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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A complete beginner’s guide to set up a raspberry pi media Centre and to play videos in HD

If you got a raspberry pi as a gift and is searching for a quick and powerful use of this wonderful little device, the best bet is to use it as a media center. There are several tutorials around and the purpose of this blog is to provide a quick and beginner friendly solution. Here is a short guide which comprehensively covers all the stuffs you need to do to get your pi in to life. I hope you got a box with an electronic board (The raspberry pi), an SD card and a couple of connectors and a power supply. In this tutorial, we convert Pi in to an Apple TV/Chrome cast like device and is capable of running an XBMC media center and provides a high definition video output in 1080p H.264 through its built in HDMI port. An overview of different possibilities with pi as a media center device is given in a previous post (Link).

Materials for Raspberry Pi XBMC

The basic set up needs a Raspberry Pi, An SD card, a power supply and an HDMI cable. If your TV set has a usb port, it may be possible to use it as a source for powering the raspberry pi and an Ethernet cable or a wifi adapter.

Additional items which can add bells and whistles to your set up includes: A case for your raspberry pi to keep it clean and protected, An infrared receiver (can be a bare 3$ IR sensor or can be an expensive and easy to set up usb infrared receiver like this (Flirc) one), A keyboard and a mouse (not really needed), A usb hub and an external usb hard disk drive (to store your videos), A TV head end, and a   usb sound card

An optional but useful thing is the additional codecs for MPEG-2 and VC-1 decoding which can be purchased for a small prize (here)

Power supply is very important (5V, at least 1Amp)

The RasPi needs a good power adapter which can provide sufficient current to keep the pi running. Check here for supported power adapter.  It should be noted that most of the problems like random rebooting’s and screen blanking on a pi is the result of a bad power adapter which provides insufficient amount of juice to the pi.

Getting the operating system and giving life to the Pi

The pi doesn’t have any operating system when we buy it. So we need to install one and don’t be panicked! It is easy as long as you can read English and click the mouse buttons. You need to ensure that you are using a good SD card to store the operating system. Check here for a supported SD card although most of the cards work fine.  So navigate your browser to Raspbmc website and get the operating system (here) and install it on the SD card. Insert the card and connect the hdmi cable to your TV and select the correct video input on your TV set. Now connect the power supply and Ethernet cable (or the Wi-Fi dongle)

A bit more on Raspbmc installer

It can be installed in to an SD card from a windows/Linux or Mac. Plug in the SD card in to your computer and remove all other usb devices. This is important because if you install the raspbmc on someother devices, you risk losing all the data stored on that device. Start the corresponding raspbmc installer for your operating system and select the SD card and follow the instructions to complete the installation.

First time boot of Raspberry Pi

At the first instance of the installation process, raspbmc will take some extra time (15-20minutes).  This is because it downloads the latest version of the software and installs it in to the Pi. So I would recommend using an Ethernet cable connected to the pi and the router , so that the pi can connect to the internet and download the necessary software’s. It is possible to use Wi-Fi, but I recommend to use it after the first boot with an Ethernet cable to make the process simple and easy for a beginner. Now once done, you have XBMC installed on the pi and running!!  To quickly explore these things, I would recommend to plug in a usb mouse and do a reboot. Now you can click on various menus and explore the media canter. But later I will explain how to use a remote control to navigate through the menus.  Plug in a usb stick with a mp4 video and try playing it to test it if you are new to xbmc. But there are lot more things which can be done and will explain soon. But up to here is the basic setup. If you are familiar with xbmc, you will know most of the things. For others, start exploring the plugins option over there and check out  the wide range of capabilities for instance you can start with YouTube plugin.

Remote controlling the raspbmc

Once your Raspbmc is up and running and if you have a smartphone/ android device, you can get rid of the mouse and start controlling the Pi with it. Search for Yatse xbmc remote and you will realize that it is very easy to set up and use the remote. It automatically finds your xbmc and enables remote control. You can also use an infrared remote with your Pi to make it easy (read more here). Other option is to use HDMI cec if your TV set support this. It enables you to use your TV remote to control the menus on raspbmc. Navigate to Raspbmc settings to explore other possibilities for instance to set up a wifi dongle or GPIO infrared remote. You can also enable other services like samba server (to access windows share), ftp etc.

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