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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

PulseAudio - A new system to solve many problems

What PulseAudio is, and why it is great for Linux.

Someone once asked me why PulseAudio is being pushed and I only had some vague ideas why. This article briefly mentions some new reasons I did know. I thought you might be interested:

I have been reading up on PulseAudio and like I said before, if it becomes the standard (and I think it will) it will be great and solve a lot of the problems in Linux. Sufficient to say, if PulseAudio can do all that I have ever seen listed on websites for features, it will be the end all of sound systems for Linux. :)

Just to name a few features PulseAudio has that I like:
  • Support for a far wider range of audio devices ( Bluetooth/Apple Airport)
  • Flat volume support (similar to Vista's audio controls)
  • On-the-fly reconfiguration of audio devices
  • Native support for 24-bit samples.
  • It will run on Windows, both natively if desired or through Cygwi.
  • Support for allow networked sound (between Windows and Linux)
These last two two features are things I have personally desired from a sound system. Previously I had never successfully enabled transporting of sound across a network from a Windows Machine to a Linux machine. (The occasion for wanting to do this was that I had a Windows machine in my room, running games which I was controlling from my Linux desktop via Synergy. I did not want to setup a second pair of speakers to hear the games. I wanted to have the audio from that computer piped into my main desktop speakers.)

About two years ago, PulseAudio was rather unsupported (maybe even broken), at least in Ubuntu. Maybe it was the programs... or maybe it was the kernel. I don't know. It could have been both. But now most of my programs run PulseAudio just fine. I remember the annoying problems I would have with OSS audio in the past. This transition to PulseAudio is much less of a problem for me.

I suppose a user must need to be somewhat advanced to experience the occasional difficulties with software audio protocol conflicts and difficulties. I can safely tell you that I definitely experienced more problems with audio 6 years ago when I began to seriously use Linux. I also experienced more when I was using a wider variety of software.

In the past 6 years I have been watching, there has been larger move towards supported ALSA in most applications, and now support for PulseAudio seems to be coming along nicely. The best part of PulseAudio is that, to my understanding, as long the application uses ALSA, ARTS or ESD, all of those are wrapped under the PulseAudio umbrella.

So if PulseAudio is actually working on your system, the system is backwards and forwards compatible, and all sound play nicely together. Well done, huh?

Of course, there is the issue that PulseAudio will have more overhead than systems like ALSA, which of course has more overhead than OSS. Personally though, I seriously doubt this is going to even be noticed on desktops with Dual-cores and even more so as Quad-cores become commonplace. Also, we are not talking about a lot of overhead here, especially when the system is not doing much.

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