Raspberry Pi

I was lucky enough to receive a Raspberry Pi for Christmas.

The Raspberry Pi is a credit card sized ‘enthusiast’ computer for hobbyists.

My primary purpose for the Raspberry Pi is as a media device for watching iPlayer and YouTube videos, though I quite fancy dabbling in a bit of ZX Spectrum emulation, and maybe a desktop environment, just for the sake of it.

Case

Initially I built a Lego case with the help of my 7 year old son. This was replaced with a PiBow case which retains the playfulness of the Lego construction, but is significantly neater and more compact. My son also pieced this together to keep him involved.

XBMC

I chose to use the RaspBMC version of XBMC to act as my media player. This can be downloaded from http://www.raspbmc.com/download/

At the time of first setting up, I chose the Terminal installation method here: http://www.raspbmc.com/wiki/user/os-x-linux-installation/ as I did not know how to download and build a bootable SD card from an image file.

The method described requires a wired network connection for the initial setup as the installation pulls in updates for both the Linux system and XBMC.

WIFI Network Connection

I had purchased an Edimax ew-7811un wireless dongle as this was reported (in most cases) to work out of the box with both Raspbian “wheezy” Linux and RaspBMC. I spent a long frustrating time trying to get the WIFI conected in RaspBMC. (It was showing as connected for no more than 5 seconds before dropping out). It worked faultlessly with a different WIFI network and I added the Network-Manager which shows all the available WIFI networks. This solved the connection issues on my own home network.

The WIFI connection frustrations paled into insignificance when I started to experience SD card corruption. For some reason, the Shutdown and Restart options in XBMC appeared to cause system hangs. Losing patience, I pulled the plug on two occasions – and on both of them ended up with an unusable SD card image. After re-imaging the card for a third time, I left the Raspberry Pi do its thing and then, after about 20 minutes, the disk activity stopped and it finally restarted. Something is not quite right, but I now know not to pull the plug when the system appears to have hung.

After experiencing the repeated frustration of corruption and subsequent rebuilds, I downloaded XBMC Backup from the Programs – Add-ons. This allows you to back up the add-ons and related data. Mine saves to a USB drive that is plugged into my router – available to the wireless router. This effectively gets over the issue of both USB ports being used by the WIFI dongle and the wireless Keyboard dongle.

I have since found out how to SSH into the Raspberry Pi from a Terminal window. Now I can send a ‘Halt’ command to force a shutdown if things appear stuck. I also keep a keen eye on the ‘activity’ LED on the Raspberry Pi board before pulling the USB lead from the power supply.

Keyboard and Mouse

I opted for a 2.4GHz wireless keyboard with gyroscopic air-mouse . This has been generally successful as it needs no drivers and worked out of the box. I do find that the air-mouse feature is a little tricky to use, and I may purchase the Perixx-PERIBOARD-717-Wireless-Keyboard-Touchpad which has a touchpad which I am much more familiar with. I thought the larger keyboard would be an advantage, but it is still a little awkward because of the small rubber keys and the split spacebar. I discovered that the Sony TV remote could be used to navigate the XBMC options once the 2.4GHz dongle was plugged in. This makes for more convenient browsing if there is no text entry needed.

Airplay

One feature of the XBMC which is quite neat is Airplay compatibility – where you can stream digital video and photos from an iOS device – for example an iPhone. Once you have put a tick in the systems setting box and set up WIFI, the Airplay works a dream… Some videos and photos are slightly misshapen for some reason, but they are still watchable. I suspect this was something to do with the orientation that video was shot – as the wide screen video from my phone, which was originally edited and exported from iMovie, played exactly as expected.

The picture on my Sony TV lined up exactly with the screen edges. On my parents’ Panasonic TV, the edges of the image were lost. I suspect there is a setting somewhere on the Panasonic to overcome the issue, but no fiddling was needed on the Sony.

There is a comprehensive list of working SD cards, Wifi dongles and other verified peripherals here: http://elinux.org/RPi_VerifiedPeripherals .

This page has some useful links to the video add-ons to be able to watch the content from different channels. http://reviews.cnet.co.uk/desktops/how-to-turn-your-raspberry-pi-into-an-xbmc-media-centre-50008599/

Interestingly the ‘power down’ option worked fine tonight… to be able to safely switch off without data corruption.