A boy and his tech
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My, My, My Raspberry Pi

I may be a little slow on jumping on the bandwagon of the Raspberry Pi, but I finally broke down and got one. My primary goal for this device is to act like a media center for my home.

For the unintiated, the Raspberry Pi is a low cost, credit-card sized computer that plugs into a computer monitor or TV, and uses a standard keyboard and mouse. It is a capable little device that enables people of all ages to explore computing, and to learn how to program in languages like Scratch and Python. It’s capable of doing everything you’d expect a desktop computer to do, from browsing the internet and playing high-definition video, to making spreadsheets, word-processing, and playing games.

There are many places that are selling these nowadays, but the average price of the board alone is about $40.

I bought a starter kit off amazon which contained:

  • The Raspberry Pi Model B board
  • Clear Case
  • HDMI Cable
  • Power Adapter
  • Wireless N USB Dongle
  • A 4GB SD Card with NOOBS installed on it

I also bought a black case and a wireless keypad with a track pad so I could control the unit from my couch. All of this ran me about $88 total which is still inexpensive considering.

Once I received all the items I started putting it all together and started the project of getting it up and running.

There are many choices of operating systems for the Raspberry Pi and all are Linux based for the most part.

  • Pidora – which is a spin of Fedora
  • Raspian – which is a spin of Debian
  • Arch – This is a lightweight distro. I do not recommend this for beginners.
  • OpenElec – This is one of the media Center operating systems using XBMC as it’s main desktop.
  • RaspBMC – This is the more official XBMC OS for the Raspberry Pi
  • RISC OS – this is a non-Linux OS

There is a launcher called NOOBS that allows you to select the Operating system you want to install, but it does a minimal installation of the OS and allows you to build up from there after you install.

RaspBMC InstallSo I started by using the SD card provided with the starter kit. NOOBS came up and I began to install RaspBMC which is XBMC for the Raspberry Pi.

Seeing I wanted to have this as a media center it was the best choice to go with.

The installation did not take too long (about 25 minutes from installation to reboot) and I was given the default XBMC screen that I have come accustomed to on my laptop. I thought this was great and now all I have to do now is connect the WiFi… Where do I go now?

The way you need to configure the network stuff for XBMC was a little hidden in my opinion. It would be nice if it was under the settings menu for XBMC itself, but it’s actually a program add-on that is included with the installation. So I moved over to Programs and saw RaspBMC Settings and set up the WiFi SSID and the password for the router and then the system went into update mode almost immediately. No problem, right?

Wrong.

At first I freaked out because it was a new device and shouldn’t have issues. But I remembered that whenever there is an issue with a Linux powered device, do research and trouble shoot from there. I first checked to see if it was just RaspBMC that was causing this. One thing about using NOOBS is the primary boot screen has a reload option come up by pressing shift. I launched the reload screen and loaded Raspian to see if it was the WiFi dongle causing the power issue.

Under Raspian, the wireless worked fine. So was it the WiFi and RaspBMC combination? I powered down and dropped a hardline ethernet connection to the Pi. Reloaded the Pi again with RaspBMC and the update came up right as it pulled an IP inside of the OS. Again I got the same error messages. So I powered it all down and did some more research about the power error coming up after an update.

I found out that apparently the version of RaspBMC that was included on the SD card’s version of NOOBS was an older version which it was a known issue that the update was causing miswrites of the filesize on one of the kernel files which was causing reports of power issues with the hardware itself. Instead of trying to find the file manually, I decided it to be easier to write straight RaspBMC to a larger SD card (Sandisk 16GB Micro with an adapter in this case) and see what happens.

To do that I had to download the image and install it onto the SD card. I may put a How-To for LinuxMint and Ubuntu users in the future. But I need to find the steps I took to do it myself. Heh. I do know it involved the command line and the “dd” command. But I got the image set up to install and put the card into the Raspberry Pi and powered it back up.

I kept the hardwire connected in this installation so I could be sure that the WiFi dongle wasn’t part of the equation just yet. It loaded fully, updated itself and was working fine.

So I started going forward with updating to a newer version of XBMC through the nightly repositories and it came back up fine. I then loaded my movies. This took quite some time because I have quite a large collection of movies that I have converted from DVD to digital over the years. Once it was done, I thought I should add some more plug-ins like I had on my laptop.

When I entered the plug-in section to add new ones. There was nothing listed. I looked up fixes for this, and the only real way was to SSH into the Pi and remove the userdata folder. Great. There went all the imported movies. However when I removed that folder and rebooted the Pi I had all the plug-ins available.

Movie ScreenBefore I loaded up all the plug-ins I powered the unit down again and plugged in a USB Hub and put my External hard drive and the WiFi Dongle into that. I then powered back up and went into RaspBMC setting and setup the WiFi settings again and things were still good. It pulled the IP and so I began to install plug-ins and themes. After that I then reloaded all the Movies and then Music (which took a lot longer because I have a huge collection of Music too).

I watched a movie before passing out on Sunday night and things seem to be running well at the moment. The only little glitch I have is the keypad is not translating the @ symbol right. It put in a ” so trying to set up the YouTube plug-in is impossible until I get a USB full keyboard plugged in just to configure it.

I am pretty pleased with the outcome of the project. Even though on a personal level I am in a transition period of where I live, I can still use the wireless mini-keypad for the mean time. Once I have control over my home network I will be using the android app again for navigating.

But the Pi as a media center so far has proven very nice. It’s slow on some themes installed on the device, but it does run ok for the most part. I think future models of the Raspberry Pi will deem faster and more on board memory, but that is a hopeful thing. I am happy with the device even though I had some hurdles getting things going on it.

Although Netflix is not quite availble at this time for this set up, I can connect my laptop to the TV if I really wanted to. But I may just break down and get a BluRay player for that in the near future.

So the big question is do I recommend the Pi as a media center option? Yes. If you have movies and music of your own on an external drive or on a network share in the house, it’s a great low cost way of doing it. However, keep an eye out for the version of software provided to you if you get a starter kit. It could be better to just wipe the card and install something more up to date if the vendor doesn’t give it to you. Also you may want a larger card than 4GB so you can play with things more. And if you chose to load one of the desktop Linux options, you have a little more storage available for applications.

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