp3" at the command line and it plays the song/video/whatever. Learn as much or as little of its interface as you wish, its got command line options coming out of its ears.

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Posted by ajt (204.193.xx.xx) on Wed 13 Jul 2005 at 12:10
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MPlayer is a powerful tool, shame about it's status - though I hear it will soon be in Debian offically - though it may have it's wings clipped.

Command line tools are okay, but not for "normal" people like my better half, she needs a clear simple GUI, even if it's only driving the same backend non GUI application.

However I will have to investigate MPlayer more, just for myself.

--
"It's Not Magic, It's Work"
Adam

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Posted by Anonymous (62.47.xx.xx) on Wed 13 Jul 2005 at 16:14
My favourite musicplayer is Beep-Media-Player, a GTK2-port of XMMS. For videos i prefer totem (xine-version).

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Posted by Anonymous (168.18.xx.xx) on Sun 17 Jul 2005 at 23:32
That's exactly what I use :)

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Posted by Anonymous (80.77.xx.xx) on Wed 13 Jul 2005 at 08:25
I use pretty regularly amaroK, KPlayer (MPlayer "unskinned" frontend), Kaffeine and XMMS.

GUI-wise, amaroK tries to be different and IMHO si very good, stable and all. They are still behind on networking support though, streams and "web" playlists regularly stop without any notice.

Kaffeine also is not bad, simple and essential, but v.0.6 on my Sid crashes every time I try to open a single file (?!).

KPlayer is a no-frill MPlayer frontend, similar to the original Windows Media Player; you obviously need to install MPlayer first (packages are available in the Marillat repository), but then you get its full decoding power in a basic Qt fashion.

XMMS, well, it's a Winamp clone, so you really need to find a skin that can suit you. However, in my experience, it's the best player for the Net; when it comes to internet radio stations or playlists full of links to publicly-available files, XMMS beats the crap out of any other player.

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Posted by ajt (204.193.xx.xx) on Wed 13 Jul 2005 at 12:03
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I'd agree that amaroK is different. I've also found it to be mostly stable and the GUI seems to be obvious. I like the fact it minimises to nothing, and the the basic GUI is KDE standard rather than some funky bitmap disaster.

I've tried Kaffeine since I posted this rant, and it's not bad, nicer looking that the plain xine-ui. However xine and hence Kaffeine still crashes when playing MP3.

I've not tried KPlayer.

XMMS is okay, but only with the right skin, the default is pretty horrid.

I don't play web streams much so I can't comment, mostly I play my own CDs that have been ripped to Ogg.

--
"It's Not Magic, It's Work"
Adam

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Posted by tapeworm (62.211.xx.xx) on Wed 13 Jul 2005 at 09:55
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it looks simple yet elegant and functional, but i don't really use music players that much, i may be wrong.

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Posted by nxt (62.24.xx.xx) on Wed 13 Jul 2005 at 20:19
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I recommend using MPD (music player daemon) plus a client. You can choose from a command-line, ncurses, gtk+, gnome, kde, gnustep client, maybe even more.

The daemon continues to play music even if no client is connected to it. I.e., if your X session crashes for some reason, the music will still play.

Even more goodness comes from having the daemon on a different computer than the client ;)

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Posted by Leira (222.70.xx.xx) on Sun 7 Aug 2005 at 10:52
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it is my favorite too. i think the best and simplest media player should have a C/S pattern. use a simple daemon without UI(never complex interfaces anymore), and use a client to control it. the client is complex or simple is your choice.

and the xmms2 project is working on a client-server model too.

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Posted by schwarzemann (209.168.xx.xx) on Tue 8 Nov 2005 at 22:10
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"The daemon continues to play music even if no client is connected to it. I.e., if your X session crashes for some reason, the music will still play.

Even more goodness comes from having the daemon on a different computer than the client ;)"

Forgive the ignorance, but in a situation w/the daemon on one box and the client on another, which box is actually generating the sound?

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Posted by nxt (62.24.xx.xx) on Sat 12 Nov 2005 at 00:14
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The one with the daemon. The daemon is accessing the sound-card and generating the sound. The client tells it which files to play.

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Posted by yaarg (81.178.xx.xx) on Fri 15 Jul 2005 at 16:01
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This is another area where flat, simple console apps work. See Pytone, best player out there.

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Posted by wouter (195.162.xx.xx) on Sun 17 Jul 2005 at 08:27
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I disagree, up to a point. This whole chaos of different interfaces with different menu's and icons blows usability to hell. But some programs just need a different interface. There is no Gtk or Qt VU meter widget, as far as I know. Traditional programs with big anti-aliased fonts and huge buttons take up too much space.

I still use xmms, and I have the habit to shade the playlist, equaliser and xmms itself, so it fits on the title bar of maximised programs. This way, it doesn't waste any space on my desktop. It stays right on top of all windows. I can see which song is playing, I have the controls and volume slider right in front of me, and I can unshade the playlist with one click to jump somewhere else in my way too long playlist.

Xmms' interface is build out of pure pixels, and this makes it possible to have so much functionality in so little space. You can not do this with a bulky Gtk or Qt interface.

In general I agree with your article, but there are exceptions -- like the shade mode I just talked about -- that need a different approach to be useful.

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Posted by ajt (82.133.xx.xx) on Sun 17 Jul 2005 at 10:57
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You make some very sound points. I agree that most widget sets are too big to be useful, I suppose that's always why I run my media players minimised down to a tray-icon.

With the right skin xmms et al are okay, the problem is that you have to go and find it. amaroK works out of the box.

I've been playing with Superkaramba, which does some cute things and stays out the way, but I'm not convinced it's useful once the novelty wears off. It has a amaroK plug-in, but it's more intrusive than the player alone, or FoxyTunes.

--
"It's Not Magic, It's Work"
Adam

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Posted by Anonymous (24.56.xx.xx) on Wed 27 Jul 2005 at 23:27
I have yet to create a Linux Desktop box, so this is actually about... GASP... Windows.

For Audio, I tend to use Winamp 5.x with the "Classic" (2.x) skin's Windowshade mode, set to Always on Top. So, it sits next to the Minimize/Restore/Close button on maximized applications.

For Video, I tend to use Media Player Classic 6.4.x. This allows me to use the same codecs that Windows Media Player uses without the horrid interface WMP has developed since WMP7 came out.

P.S. I'm still trying to figure out what the worst media player interface is... WMP9 on W2K or Quicktime on any Windows version. I haven't seen XMMS's, so maybe it's in the running, too!

--
R. Bemrose

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Posted by Anonymous (195.70.xx.xx) on Tue 6 Sep 2005 at 18:11
I find foobar2000 for W32 pretty good and useable. I'd love similar program for *nix systems.

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Posted by Anonymous (200.114.xx.xx) on Tue 16 May 2006 at 00:10
I've been having trouble finding/getting a Linux media player to play streams that have to be logged into with a username and password. In windows WM, Ultraplayer, MP Classic, and Winamp seem to handle this automatically.

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