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Video playback problems (black) after installing Beryl (or Compiz)

Note: Here we describe a workaround. The proper solution is to fix the graphics drivers and the X.Org X server. Such work is taking place, and for several cases you do not need this workaround. Especially with newer versions of Linux.

You just installed your 3D Linux desktop and you are really enthusiastic about it. But when you try to play some videos, you get a strange black output. What's going on?
The common software video players that come with the Linux desktop are able to display the video stream to several types of output devices. This includes several types of output for the graphical interface, and also obscure output devices such as text mode, using ASCII characters.
The default output device is XVideo (or Xv) for players such as those based on GStreamer (totem) and VLC.
As you guessed, there is a bug with XVideo when using Beryl/Compiz. Therefore, to fix, you need to switch to another output device that works.
For GStreamer players (such as totem, the default movie player in GNOME, Ubuntu and so on), you need to run from the command line the command
(with older distributions such as Ubuntu 6.06 there is an option in System/Preferences for this).
and pick
Video, then for Default Video Plugin choose X Window System (No Xv). Click on test to verify that it actually works. Click Close and you are set.
VLC is not installed by default in Ubuntu 6.10. You need to install manually using the Synaptic Package Manager (under System/Administration), once you have activated the Universe repository in Repositories.
Start VLC and click on Settings, then Preferences. Expand Video and then expand Output modules. You will notice several options for output device. How do we actually choose which one should be the active output device? Well, it appears it's a bit tricky. Select the item Output modules, and notice the checkbox at the bottom right that says Advanced options. Check the box, and now you have the option to select a different output device. Pick X11 video output, click on Save and you are set!

Update (17 Jun 2007): Added section at UbuntuGuide.org, How do I fix black windows during video playback.

Comments (13) Trackbacks (2)
  1. Hey, it had been bugging me for several days, thanks for the fix!

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  2. Great :)
    This really helped me a lot. Thank you very much!

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  3. Thank you very much. I just switched over from windows and this was almost the deal breaker for me. You sir are a scholar!

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  4. Thanks, it really helped a lot. But I cant get a good framerate yet on any play so video gets a litlle choppy.
    Thanks a lot anyway.

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  5. Cool, thanks. I got already used to deactivate Beryl when I wanted to watch videos. Now I don’t have to. Works perfectely :D thanks a lot.

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  6. I’ve also had this problem. Installing totem-xine instead of totem-gstreamer will make Totem work under Beryl. The problem with using X11 output in VLC is that the quality is very low when making a video fullscreen.

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  7. Thnx

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  8. I had the same problem: VLC (and everything else, from what I can tell) slows down considerably and eats up processor power when using X11 output. Anything fullscreen is very choppy. Please let me know if there is ever real a fix for this.

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  9. @Jon, @pingpongboss: I can reproduce the issue with VLC on my computer, when playing a video full screen with X11 Video output and Beryl.

    To verify that the video really skips, you can

    vlc -vvv videofile.avi

    The offending lines appear to be

    [00000338] main video output debug: looking for chroma module: 5 candidates
    [00000338] main video output debug: using chroma module “i420_rgb”
    [00000338] main video output debug: indirect render, mapping render pictures 0-7 to system pictures 2-9

    There is indirect rendering which slows down the video.

    [00000338] main video output warning: late picture skipped (395511)
    [00000338] main video output warning: late picture skipped (355521)
    [00000338] main video output warning: late picture skipped (315531)

    This verifies that the video is indeed skipping. On my system you can also see that the audio gives warnings, but this is due to the video rendering that takes too many CPU cycles over the audio.

    Bug reports for VLC is at

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  10. Thanks alot for this guide, I was using VLC but had troubles with the video output. Was starting to get annoying, only switched over Sunday to ubuntu and almost made me want to go back to windows. Once again thank you :)

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  11. Thanks a lot!!!. I need Beryl because of my visual problems and I really needed not to turn it off and on every time I wanted to see a video.

    Muchas gracias

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  12. Hi. It’s great that you’ve posted a solution that a lot of people gladly adapt. I just have a minor pointer for next time: please call it a workaround – this is not a fix to the actual problem, just a workaround.
    If you’d provide a fix instead, I’d be happy to donate money or pay you since XV playback is “what we want”.

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  13. Thanks a bunch! I was torn between my cool beryl effects and watching my digital video collection (switching the compositing on an off was not very impressive). Now I can wobble Totem all over the place while watching a video! Now to think of a good, professional sound reason for it…

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