Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Raspberry Pi

So I have begun my adventure into the world of Pi. I suppose it was inevitable really. In case you are not familiar with the world of Pi here’s a brief history and overview (more details here):

A group of computer scientists – including Eben Upton from Cambridge became aware that students were not getting the opportunity to play with computers – to learn how to program and the huge potential for hardware manipulation there is – in the way that children who grew up in the 80s and 90s did. Whilst home computers had got ever more powerful, they also have become very domesticated. Given the low cost of components they realised that it would be possible to construct a low-cost computer, just the size of a credit card with amazing functionality. And what they came up with was the RaspberryPi. The basic model is priced at $25 and $35 for the more advanced version. So a charitable company makes the devices and a huge community of enthusiasts develop the operating environment(s) and software for the device. It really is impressive.

The Pi has been out for about a year and is loved by educationalists and computer-DIY-enthusiasts like me. The huge array of uses that Pi’s have been put to is really impressive and so it’s about time I joined in (for example...). I suspect I will end up with several Raspberries but this is the story of Pi_1.

Pi_1 – Media Centre Extender

I have had a MediaCentre PC for about 8 years now. It runs the projector which replaced a TV in my lounge. Sometimes, however I want to access media in locations other than my lounge. There are several ways to do this but I wanted the subtly of a Media Centre Extender, rather than having to fire-up a computer every time.  This is unbelievably simple with a Pi. Not least because so much of the work has been done already.

So here it is, powered directly from the TV and networked by mains-ethernet I had a fully functional MediaCentre Extender in less than an hour. The XBMC distribution of Linux is excellent; very functional, user friendly and (of course) freely available.(It will be completely hidden once I've finished playing)

It is important to note that to playback most video file types, the purchasing of codecs is necessary but given that it’s £3.60 for both, I didn’t feel that was too much of a hardship.

The only thing I haven't quite settled on is how I will control it... A lot of modern TV can communicate via the HDMI cable and hence you can control the Pi from the TV remote. I haven't managed to set that up yet but in the meantime there is a neat Android App for my phone... 

Next… well for Pi_2 I have some more advanced ideas.

Pi_1 Specs:
Raspberry Pi Model B 512MB DRAM RASPBRRY-PCBA
7dayshop Professional High-Speed SDHC Memory Card - 8GB - Class 10 CD Card
Raspbmc (XBMC for Raspberry Pi)