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Stupid Geek Tricks: Watch Movies in Your Linux Terminal Window

In these days of high definition videos everywhere (even YouTube), only the truly geeky would decide to watch their movies in ASCII text in a terminal window. The surprising thing is that some videos are even fairly watchable.

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I’ve found that cartoons work best because of the limited detail. Even more importantly, the series finale and (probably) last ever Futurama movie is coming out Tomorrow on DVD! You can pre-order Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder on Amazon.

Watch Movies in ASCII

The first thing you’ll want to do is make sure that mplayer is installed, which is easy enough from the command line:

sudo apt-get install mplayer

Then, to actually watch the movies from a terminal window, use the following syntax, replacing MovieName with the filename of your video.

mplayer -vo caca MovieName.avi

The “caca” command is actually the color text driver – you could also use ” -vo aa ” instead for black & white, but that would just be silly.

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These screenshots don’t really do it justice – it’s seriously just as bad when you’re watching.

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Sequences with a lot of contrast work better…

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And it wouldn’t help to sit about 8 feet back from the monitor.

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Now that was truly a Stupid Geek Trick!

Lowell Heddings, better known online as the How-To Geek, spends all his free time bringing you fresh geekery on a daily basis. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 02/22/09

Comments (41)

  1. Andrew

    They do look better if you squint your eyes whilst looking at them :-)

  2. Baobab

    Nice! My girlfriend’s prejudice against my geekiness will tenfold now, thank you!

  3. orlandocr

    Do you know what the “caca” command means in Spanish? :P

  4. linuxbuzi

    This is especially useful when working over the network with ssh. Also try cacaxine with a jpeg image, or check out the webcam with mplayer -tv device=/dev/video0:driver=v4l:width=640:height=480 tv:// -vo caca!

  5. Jay

    You could sit back 8 feet but if you have eyesight like a true geek just take the glasses off. I can watch comfortably like that.

  6. BG

    Yea! Another shout-out for us linux users!

  7. J.C

    Seriously??

    Why would you induce such eye screaming pain?

  8. Brian

    Yes!!!!!!! This is awesome, I can’t wait to try it out :D Thank you Geek. I love the terminal, combined with movies now – oh man I feel so geeky.

  9. DS

    Haha, yeah, “Caca” in spanish means “Sh****” hahaha…

  10. Binny V A

    I can think of one practical use – seeing movie over a slow network connection. Also, star wars.

  11. Fred

    Caca means shit in French too. We also say merde.
    WHAT A GEEK way to watch movies… interessting.

  12. Steve

    Isn’t this ANSI text? ASCII doesn’t support colors.

  13. dam

    That was created by Sam (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sam_Hocevar). He initiated others projects which can be found there: http://caca.zoy.org/
    Just enjoy the name :-D

  14. Bob

    Its like watching scrambled pron on comcast!!

  15. Impressive

    Nerdom at its finest! Congrats sir!!

  16. vlc-fanboy

    you know you can do the same thing in vlc by
    settings-preferences-videos-output modules
    and selecting color ascii art video output.
    advanced options required.

  17. Sorry

    Windows users can do the same thing, using the VLC media player and choosing Preferences > Video Output > Color Ascii — from the menus.

  18. Online Televisoin

    Into the Wild Green Yonder is great, friend pre-ordered it and it arrived 2 days early. Good movie, kinda sad ending because it leaves it all open.

    I’d still say it goes:
    1) Beast with a Billion Backs
    2) Into the Green Yonder
    3) Bender’s Game
    4) Bender’s Big Score

    Hopefully they’ll pick it up again for a few more episodes.

  19. Steve

    @Sorry

    No they can’t…not quite…because linux users can watch over an SSH connection. Windows users can only do it from the current machine, which kind of defeats the purpose of using ASCII…

  20. JK Wood

    You do know that you can use mplayer to play videos using svgalib in a terminal? It’s not great, but it’s better than ascii art.

  21. debager

    Windows users can do the same thing, using the VLC media player and choosing Preferences > Video Output > Color Ascii — from the menus..

  22. sansavoir

    That is just what the doctor ordered, thanks! By the way … movies have much more details in black and white (if you don’t keep your glasses obviously lol)

  23. Elijah

    Works to with mplayer in windows.

  24. Zenham

    To change the resolution of the ASCII rendering, set the CACA_GEOMETRY environment variable, thusly:

    CACA_GEOMETRY=160×120 mplayer -vo caca your_video_file.avi

    Be forewarned, larger resolutions take pounds upon pounds of CPU to keep in sync with the video. Doubling the resolution quadruples the calculations :)

  25. Bamsa

    This is a pretty sweet geek trick. I was unable to get it to work over SSH, however. I was given an error initializing/opening the video output device. Blah.

  26. Ron

    @Steve, Windows users have also been able to watch star wars in the command terminal over telnet. I don’t suppose that is geek enough though, since it is Microsoft. Us Windows users will go cry in our corner, which is nicer than the Linux living room btw.

  27. watching movies online

    heheh. I love these ASCIIs :) there are sooooooo many site out there allowing you to watch or download movies for free today. rrrau! this is just mental. linked to one of my favorites :P

  28. Sean

    I watched The Matrix years ago using this method. I had to sit way back & squint, but it was an immersive experience :)

  29. debager

    I watched The Matrix years ago using this method. I had to sit way back & squint, but it was an immersive experience

  30. Nikesh

    “Now that was truly a Stupid Geek Trick!” but awesome and shows the power of Linux

  31. Derek

    Nice. I like it!

  32. airflow

    Virtually indistinguishable from Dwarf Fortress!

  33. sunil

    Another reason to use linux over windows

  34. J Cathers

    I don’t even see the lines of code anymore – like right now, I’m seeing a woman wearing a red dress…

  35. calebstein

    To install it in FreeBSD, just type “sudo pkg_add -r mplayer” (without quotes).

  36. low rock

    you can also right click on the video and select other app. then type in mplayer -vo caca.

  37. JOZeldenrust

    VLC can do the same in a tty, but not in a terminal window (it opens an extra window).

    cvlc –vout caca

    Works wonders.

  38. JOZeldenrust

    Add the filename/path after “cvlc –vout caca”, obviously.

  39. anon

    On FreeBSD, cd /usr/ports/media/mplayer && make install clean. Make sure you enable (lib?) caca and aalib

  40. Renoir Boulanger

    Not so stupid. Could be usefull.

    I used this mode many years ago in a Scout camp to impress children. We used a video sequence telling a mission for the childrens. What I did after was a script with an old laptop which I installed to autoboot with a lot of code (I used Apache’s make command) then started mplayer.

    Children were convinced it was real.

    Mission accomplished.

    Thanks for reminding the command options.

  41. pingu

    For those who prefer not to hurt their eyes….
    Use: mplayer -vo fbdev -fs MovieName.avi

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