Raspberry Pi gives users what they asked for: MPEG-2 and VC-1 support

Raspberry Pi gives users what they asked for: MPEG-2 and VC-1 support

Summary: After the lack of MPEG-2 and VC-1 caused an outcry among fans using the cheap Linux computer as a media centre, Raspberry Pi puts up licences for the video codecs on sale.

TOPICS: Linux, Open Source

The Raspberry Pi Foundation has started selling licences for MPEG-2 and VC-1 video codecs, after complaints from users who turned the cheap Linux computer into a media centre.

Because the £25 Linux computer was developed as an aid for teaching kids to program, the Raspberry Pi's designers decided not to include an MPEG-2 support on the grounds of cost. However, this left many with media libraries full of MPEG-2 videos unable to play them, unless they transcoded gigabytes of data — something they were vociferously unhappy about.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation answered those pleas on Friday, revealing that it has struck deals that allow individuals to buy the licences if they want to add them to the H.264 support baked into the Raspberry Pi's hardware.

"From today, you'll be able to purchase an MPEG-2 decode licence which will be tied to your Raspberry Pi's unique serial number. This will allow you to play MPEG-2 material from XBMC and omxplayer, which hasn't been an available feature before now," foundation spokeswoman Liz Upton wrote in a blog post.


The licence for MPEG-2 — a longstanding and popular format used by many to encode ripped DVDs, Blu-ray titles and TV shows — costs £2.40 on the Raspberry Pi store. At the same time, fans can now also buy a licence for VC-1, Microsoft's WMV video codec, for £1.20.

Each licence is tied to the Linux computer's 16-digit serial number, and buyers should receive a licence key within three days of ordering.

The UK-based foundation spent "some months" on the process of sorting out "an individual licence for an individual user to download and use with an individual machine", which in the case of MPEG-2 meant working with MPEG-LA, Upton said. She stressed that providing a blanket licence would have cost too much.

"Providing that licence would have raised the price of every Raspberry Pi by roughly 10 percent, and we simply weren't able to justify that when we held it up against the educational goals of the foundation," Upton said. "Our initial expectation was that most of you would buy the Raspberry Pi for educational purposes, and that you wouldn't mind that MPEG-2 wasn't available. Our bad."

As a bonus, the team discovered while digging into video codec licences that they already had the right to offer H.264 encoding alongside the decoding in Raspberry Pi. The relevant OpenMAX components for encoding have now been enabled by default in the latest firmware, Upton said.

And in another move destined to please those with Raspberry Pi-powered media centres, Upton noted that Raspbmc, XBian and OpenELEC OSes now have support for Consumer Electronics Control (CEC). This means people will be able to use a single remote control for that media centre, television or any other connected device.

Topics: Linux, Open Source

Karen Friar

About Karen Friar

Karen Friar is news editor for ZDNet in the UK, based in London. She started out in film journalism in San Francisco, before making the switch to tech coverage at ZDNet.com. Next came a move to CNET News.com, where she looked after west coast coverage of business technology, and finally a return to her homeland with ZDNet UK.

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  • An aid for teaching kids to program?

    How about you teach them to program with Visual Studio Academic on a cheap PC?

    Teaching people to program on Linux is either software archeology or just sadistic.
    • Do you feel any better . . .

      . . . now that you have your first troll bait of the day written?
      • While it is troll bait

        You have to admit learning to program in VS is probably more useful, and user friendly, than tinkering with the Pi.

        That said I would have been a Pi user if it were available 15 years ago.
        • What I would prefer is this:

          Microsoft should provide a Windows Embedded educational license so that anyone can learn ARM platforms that are actually stable and have a future. They should work with hardware vendors to make more ARM platform drivers available much like with the PC ecosystem, so that there is more competition with chipsets. I'd like to see more of the alternative ARM chipsets making an appearance on a Windows RT OS, like the Allwinner, and some of the others that haven't made it to the final cut of RT. Then, I'd like to see more consumer-friendly development programs available. Visual Studio is good, but imagine if you had something between that, and the complexity of Kodu on the Xbox 360, that could teach programming skills to kids, on low-power, extremely cheap, commodity ARM hardware....
          • LL and Joe

            The Pi is a $30 device. Whilst your comments are worthwhile, they do not overcome the issue that your suggestions could not be implemented for $30. Let's give the Pi its dues for the pittance of its cost.
          • Actually....

            .Net Micro Framework is free....

            Also, I never suggested that the software be entirely free. Even if the platform hardware (such as the Pi or some other commodity kit like it) and dev tools could fit in under $100/kit, that's still a better value than OLPC. Quite frankly, I don't see the benefit of kids using an abstract toy computer in countries that don't have the majority of their workforces extensively using computers in the first place. And then in established countries, you have too many people using computers and not enough of them know how they work or how to maintain them properly.
          • Yet another criticism of the OLPC

            It doesn't seem to get through to much of our nerd world that the OLPC was not intended (nor designed) to be a general purpose computer. It was designed specifically for places where computers are not common, to make a communication device available, allow users access to written materials they couldn't access any other way, and in general be used ONLY for the education of the children. It's not going to run MS Office, Visual Studio, Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing, etc., because the devices will be placed in areas where those are obviously not needed.

            There are useful skills other than computer and economic skills, after all. Staying alive is one of them. Teaching children how to avoid disease can be a part of that.
          • Thanks for proving my point for me

            ...that in those areas where computers aren't being actively used, the money is better spent elsewhere, like for building basic ammenities and community infrastructure - not in giving kids a wind-up gizmo!
          • Re: Microsoft should provide...

