A highly customised Debian designed for video and audio professionals, how exactly does it differ from other distros? And does it deliver?
AV Linux 6.0 came out towards the end of last
year after an apparently difficult development
period. AV Linux does take a while to iterate,
though, and there were some big changes from
version 5 to 6 – such as switching from Linux
kernel 2.x to 3.x for better hardware support,
and some major updates to all the packages.
A point update has been released for 6.0 now,
which includes some minor upgrades and bug
fi xes throughout the distro and its apps.
AV Linux comes as a fully functional, livebooting OS, perfect for writing onto a USB stick
or live CD and using it where you can. It does also
include a fairly basic installation function, which
gives you just enough control to partition your
system and then install the distro to it. While it
isn’t as pretty or user-friendly as some of the
major distros, it does the job and explains what
you need to be doing at each of the steps. This
includes giving instructions on how it wants the
hard drive partitioned before letting you launch
into GParted to do it. The biggest hassle during
installation in general is changing locale and
keyboard if you’re not American.
One of the things that make it great as a live
distro is its many extra drivers for a lot of
proprietary audio and video hardware, such as
sound cards, graphics cards, MIDI controllers
and more. These are all carried over through
to the installed version and you can then start
customising which versions of the drivers you
want to use, and keep them. This allows you
to get the most out of your system for AV work
without having to set it up every time. There are
also a lot of sound-card utilities that allow you
to edit the levels through a variety of different
applications with different effects to the sound
input, although it seems to prefer you use one at
a time rather than a combination.
Speaking of sound input, AV Linux’s realtime kernel is one of the distro’s best features
for professional audio engineers. The real-time
tag on boot allows for a much lower latency
while recording audio, keeping things a lot more
accurate than the standard Linux kernel. You
can remove this if needed, though, as the realtime kernel does take up a few more resources
than usual, noticeably slowing down our test
machine while it was activated.
There are several boot-time cheat codes that you
can apply on boot, one of which is the -rt option
that enables the real-time kernel. By default,
there are options to enable threaded IRQs, which
aids in the audio latency, as well turning off the
hugepages memory management feature.
Disabling hugepages is apparently another
step in keeping the latency low, but it causes
memory-heavy applications such as video
editors to not work as smoothly. There’s also an
option known as noautogroup that allows for the
desktop to work a little better, even when CPUintensive operations are under way.
One of the upsides of AV Linux is the sheer
amount of audio, image and video editing
software pre-installed onto the distro.
Mainstays such as GIMP, Audacity and Cinelerra
are joined by 3D modellers like Blender, and
other video editors for different skill levels such
as OpenShot and Kdenlive. The full LibreOffice
suite is also available in case you need to write
or present something, and of course a full
complement of internet browsers, messaging
clients and media players are included to round
out the experience. All this is especially helpful
for the live version of the distro, as it’s all there
without preconfiguring, and there’s a lot of
extra utilities and tools that would take a long
time to set up and customise to this extent.
However, you can make a hybrid bootable USB
key using current system settings to create a
more personalised version of the live distro,
with software installed or removed using the
standard Debian packages it’s based on.
It’s generally a fantastic editing suite. The use
of LXDE and its policies on screensavers means
it can eke every bit of power from your system
to make sure latency and rendering are the
best possible. And on top of that, it gives you
a huge amount of control over the way the
hardware interacts with the distro to optimise
the system even further. It does use a lot of
non-free software to achieve this, though –
unfortunately this is more of a problem with the
entertainment industry than anything else, but
allows people to do the kind of work they want to
use AV Linux for.
Possibly the perfect audio editing suite based on Linux,
especially for one that’s ready out of the box so
to speak. The real-time kernel option is a great
feature for sound engineers, reducing audio
latency, and there’s a lot of driver and hardware
control for everyone else.