LibreOffice Impress: Multimedia


One thing that Impress lets you do that can be kind of fun is to use Multimedia files in your presentations in various ways. Now, there are some interesting limitations here. First of all, any time you want sounds, whether from an audio file or as part of a movie file, you need to have the right hardware. This means a little planning ahead. In many of the places where I do presentations the video is all I have. But most modern projectors, particularly in corporate meeting rooms, have the capability of playing audio as well as video. On the other hand, some of the conferences I have presented at have borrowed any old projector they can get for free, and I have had problems getting them to display video properly, let alone play audio.

The other variable you need to be concerned with is how your laptop send out A/V information. If your video out is VGA-only, as would be the case on older laptops, that is a video-only format, and you would need to have a separate audio connection and cables. Current DVI and HDMI outputs do in principal carry audio as well, but I have also seen some issues with specific chipsets and cards, so you need to do some testing. The bottom line here is that this is a whole question in itself, and frankly one I am not an expert on, so if you want to do this I suggest you try it with the laptop and projection equipment you plan to use and see how it goes. If everything is modern hardware, you are probably going to be successful, but the older the hardware on either side the more chancy it will get.

To Embed or to Link?

The next question you have is one of embedding your multimedia files into your presentation vs. linking to external files. There are pros and cons either way. Linking to an external file makes your presentation file that much smaller, and for sound or video files you want to use on multiple presentations that can add up to a major space savings. The downside is that if you move the presentation file to another machine and your files were on the first machine, you just broke the link and they won’t work. There is one thing that can work nicely though, at least for movie files you may want to call, and that is to use a hyperlink to a server. For example, suppose you want to call a video from YouTube. You would just copy the URL then go to a blank slide, go to the Insert menu and click Hyperlink. this will bring up a window where you can set up your link:

Hyperlink Properties in LibreOffice Impress

Hyperlink Properties in LibreOffice Impress







Click the button for Web, copy in the URL, then in the Text box put in the text you want to appear on the slide. This will create a blank slide with that text in the middle, and when you click on it in the presentation it will open your Web browser and play the movie. If you want to instead create a clickable link as part of a bullet point or within text of some other kind, enter the text you want to use, select it then go to Insert–>Hyperlink, and enter the URL. You don’t need to enter anything in the Text field of the Hyperlink window here because it will apply the link to the text you selected.

But if what you want is not on the Internet you may want to use files available to you on your computer. One of the first things I consider here is whether I might want to use these files again. If I think I might, it is worth creating a Gallery Theme for them. If you have not looked at our tutorial on the Gallery and Themes you might want to review it now. But in essence Themes are collections of objects. We first introduced them for collections of pictures, but they can collect audio and movie files as well. As our earlier tutorial explained, the Gallery contains a number of Themes that are built-in, but in this case we would want to create our own. I would probably want to do at least two, one for audio and one for video,  to collect the files I want to use. And while you can pull files form any place, I like to create a directory and copy my files into that directory because it makes managing things a little easier I think. So I created two directories in my Impress tutorials section, one for audio and one for video, and copied into them 5 files each. The audio files were *.mp3, and video files *.mp4, which are very common file formats.

Note: when these files get into the Theme, they will have the file name as the only identifier. If your file name is fairly useless, like “x23v17q.mp3”, this would be a really good time to rename the files to something more usable, like “Ted’s_introductory_remarks.mp3” so that in the future you will know what the heck these files are.

Then I clicked on Gallery on the far right to bring that up on the Sidebar, and then on New Theme. The first one I created was for the Audio files, so I gave it a name on the first tab, and then on the second tab pointed to the directory I created with the *mp3 files. This is where it gets a little tricky, because this part is way more complicated than it needs to be.

  1. In the File Type dropdown, select “MPEG Audio (*.mp3)”. This will bring up a window asking if you want to update the File list. Click Yes. It will appear to have done nothing.
  2. Click the Find Files button, and in the window that comes up navigate to the directory you created and placed the files in.
  3. Click Select.
  4. Click Add All to add them to your theme.

As I said, more complicated than it needs to be. Click OK, and now you will have a theme in your Gallery with the name you gave it and icons for the 5 files in it. Repeat the above process for your movie files, and you will now have two themes created.

Now, you don’t have to create a Theme for a one-off use of an audio or video file. The idea here is that these are files we might want to re-use in the future, and this makes it easier.

When it comes to adding your files, one thing you may run into, even if you gave them better names, is that you still are not sure what each file is. But Impress has you covered. Go to Tools–>Media Player, and a player will open. Then double-click a file in the Theme and it will play for you.

Adding Sound or Video to a Presentation

Adding a file from the Gallery is as simple as click-and-drag from the Theme. If it is not in the Gallery, go to Insert, Movie and Sound, and navigate to the file you want. When you insert a an audio file, there is an icon added to the screen, but you can move it and put in text as well. When you insert a movie of course a window for the movie will be placed on the slide. The thing you need to understand is that all audio and video files that are inserted run automatically as soon as the slide is displayed in the slide show.

When you add the file you will see a media player if you select the audio icon or video window. It will usually be in the lower right. You won’t see it during the slide show, but this is where you can make some adjustments. There are the usual Play, Pause, and Stop buttons, then one that you can set for repeat if you want the file to keep playing. It will stop as soon as you go to the next slide, however, so this is not suitable for a background soundtrack while the presentation is running.  There is then a position slider that lets you start the file from any point, not just in the beginning, and a timer window that shows you where you are in the file. Then there is a Mute button that can be handy if you want a movie file to play without sound, and a volume slider so you can adjust the volume. Finally, a Scaling drop-down that is only available for movies.

So, my overall assessment is that this is an area where you can do some interesting things, but it shows where Impress lags behind PowerPoint which has much more sophisticated multimedia capabilities. And I have frankly had a bit of trouble using these features, such a slowdowns and crashes, but these all seem to happen with audio files. Video plays great for me. But if you are committed to using free software, you want to know what you can do here. I am hoping to see Impress make some strides in the future but that is up to the developers.

Listen to the audio version of this post on Hacker Public Radio!