HTPC with Raspberry Pi and Raspbmc

One of the best possible use cases for the Raspberri Pi must surely be to use if as an HTPC (Home theatre PC).

I have been using XBMC on a desktop PC running Windows 7 for more than a year now. However, when we got a second TV for the bedroom, it became apparent that we needed yet another XBMC instance for the second TV.

As if my dreams were answered, the Raspberri Pi is released and after much waiting, I finally have one!

Raspmbc is a linux distribution, stripped down to the essentials and has XBMC installed. Here’s how to get it up and running with your Raspberry Pi.

First of all, where do you get a Raspberry Pi? There are 2 licensed manufacturers, Element 14 and RS. Because of the high demand for it, you need to (at least initially) register your interest and one of the distributors will contact you as soon as they have stock available. I bought my Raspberri from RS.

To set up an HTPC with a Raspberri, you’ll need some hardware:

  • An SD card that will contain the operating system image (I bought a class 10 Sandisk 8GB) – See a list of known working cards here.
  • USB keyboard and mouse (I bought a Logitech wireless MK260 combo which works just fine). Try to get a combo set, because the Raspberry Pi only has 2 USB slots (or you’ll need to get a USB hub to attach more USB devices).
  • A power supply (Any good quality micro USB phone charger with 5V output rated for at least 700mA should work)
  • PC Remote (optional) – Search for “PC Remote” on ebay and get one like this for about $7.50:

  • A portable USB hard drive if you’re going to playing files locally
  • A TV or monitor with HDMI input
  • An HDMI cable
  • SD card reader
  • A CAT5 or higher network cable to connect to your router

Head over to Raspbmc and download the correct installer for your operating system (on the PC you’re using that has the SD card reader attached) - http://www.raspbmc.com/download/

The installer will download the correct operating system image and flash it to your SD card.

Now, go ahead and:

  • Insert the SD card into your Raspberry Pi
  • Place the Raspberry right side up on a non-conductive surface.
  • Plug in the network cable and connect to your router (It will need internet access to download additional files). A Router with DHCP configured should work just fine.
  • Connect the HDMI cable to the Raspberry and to your TV or monitor
  • Connect your USB keyboard and mouse (You can plug in the remote at a later stage after setup)
  • Finally, connect your micro USB charger to the micro USB slot on the Raspberri. Because there is no hardware on/off switch, this will power the device on.
  • Make sure your TV / monitor is switched to the correct video source

Your Raspberry should now boot up and start downloading a recent XBMC release.

Go make yourself some coffee and by the time you’re back, you should be installed and booted up, and XBMC loaded! Easy as Pi!

Go ahead and configure XBMC with your data sources.

Some important notes:

  • Try to avoid touching the Pi while plugged in
  • When handling the device, make sure to touch something metal first to avoid static discharge that could damage the device
  • Be sure to read at least the quick start guide.
  • You will need to build or buy your own enclosure for the Pi since it doesn’t ship with any type of enclosure.

Some shortcomings of this setup:

  • The Raspberry Pi does not have the most powerful processor in the world, so don’t expect a highly responsive system. There is some lag initially when loading file lists and playing videos, but it is still highly usable.
  • The network interface on the Raspberry is not gigabit Ethernet, so you might have trouble playing large files across the network. I experienced lag on files approaching 2GB in size. Video files on USB attached storage should play without problems (there are countless video demos on Youtube of the Raspberry playing 1080p video).

Next, I will post how to share your video library between multiple XBMC instances!

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