My My, It’s a Pi

So my Pi arrived yesterday, and I had a shot at setting it up as a media center using the XBMC-centric OS “Raspbmc“. Overall it was pretty painless, but a few pitfalls still needed skirting so I thought I’d jot them down here. I also tried installing Arch Linux ARM, the recommended OS from the Raspberry Pi foundation but my other SD card flaked on the install, so that’s something for another day.

First up, I downloaded Release Candidate 2 from Raspbmc. The Mac extracted it from it’s compressed archive automatically so I had an image file named installer-testing.img sitting in my download folder.

Installing this on to the SD card was pretty painless on a Macbook Pro. Initially I tried just using a pre-written python script from Raspbmc, which was a pain. In the end I just followed the instructions from the Raspberry Pi wiki (starting at step 4). There is also a how-to for windows on that page.

The next step was the only really hairy moment. Inserting the SD card, connecting the Pi to the TV with HDMI and powering it up with the MicroUSB power supply that I bought from RS, the Pi booted to a basic Linux shell. At the login prompt the username and password given on the Raspbmc site (username: pi, password: raspberry) didn’t work. Using username: root and password: root logged in successfully, but nothing much was going on. Browsing round the filesystem it was apparent XBMC wasn’t anywhere to be found.

Turns out that you must have the Pi connected to the internet when you boot Raspbmc for the first time. Then it automates the setup, partitioning the SD card and downloading the latest Raspberry Pi Friendly version of XMBC. That was it!

XMBC booted, with the big Raspbmc logo filling up the screen before the comforting familiarity of confluence appeared. The menus seemed a little slow, but the streaming of a few TED talks and Apple trailers were top-notch (both these add-ons downloaded fine from the repo). Checking playback with a 1080p copy of Downfall was perfect.

I reduced the resolution for XBMC from 1080p to 720p, since my TV isn’t actually capable of displaying 1080p anyway, and noticed a very impressive jump in menu responsiveness and performance of the XBMC interface. Playback was still perfect.

All that’s left now is to get an ethernet cable long enough to reach the living room from the router, and test the  streaming from the bedroom’s XBMC UPnP server to the Pi. All in all a great day! Cost-wise, with the Pi and all the cables, this cost about 40 quid.


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