The Raspberry Pi Foundation has announced an official Raspberry Pi case for the Raspberry Pi Model B+ and Raspberry Pi 2 that costs just $9. With over 5 million Raspberry Pis sold, there are already number of unofficial cases are available such as the excellent FLIRC case. However, the official Raspberry Pi case is different with its focus on working in a wide variety of use cases.
Teaming up with the designers at Kinneir Dufort, the official Raspberry Pi case consists of four separate elements. The cases’ main section (in Raspberry red) holds the Raspberry Pi itself. 3 removable white panels allow you access the various GPIO pins and interfaces on the Raspberry Pi itself. The case is made from injection-moulded ABS plastic and also features LED light pipes and rubber feet to keep the case securely in place.
So what does the Raspberry Pi 2 bring to the table over its predecessor?
Firstly, there is a significant leap in performance. In moving from the BCM2835 to the BCM2836, the Raspberry Pi 2 has a900MHz quad-core ARMv7 processor, up from the single 700Mhz core in the original. So far, synthetic benchmarks have suggested that it performs roughly 6 times faster than the Model B+. It’s also got a RAM upgrade to 1GB, up from 512MB, and is still priced at only $35.
However, not everything is new. The board maintains the same form factor as the Raspberry Pi Model B+, meaning accessories should be compatible. Additionally, the GPU is still the VideoCore IV. This was a relatively powerful GPU for the device and has always offered excellent media playback, so I’m not disappointed with its reappearance here.
Windows 10 on the Raspberry Pi 2?
That wasn’t the only interesting announcement however. The post also mentioned that the Raspberty Pi foundation are collaborating with Microsoft to bring a free version Windows 10 to the tiny PC. The wording in Microsoft’s announcement implies that there will be some differences, so whether this is some form of cut-down Windows 10 or something more akin to Windows 8.1 with Bing is yet to be seen. Rest assured that we’ll be trying to test it out as soon as possible.
Could this be THE budget Kodi hardware to get?
I’m definitely excited to see how the new BCM2836 on the Raspberry PI 2 improves Kodi performance over its predecessor. Whilst media playback was always excellent and Kodi optimizations went a long way towards improving the user experience, I always felt that the CPU held the platform back. Menus could be sluggish, scraping was slow and thumbnails took forever to generate. With 4 faster cores available, I’m hoping this greatly improves UI performance.
Furthermore, with USB ports capable of delivering 1.2A, plugging in a USB harddrive or WiFi dongle without the need for a powered hub should be a blessing.
Raspberry Pi 2 Technical Specifications
Chipset: Broadcom BCM2836
CPU: 900MHz Arm7 Quad Core Processor
GPU: VideoCore IV
RAM: 1GB DDR2
Storage: MicroSD card slot
Video/Audio Output: HDMI, Composite AV via 3.5mm jack.
Connectivity: 10/100M Ethernet
USB: 4x USB 2.0, 1x micro USB (used for power)
Expansion: 40 pin GPIO, CSI Camera Port, DSI display port
For those of you who read my blog or have a passion for HTPCs will be aware of the Raspberry Pi and how powerful it is as a mini HTPC. It’s even our budget build of choice!
For many Raspberry Pi users out there, Raspbmc is the de-facto standard to bring XBMC to the tiny powerhouse. It combines all the power of XBMC with a number of Raspberry Pi customisations such as simplified Codec Key entry and Overclocking with additional features such as USB Audio card support. But who is the man behind this OS?
Sam Nazarko is a 20 year old developer who has been bringing XBMC to various devices for years. From Crystalbuntu on the Apple TV 1 to OSMC on various embedded devices, this young developer is responsible for many of the XBMC experiences we enjoy today.
I had a chance to speak with Sam about Raspbmc, OSMC and Home Theatre in this exclusive interview:
Michael Ludvik: First, the important things. Tell me a little about yourself.
Sam Nazarko: I’m a 20 year old student studying Computer Science at King’s College London. I’ve always been interested in technology (I go back to Windows 3.11 on a laptop as a toddler), and as I’ve grown up I’ve found my passion just grows. I’m writing a second book; working on a classroom hearing aid device and OSMC at night, all while trying to find time to study!
ML: Can’t believe you have any spare time at all. So what’s your favourite TV show? Favourite movie?
SN: I couldn’t pick just one! Lately I’ve been watching a lot of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and The Office. I’m also a huge fan of House of Cards, Justified and The Killing. I don’t have a favourite film, but I think I’d have to pick the Kill Bill films.
ML: How did you get into coding?
SN: I’ve always been curious about how computers work from a very young age. Learning to code seemed to be an inevitable progression of getting bored of playing DOOM as a kid.