            Microsoft should provide world peace and a free chicken in every pot while it's at it, but realistically, it's not going to happen. Deal with it.
        • Re: learning to program in VS is probably more useful...

          What kind of future would you offer your well-trained VS serfs, though? Back when today's employees were of school age, Microsoft was quite keen on C#/Dotnet. But it appears that is taking a back seat in WinRT. Then there was Silverlight, which had such a big push just a few years ago, and was even used as the basis for Windows Phone, only to peter out somewhat.

          It would be a safer bet if Visual Studio can be used for cross-platform development (e.g. Android), but it seems it can't quite manage that.
          • Do you have a clue?

            Do you even think you know what you're talking about, or are you just ignorant?
          • Well I upvoted him

            Because you had a stupid comeback, @Joe_Raby

            Try better next time.
            Cylon Centurion
          • Seriously?

            Well let's just take a look at his statement for a moment:

            "Back when today's employees were of school age, Microsoft was quite keen on C#/Dotnet. But it appears that is taking a back seat in WinRT"

            WRONG. C# is part of the native stack of WinRT, along with C++ and HTML. It's more like there are 3 drivers at the helm, whereas previously, C# was put in a baby seat with a toy steering wheel with the .Net Framework API's in prior Windows versions.

            "Then there was Silverlight, which had such a big push just a few years ago, and was even used as the basis for Windows Phone, only to peter out somewhat."

            Also not accurate. Silverlight is just a ".Net Framework LITE". Now what they're doing is going to more "native" implementations of C# and VB.Net. Also, on Windows Phone, C++ is being pushed to the foreground due to the same advancements in Windows 8. This allows game devs more control over GPU hardware than anything that was possible in Silverlight. There is no more XNA either, but game developers now have more precise control over the GPU, especially when it comes to shader units, which are a necessity with todays 3D engines. Due to this, Windows Phone 8 gives developers more options for supporting graphics capabilities that only DirectX games could previously deliver on the desktop. XNA could never approach those capabilities.

            "It would be a safer bet if Visual Studio can be used for cross-platform development (e.g. Android), but it seems it can't quite manage that."

            What development environments actually deliver native-like capabilities cross-platform with decent performance? There aren't any! Java is completely insecure, and is a pig on resources, and HTML+JS is just markup and scripting languages respectively. OTOH, you can deliver server-side webpages with .Net applications that include compiled C# or VB that still works with universal HTML markup on any web browser, and it can be delivered using ASP.Net OR PHP.
          • Where is it, then?

            There's nothing stopping anyone (*cough* MS) creating a MS-centric version of Raspberry Pi or OLPC. So where is it, if it would be so *amazingly* useful?

            Raspberry Pi and OLPC win, because they *actually exist*, and are *affordable*. I know that annoys you, but just get over it.
        • Thats a matter of opinion.

          Trollbait yes, but I'm not so sure VS is more useful.

          I've programmed extensively in Visual Basic, C++, C#, as well as Python in Win up to 7. Before that, Basic and Assembly for every common home computer there was, and currently in Python on Linux, and C++ for ARM and AVR processors.
          VS is more user-friendly for Windows programmers, but thats all you can say for it. Programming in Windows is in reality simply hooking up chunks of someone else's code to perform your task, and that stinks if you wish to create something entirely new. Templates have their place, but you cant beat opening up a text editor and free-coding to experiment.

          Pi goes back to the days of DIY interfaces, writing your own screen and keyhandlers and flying by the seat of your pants. It doesnt get any more useful than that, considering that Microsoft have condemned the entire user interface that makes VS so friendly to the bin - welcome to shoving tiles around, the Win8 equivalent to bashing reams of code into a keyboard, and goodbye ever writing a single byte of raw processor instruction yourself.

          Pi kind of was available 15 years ago - or at least the spirit of it was. Its where this massive mess of end-user 'programming' came from. Back then, anyone could buy a computer and program if they wanted, but they didnt want to. Not everyone wants to spend the time it takes to learn to instruct a processor directly. What Microsoft did was take that unique ability, package it, and sell it to those who wanted it without the work.
          And that is what destroyed the spirit of home programming, and created the computer industry instead, lazy buggers who steal and copy others work to make money instead of really innovating.
    • Re: Visual Studio Academic on a cheap PC?

      1) Because the Free programming tools are Freer than (snigger) Visual Studio Academic.
      2) Because this is cheaper than a cheap PC.
    • Good point

      You make a good point.
      Mickey Mouse Visual Studio is much better suited for users with limited mental and intellectual capacity, like children and MCEs.

      It's better to leave the real programming for grown ups.
      Mike Seven
  • VLC

    The VLC player is free and open source and will play anything you throw at it. No need to buy the codec, it comes in Windows and Linux versions.
    • Re: VLC

      The trouble is, the ARM CPU on the Raspberry Pi is pretty anemic, so software decoding of MPEG-2 etc isn’t really good enough.
  • Why H.264?

    Given the supposedly "academic goals" of this project, not to mention the low-cost requirement, one has to wonder why Eben chose to support, and thus pay for, H.264 support at all, when the hardware already supports acceleration of royalty-free codecs like VP8 and Theora:


    Surely children learning Python programming don't really need video codec hardware acceleration, but if one is going to include such a thing on a low-cost device, surely it would make more sense to choose the the already-supported Free codecs.

    Maybe then they could have provided a Free Software driver, instead of the binary blob the MPEG-LA insists must be used to hide their "precious" secrets, and we could have "supported" whatever codec we wanted to ourselves thereafter.

    Or is that too obvious?