Solve video tearing on nVidia/ATI + Unity

Well almost. The solution I’m gonna be talking about today will almost get you there, but won’t quite solve the problem entirely. Before we begin though, here’s a quick rundown of my system specs –

Dell Inspiron 1520
2GB DDR2 RAM
nVidia GeForce 8600M GT
nouveau drivers (the default ones that ship with Ubuntu)
Ubuntu 11.10 x86_64

NOTE – Although I’ve tried it out only on nVidia hardware, this solution should work well on ATI chipsets as well

A little background though – from what I’ve found after a lot of digging on the Internet, two things are pretty clear. Firstly, the video tearing seems worse in Ubuntu Oneiric than in Natty. Secondly, the video tearing doesn’t seem to be tied to the driver itself (I can confirm from personal experience that I’ve had tearing on both the open source and the proprietary drivers – the pattern of tearing seems to vary though :p). After looking through several bugs filed on Launchpad, I’ve found that the problem seems to be related to Compiz. This fact can be verified by switching to a non-compositing desktop like Xfce or LXDE, which removes tearing altogether. But if you’re hell-bent on removing video tearing in Unity, today’s the day you get closer to that goal.

Mr. Daniel van Vugt seems to be working on a solution to video tearing that should help us all in the long run, now that major desktop environments have made compositing mandatory (GNOME 3 and Unity). Until his work is committed to the Compiz Core package, he has put it up on Launchpad PPAs. It seems pretty effective, and is definitely worth a try.

But, there are a couple of things to be considered before we begin.

First off, and this is highly important – Do NOT switch between the open source and the proprietary drivers once you’ve installed the PPA. It will render your system unbootable. Trust me, I know from bitter experience.

Also, check out these notes before starting.

Once you’re ready, type the following commands in a terminal –

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:vanvugt/compiz
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:vanvugt/unity
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get upgrade

If you’re getting an error similar to “GPG error…no PUB_KEY”, check out these commands, taking care to replace key with the hexadecimal string displayed in the error message –

gpg --keyserver keyserver.ubuntu.com --recv key
gpg --export --armor key | sudo apt-key add -

Once the installation is done, reboot to enjoy nearly tear-free playback.

Oh, and we might just get lucky, because a fix has been committed for Compiz 0.9.7 (the next stable release). Until then, this PPA should keep you happy.

Credit for the fix goes to Daniel van Vugt – details are on this thread.
Credit for the solution to the GPG error goes to this thread.

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