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Troubleshooting Video Playback Issues on Ubuntu 20.04: MP4 and Codec Problems

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In this article, we will delve into the common issues that Ubuntu 20.04 users may encounter when trying to play MP4 videos and other media formats. We will also provide detailed solutions for these problems, focusing on codec issues and the necessary steps to troubleshoot them.

Quick Answer

To troubleshoot video playback issues on Ubuntu 20.04, make sure you have installed the necessary codecs by running sudo apt install ubuntu-restricted-extras in the Terminal. If the issue persists, check the audio settings and enable GStreamer debug logs to diagnose any potential problems.

Understanding the Issue

Ubuntu’s default media player, “Videos” (also known as Totem), is built on GStreamer, a powerful multimedia framework. While this player supports most common video formats, users often encounter problems when playing MP4 and other formats like AVI. These issues are usually related to missing codecs, which are necessary for decoding the video files.

Installing Necessary Codecs

The first step in troubleshooting video playback issues in Ubuntu is to ensure that all necessary codecs are installed. This can be achieved by installing the ubuntu-restricted-extras package, which contains codecs that are not included by default due to legal or copyright reasons.

To install this package, open the Terminal and run the following command:

sudo apt install ubuntu-restricted-extras

In this command, sudo allows you to run commands with administrative privileges, apt is the package handling utility in Ubuntu, and install is the command to install a package.

Checking Audio Settings

If the video playback issue persists after installing the necessary codecs, the problem might be related to the audio settings. Some users have reported that the Jack server not starting correctly can cause GStreamer to fail, resulting in video playback issues.

To diagnose such issues, you can enable GStreamer debug logs by setting the environmental variable GST_DEBUG=5. This can be done by running the following command:

GST_DEBUG=5 gst-launch-1.0 playbin uri=file:///path_to_my_video.mp4 &> gs.log

In this command, GST_DEBUG=5 sets the debug level to 5 (the maximum level), gst-launch-1.0 is a tool that builds and runs basic GStreamer pipelines, and playbin is a high-level element that can decode and play a media file. The uri parameter specifies the location of the video file.

If running the command with sudo produces different results, you can pass the environment variable with the -E option:

sudo -E GST_DEBUG=5 gst-launch-1.0 playbin uri=file:///path_to_my_video.mp4 &> gs_sudo.log

By comparing the logs generated by these commands, you can identify any differences and potential issues.


Troubleshooting video playback issues on Ubuntu 20.04 can be a complex task, especially when dealing with codec problems. However, by installing the necessary codecs and checking the audio settings, most issues can be resolved. If problems persist, enabling GStreamer debug logs can provide valuable information for further troubleshooting.

Remember, the Ubuntu community is a great resource when dealing with such issues. Don’t hesitate to reach out to forums or support groups if you need additional help.

How do I know if I have missing codecs on Ubuntu 20.04?

You can check if you have missing codecs by attempting to play a video file that is not working. If there is an error message mentioning missing codecs or the video does not play at all, it is likely that you are missing the necessary codecs.

Can I install the necessary codecs manually instead of using the `ubuntu-restricted-extras` package?

Yes, you can install codecs manually by searching for the specific codecs you need in the Ubuntu Software Center or by using the apt command to install individual codecs. However, using the ubuntu-restricted-extras package is recommended as it installs a comprehensive set of codecs that cover most common media formats.

How do I enable GStreamer debug logs?

To enable GStreamer debug logs, open the Terminal and run the command GST_DEBUG=5 gst-launch-1.0 playbin uri=file:///path_to_my_video.mp4 &> gs.log. Replace /path_to_my_video.mp4 with the actual path to your video file. This command will generate a log file named gs.log in the current directory.

What should I do if the video playback issue persists after installing codecs?

If the issue persists, it is recommended to check the audio settings. Specifically, ensure that the Jack server is starting correctly as this can cause GStreamer to fail. You can enable GStreamer debug logs as mentioned in the previous answer to diagnose any audio-related issues.

Where can I seek further help if I am unable to resolve the video playback issue?

If you are unable to resolve the video playback issue, you can seek help from the Ubuntu community. There are various forums and support groups available where you can ask for assistance. Some popular options include the Ubuntu Forums, Ask Ubuntu, and the Ubuntu subreddit.

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