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Linux audio library smackdown part3: SDL

February 5th, 2015 by

How many of you remember Loki Games/Entertaiment/Software? Hands up  now! I’m still waiting.. wuhuu hands up now! Loki.. Loki! Oh still no hands.. what a pity (Damn how old Am I?). Ok I Admit! It was before Steam, before Internet was this huge fast beast for watching videos, telling how you are doing right now and sharing photos.

Loki only shipped CD’s for installing your application and there wasn’t hot fixes waiting when you got CD from post or yes there where but I had to wait and wait for 200 MB blob to download for ages with my 57600 modem. All the time I thought that I’ll boot Windows for playing Castle Wolfestein. It was long before before Linux have any gaming community what so ever. There weren’t Firefox or Chrome available and Google was just starting to own our lifes.  So it was dark days of late ’90 (we had electricity thanks for asking).

Loki was founded on 1998 and  it got on bankruptcy on 2001 after IT bubble blowed. Loki changed Linux in good way. One thing that they left behind was called Simple Direct Layer (SDL1). SDL layer sits top on Xorg that makes creating games more ease. You can port your game to Windows and Mac OS X with little effort. Current version of SDL is SDL2.

Good thing about SDL is that it abstracts drawing to screen in Windows, Mac OS X and X-windows. SDL1 was all about pixel buffers but SDL2 is all about surfaces and acceleration. It support many more OSes but that’s not the what we are looking at today. So how do you playing audio out of SDL1/2?. Good thing is audio interface stayed same through conversion from SDL1 to SDL2. They only added few bugs and float point audio in SDL2.  SDL1 have recording but I didn’t manage to make it work so if anyone with more patience than me can lead me to correct path I would be happy puppy. Here is SDL Github location: https://github.com/illuusio/linux-audio-example/tree/master/sdl

Simple Direct Layer API

Supported outputs: Alsa, Oss, Pulseaudio, Mac OS X, Windows, iOS, Android
License: SDL1 GNU Lesser General Public License 2.1 and SDL2 ZLib license

SDL API is like name says very simple and it’s very popular toolkit. SDL can be found on every bigger Linux distribution out of box (at least SDL1 and SDL2 is fast spreading). SDL can be used for graphics, input and audio. SDL API is actually almost dead simple. Support for audio outputs if very good on Linux and things are like if it’s working on Linux it works on Mac OS X and Windows the same.  Playing audio was so easy that I get frustrated when I tried to make recording example. I even read the source code how it should be done and yes It doesn’t work with SDL2 that what I learner but I couldn’t get it working in SDL1 nether.
SDL audio API is fully and only callback based. You give your callback function and it just get called when SDL feels audio should be played. After that you feed the correct type output as much callback asks and then you wait another callback to feed more. Simple and very efficient.
If you compare callback system to Pulseaudio with SDL you can’t get no information what ALSA, Pulseaudio or OSS is doing. You just feed and they just get played out of speakers. If audio is that what makes your game rock then SDL could be what you want.

Sound card or chip
ALSA kernel drv
ALSA or Pulseaudio or OSS C API
SDL 1/2 audio C API

SDL audio for whom.

It’s for people who don’t need much or don’t have interested how audio get played. People who likes to get audio out with ease and fast. Currently SDL development is under Steam umbrella so they have some commercial interest with it. SDL1 was licensed with LGPL+2.0 and SDL2 is under Zlib license which mostly same like than MIT-license. SDL is also mostly rock solid, sanely licensed (SDL2) and used by many many Indie (The UnReal World RPG if I have to mention one Indie game that I know well) and not so Indie games. Biggest problem with whole SDL is lack of documentation. There is wiki but if there is no question you crawler through web and test everything you find along if it solves your problem. Development is also little bit slow and fixing bugs are not getting fixed in fast but if you can live with that it’s all yours!

Summary: Very simple to get audio out of speaker. Not for high-end or surround sound but mostly for games or playing videos this is excellent! Learning curve is non exist or  there is small: you got to understand C well to work with SDL. Works with IOS and Android so if you are on cross platform this can help you out.

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One Response to “Linux audio library smackdown part3: SDL”

  1. Jordan

    I’m pretty sure that SDL hasn’t actually implemented recording as of yet. The API is there, but the functionality behind it is not.