Occasionally listening to music files or watching videos with lightweight media apps the likes of Gzine, Alsaplayer or Gnome Player is fine if you are not ultra demanding of your listening environment. If you do not fall into that category, Banshee is a much better multimedia option.
The Banshee Media Player’s listening and viewing pleasures are in many ways similar to those that Amarok and Rythmbox provide. See my reviews here and here. All three of these media apps have a similar interface with a browser-like design for creating playlists and managing more than just your music libraries.
This latest Banshee, version 1.8.0, has a feature set that lets you do much more. For instance, it scans your hard drives and other attached storage media to catalog all existing music files, videos and podcasts. In addition, Banshee makes it simple to tune into the MiroGuide to locate music, HD Shows, video and audio collections for purchase and download.
Want more? Good, it’s in there, too. With Banshee, you can find and play hundreds of public domain (aka free) audio books, e-books, concerts, lectures and movies, all from its Internet Archive feature. These services are built into the menu. So, too, is Internet radio listening through Last.fm.
Perhaps the neatest addition to the features packed into this latest Banshee is the Amazon.com MP3 Store. I like Amazon’s no-nonsense approach to building collections without the pricing, format and DRM restrictions dictated by Apple’s iTunes. Accessing music purchases from Amazon through Banshee is simple and convenient.
More Than Basics
All things considered, lightweight media players do just fine if all you want to do is click on a title and play some tunes. Media management systems like Banshee, Amarok and Rythmbox do most everything else. By that, I mean these high-end apps provide features for managing and expanding your media file collections.
Think of the differences between using a file-viewing app to look at your digital photography photos one at a time and a photo management system such as Picasa, Shotwell Photo Manager or DigiKam. That is why using Banshee is a good alternative to other playback solutions. It goes well beyond all the basics of listening and viewing your media collections.
Banshee is a refreshing alternative to the other big names in Linux media apps. It is very customizable, thanks to the plug-in structure Banshee uses. Set it up your way by accessing the Extensions options in Edit/Preferences. This will let you turn off/on the various services and components that Banshee offers. Do the same for configuring source-specific settings and file policies within the Edit/Preferences options.
Not for KDE?
My enthusiasm for Banshee deflated somewhat when I tried to load it in the KDE environment of a test computer running Ubuntu 10.10. I switch often between the GNOME and KDE desktops. Almost always apps designed for one desktop environment will run fairly seamlessly in the other.
Not so this time with Banshee, a native GNOME/GTK product. It wanted to run. It tried really hard. Its window fully populated with playlists momentarily appeared on the KDE screen. Then it crashed.
Hoping it was a fluke caused by that particular Linux box, I reinstalled it on the KDE side of that configuration. No luck. I even tried installing Banshee on my other computers with different processor circuitry. Still no luck.
I pursued the message boards looking for a solution. All I found were assertions that “It should work in KDE. Interesting that it doesn’t.”
The Good Stuff
Banshee supports an impressive list of files and external media player devices. Part of its broad-based import capabilities, I think, comes from its foundation in Helix and GStreamer technologies. GStreamer is a pipeline-based multimedia framework that handles a variety of media-handling components, including simple audio playback, audio and video playback, recording, streaming and editing.
Banshee’s Internet services include the ability to get cover art and produce smart playlists. In fact, Banshee is very adept at importing existing file data from other media management systems already installed.
I especially like the 10-band equalizer built into Banshee’s View menu options. For me, that makes the difference in using Banshee over other equally well-qualified media playback apps. The tray icon feature access is also convenient when not using full-screen mode.
Look and Feel
Banshee sports a clutter-free layout. Yet it is not lacking in information displayed nor access to all the features.
For instance, to the left is a vertical side panel presenting the various media components. Two larger horizontal windows consume the rest of the Banshee display window. The media collections fill the top window. The tracks of a selected artist or album fill the lower window.
Clicking the media category or service alters the appearance of the display windows. For example, The Podcasts service lines up items in three vertical colums. Clicking the Videos category in the left-hand side panel plays the selected file in the rest of the window.
Banshee handily does the expected things found in other media playback apps. It manages a handful of additional functions equally well. It is the extras it brings that make it a strong contender to unseat your present media app.
I like the fast searching capabilities. I can enter a single word or a phrase that forms the partial title of a selection in my collection. Banshee gives me a list of titles with that word or words in it. That is a real boon when checking on what I have before hitting the Buy button.
Banshee also has no trouble syncing with my various player devices. This makes it easy to bundle the stuff I want from my hard drive on whatever playing device I carry with me.
The Play Queue feature is more rigorous than similar features in other media apps. I can quickly queue up my selections. I love the one-more type of alternatives. In this case, Banshee has an Auto DJ feature that does the queuing for me.
The Banshee Media Player has all I could ask for and then some. It is an impressive media performer. Hopefully its next release will play in the KDE environment without having to find hoops to jump through.
All things considered, Banshee is a cool replacement for everything else I have used to organize and play my media collections.
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