11 November 2012

Raspberry Pi and XBMC

A Raspberry Pi?!

Yes, a Raspberry Pi. These have garnered quite a bit of attention since they were announced. I was lucky enough to get mine many months ago in the initial release. There was a first-come, first-served basis waiting list. These are dirt cheap (I think I payed about R350 for mine), so I figured I would place an order. Why ever not? If it doesn't do what I want it to, it's no huge loss. I placed my order and before long I was informed that I am next in the queue, and would I like to proceed? Hells yes! Two weeks later the Pi was mine. Woot!

On that note, a friend of mine has been waiting so long for his initial that he will be receiving the 512MB RAM version instead. Many people want to get their hands on these things and the process is still slow, so I am actually quite fortunate to have one. Pity it has been gathering dust, I think it's time to do something about that.

That's gathering dust?!

Yes, it's gathering dust. If there is such a high demand, why would anyone let theirs just sit around? Well, I originally had one task envisioned for my Pi - a low-power media center setup attached to my TV via the HDMI output, and my media collection via Ethernet.

What's wrong with this? First of all, I failed to realize that any low-power media center that relies on a 650W power supply machine down the hall to serve content over ethernet is somewhat misguided. Hmm, time to invest in an external hard drive to hold all the content. But then it isn't cheap anymore. And then I'd have to synchronize content between the external and my main PC. Ok, it's not so bad, sitting on the couch and picking media from a sweet interface like XBMC still beats watching on your 23" monitor, right? Right. So let's do it, it's time to become the ultimate series watcher that I've always dreamed of being (those dreams keep getting stepped on by my university. Damn you, varsity).

Raspbmc

From the Raspbmc about page:

Raspbmc is a minimal Linux distribution based on Debian that brings XBMC to your Raspberry Pi. This device has an excellent form factor and enough power to handle media playback, making it an ideal component in a low HTPC setup, yet delivering the same XBMC experience that can be enjoyed on much more costly platforms.

Installing Raspbmc was a piece of cake. There already very in-depth guides on how to do it, like this one from How-To Geek. Unfortunately, the part that I either didn't read or didn't heed, was this:

Second, while the video playback of Rasbmc is quite snappy and we had no problem playing full HD content, the menus can feel sluggish if you’re used to running XBMC on a dual-core media center computer.

They weren't joking. It can get so bad that when a video plays and you want to do something perfectly normal like adjust the volume or skip a scene or pause for a bit, opening and navigating the playback menu is so damn slow that you're not sure whether or not it's ever going to happen. The same goes for navigating a media library. Mine was over a network, so I'm not sure how much of a factor this is, but my tolerance for laggy UI's is quite low and this just drove me insane.

So, in short, it was a nice novelty, but not very practical.

What next?

I have a great urge of always keeping up to date with the latest developments in the Linux world, and what a better way to keep an updated collection of Linux distributions than setting up a Pi as a dedicated, low-power, globally accessible torrent box? Not bad. More details to follow in another post.

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