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 Raspberry Pi Media Center Rocks My World: Part 1

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With over 1,000,000 Raspberry Pi’s in the wild, it wouldn’t surprise me if there are some left unused, tucked away in their boxes, waiting for a killer app. I’m here to tell you that the app is here and you can set it up in about 20 minutes. There is no coding or no command line work involved; You don’t even need a keyboard. It’s likely the most simple thing you can do with your Pi besides removing it from the box. That app is Raspbmc, a port of the classic media center program XBMC, which transforms your Raspberry Pi into a full-on media player.

Last year, a 19-year-old developer from London named Sam Nazarko started to port XBMC (Xbox Media Center) over to the Raspberry Pi, hoping to leverage the Pi’s GPU to turn it into an inexpensive HTPC. Over the course of a year, Sam built a team and slowly got things working on the Pi. On Feb. 14 this year, Sam announced the release of the “final version” of the software, making the Raspberry Pi an officially supported platform for XBMC.

I’ve been using Raspbmc for the past three months and honestly don’t know how I could get by without it. It’s now the hub for all my digital media files. Music, TV shows, movies, pictures, it’s all there playing on my TV at the click of a button. It’s so straightforward and easy to use, my wife (who isn’t exactly known for her technological abilities) figured out how to use it without any instruction.

While there are many guides floating around the internet, I put together a quick one to get you started. I also included directions on setting up wifi and activating AirPlay / AirTunes.

To follow along, you’ll need:

  • Raspberry Pi (256mb or 512mb model)
  • 4GB SD Card (minimum)
  • Windows computer
  • HDMI cable
  • TV with HDMI Input
  • USB Mouse (if your TV remote isn’t CEC compliant)
  • USB power supply (if your TV doesn’t have USB)
  • USB A to Micro cable
  • Wired internet connection (just for setup)
  • WiFi adapter (optional – I’m using this one from Monoprice)
  • Case (optional – I use this one from Thingiverse)
  • These items can all be found in Getting Started with Raspberry Pi Kit from the Maker Shed.

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So far I’ve been very happy with the performance of Raspbmc on the Raspberry Pi. It has handled all content I have thrown at it, and will even play H.264 encoded 1080p video files (although there is some artifacting.) While Netflix and Hulu are not supported, Raspbmc is a great, inexpensive solution for playing archived movies, TV shows, or music from your personal collection. AirPlay support is what I consider to be “icing on the cake.” In my opinion Raspbmc is easily one of the most capable, refined, and easiest to use software packages available for the Raspberry Pi.

Look for Part 2 soon where I’ll explain how to use AirPlay, play media, and map network sources.

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Michael Castor

I am the Evangelist for the Maker Shed. It seems that there is no limit to my making interests. I’m a tinkerer at heart and have a passion for solving problems and figuring out how things work. When not working for Make I can be found falling off my unicycle, running in adverse weather conditions, skiing down the nearest hill, restoring vintage motorcycles, or working on my car.


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