Despite the name and tasty looking logo, I’m not talking about food but rather about the tiny computer called Raspberry Pi. I had read about this computer on my favorite tech blogs a while back, but never really gave it any thought until a few weeks ago. One of my co-workers casually mentioned to me that he has this cool little computer at home and that I might want to check it out. I did some reading and after talking with him about it I figured that I’d drop the 30 pounds and see what this thing was all about. I ordered model B, and the specs are listed below.
Not bad for £30. Here is what it looks like with cables plugged in to most of the ports. I have an SD card, USB stick, ethernet cable, HDMI cable, 3.5mm audio cable, and a power cable plugged in. The nice thing is that this little computer is powered using a standard micro USB cable, of which I already have plenty. It usually ships as just a circuit board, but I paid the extra four pounds for a plastic case – I thought it would be safer. It might look strange with cable sticking out all over, but it really is quite small.
The Raspberry Pi team invented this device as a low cost solution to computing, but also with the hope that they will be able to teach children to program. Luckily for me, the Linux community has embraced it, and there are many flavors of operating system available. The cool thing is the operating system is installed on the SD card (or you can boot from the card and run the OS from a USB stick or NFS) which makes it very easy to swap purposes should you want another linux distribution on it. So what did I buy it for? A media center.
I have installed a version of the Xbox media center (XBMC) that was ported to work on the Pi called Raspbmc. Again I benefit from the enthusiasm and expertise of the community, this software was very easy to install and get up and running. Above you can see the default user interface, which looks clear and sharp, even projected at 100 inches. In fact, the video processor is supposed to handle 1080p streams, but I have yet to test it out. It does handle h.264 and mp4 files, which are the formats I prefer for downloaded TV shows and movies. XBMC also has a number of plugins availaible, for example Youtube, iTunes podcasts and Digitally Imported radio, so once I add my library of movies and music it will really have everything I need. So how do I control it?
Yes, my phone. I can plug in a traditional mouse and keyboard, or buy a wireless mouse/keyboard combination but the Yatse app for Android is all I need. It works great so far with Raspbmc. Above you can see one of the control screens, but I can also view my entire library or all plugins on another screen. I can control the music from anywhere my wifi extends to, which is fun if we are sitting in the other room and I want to change songs.
I look forward to finally getting my library of media loaded and all the tweaks and settings just right. The processor is already overclocked to 900mhz and it seem stable, and I’m excited to see what else it can do. All things said, a fun little toy performing the function of something more than double the cost.