Multimedia container formats

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For a computer novice or any person unfamiliar with the technical details of multimedia production, transmission, and even consumption, understanding how to view certain media can be quite a challenge. This article adds clarity and insight for end-users (generally on desktop profiles) on how enable Gentoo to display multimedia.


Under the surface, multimedia (video, audio, or both) is generally shipped in a container format. These container formats have various names and can hold various multimedia content (codecs).

The three most relevant multimedia formats on Gentoo are (links to Wikipedia for each entry):

  1. Audio file formats
  2. Image file formats
  3. Video file formats

For example, in 2017 Apple started using the High Efficiency Image File Format (HEIF) to store photos (digital images) that were saved using a .heic file extension. This same format can also be enabled for photo storage on Android. Without the proper USE flags enabled and supporting libraries (packages) installed, viewing HEIF coded files (.heic files) will not be possible on Gentoo.


Depending on the container format desired, a search can be performed in order to determine what packages and USE flags correspond to the container format and the codecs.


For example, supposing a system administrator desired to enable HEIF support so that photos taken on an iPhone or Android device could be viewed while using the GNOME desktop environment. The system administrator could use to perform a heif USE flag search to see if any heif or heic USE flags are available for any packages.

Alternatively a system administrator could also search the local system using the quse command (included with app-portage/portage-utils):

user $euse heif

Ah! A search on both packages.g.o and the local system revealed that an heif USE flag is supported by some packages, and the heic USE flag does not exist.

To ease support, the heif USE flag can be added for all installed packages (globally) via a made.conf addition:

FILE /etc/portage/make.conf

In order for the package manager to recognize this change for already installed packages, a world set rebuild is necessary:

root #emerge --update --deep --changed-use @world

See also

  • HEIF — provides configuration information to add HEIF container format support to desktop environments supporting its integration.