Sunday, November 11, 2012

Tasty Raspberry Pi

I thought I was doubling down on stupid.

I bought a 512MB model B Raspberry Pi. I couldn't get my 256MB Raspberry Pi to perform satisfactorily as a media computer. However, a mix of climbing the learning curve and adjusting my expectations has brought about a pleasing round of experiments I'd like to relate to you.

First off, less is more. If you don't have to plug in a USB hub, don't. If you don't need a wireless Internet interface, don't use it.

Second off, more is more. Dig out some extra SD chips and try out more Linux distros until you get the one that works best for you.

Here's my new model Raspberry Pi. If you see that little black nubbin on the right of the card, that's the USB dongle for the keyboard. The unplugged dongle on the left is the wireless Internet adapter that I unplugged and don't use.

I attached this teeny USB keyboard/touchpad combination. Yes, it costs more than the Raspberry Pi itself did, but it's cool.

My application is to create a media computer/set top box. When I bought my big new HDTV last winter, it came complete with Internet connectivity. Trouble is that Sharp's idea of Internet connectivity is pretty lame.

Instant Netflix works really well, but almost everything else does not. This includes YouTube or media stored on my network. So, I decided to buy or build something to make everything work with everything.

My first stop was an Apple TV. It is cheap $99 and it does a good job with stuff I didn't care about: iTunes. It falls on its face for what I really want: media stored on my network.

I am told that if I can jailbreak the AppleTV3, all my problems will be solved. Trouble is that nobody has figured out how to jailbreak the AppleTV3 yet.

Here's an amusing factoid: If you have an Apple TV2, you can sell it used for more money than an Apple TV3 sells for new.

This is why I wanted to make the Raspberry Pi into a media computer.

First thing I suggest if you buy a Raspberry Pi is to buy three SD cards that run as fast as possible. Then install onto these cards the following Linux distributions:
Each distribution has unique pros and cons. For instance, Wheezy-Raspbian is the most stable build and most things "just work." However, it is not specialized for service as a media computer. It doesn't readily run XBMC which seems to be the gold standard for Open Source media center software. That's XBMC you are seeing on the TV screen above.

Raspbmc automatically boots into XBMC as does OpenELEC. Sadly, Raspbmc does not seem as stable as OpenELEC.

Maybe I have just learned what not to try to do on a Raspberry Pi. I first installed Raspbmc and struggled with it in my first Raspberry Pi Model A 256MB card. It never really worked and I gave up.

That's why I thought I was doubling down on stupid buying a Model B 512MB card.

This was one of those rare times that worked out. I made the three SD chips with the three Linux distributions described above.

Of these I settled on OpenELEC. As you can see above, the Raspberry Pi handled media stored on my network. That's the Dude in the bathrobe above.

Then I installed the YouTube plug-in and pointed it to my favorite YouTube video. Happily, it worked and you can see it here.

If you'd like to see that video for yourself, you can find out more about it here.

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