ML: You’ve had a two successes under your belt already: Crystalbuntu and Raspbmc. How long did it take you to develop these platforms?
SN: Crystalbuntu took around a month or so originally (I first released it when I was 16). Then later, it got a little too big for its shoes and I had to release Crystalbuntu 2.0, which modernised things. Raspbmc took about 12 months to go from an announcement to a final version. I was surprised how much there was to do, as I thought we would’ve hit final after 6.
ML: With Crystalbuntu going so well, what motivated you to create Raspbmc?
SN: I was motivated to create Raspbmc as the Apple TV 1st Generation which I supported was a dead platform. Apple no longer sold the device, and thus the number of users could only diminish. I looked for an upcoming platform that had a great form factor, offered low power consumption and would run XBMC well. That was the Pi.
ML: Raspbmc has seemingly taken off amongst Raspberry Pi fans. How big is the Raspbmc/ Crystalbuntu install base?
SN: At the time of writing, Crystalbuntu has about 8,000 active users and Raspbmc has over 90,000. An active user is a unique IP address that synchronises with the update server every day for 30 consecutive days.
…Crystalbuntu has about 8,000 active users and Raspbmc has over 90,000.
ML: How does it feel to be synonymous with XBMC on the Raspberry Pi?
SN: It’s actually cool how ‘Raspbmc’ is actually how most people refer to any distribution of XBMC on the Raspberry Pi. Sometimes I fear that XBMC / Kodi may not be getting enough as an upstream product, but sadly that can be the case when a product gains large amounts of popularity. I would like to think that most users understand the relationship between Raspbmc and XBMC though.
ML: We love the Raspberry Pi for bringing a fantastic platform at the right price. What do you think of the Raspberry Pi ecosystem?
SN: The Raspberry Pi is a good ecosystem for hackers and beginners. What I set out to do with Raspbmc was provide a platform that was both easy to use and hackable. Beginners don’t need to delve in to anything complex, but the more experienced still have the full power to tinker with the device.
The Raspberry Pi is a good ecosystem for hackers and beginners.
ML: So you recently announced that Crystalbuntu and Raspbmc will be merged into OSMC. What are the benefits of merging the two platforms together?
SN: Merging the codebase will remove a lot of duplication of effort. This means I can spend more time developing common features for all the platforms and makes maintenance a lot easier. Further, it will allow me to deliver a consistent and stable experience across all the devices that OSMC will run on.
ML: What are the key features of OSMC?
SN: OSMC improves on Raspbmc and Crystalbuntu by providing an improved update system, easy content sharing, an app store, performance improvements and much more. You can have a read at http://osmc.tv/about/why-osmc.
ML: How is OSMC progressing? Have you got a targeted release date?
SN: OSMC is progressing well. We are launching a Kickstarter for our new product, ‘Vero’ which will be OSMC’s flagship device, next month. I would like to see OSMC released by December.
SN: I love XBMC’s principles and commitment to open source. XBMC has a very consistent and stable release cycle as well as a mature codebase which reduces time needed to patch and maintain the codebase, giving me more time to develop downstream. I love the community behind it who contribute fantastic skins and add-ons as well.
ML: What do you think the future of home theatre and media playback devices will be?
SN: I think and hope OSMC Vero will deliver an important message. One that shows that streaming services are not necessarily a suitable one-size-fits all solution to television, and that lots of people still have other content sources that they want to use. At the moment, we’re seeing quite the transition to streaming services such as Netflix as people’s connections get faster. But we still have an affinity with the good old hard disk TV player, which is why TiVo are doing stuff like their 24TB TiVo Mega.
ML: I have to agree that we streaming will never completely replace local playback. There is definitely something nice about having something immune to playback issues stemming from network problems. So, there has been a growing market of small SoC media players lately such as the Raspberry Pi or Android Mini-PCs. What’s your view on SOC-based systems vs. the traditional HTPC?
SN: The traditional HTPC can take a lot of energy and doesn’t always have the best form factor. However it is not extinct. Some low power SoCs won’t play some content that is demanding, and sometimes, people want to use hardware they have or have hardware that can perform more than one function.
ML: How do you think Android TV will impact our multimedia consumption? Do you think it’ll compete with XBMC or help it?
SN: I think we’ll have to wait and see. The decider as to whether this takes off will be how well it integrates with people’s existing media libraries.
ML: 4K is the latest buzz in home theatre tech. What’s your view on 4k television?
SN: Increasing resolutions are inevitable. We have had high resolution monitors for years and it is only recently TVs have followed suit. The current constraints on resolution are quite artificial. If we see 4K content emerging and becoming mainstream, you can be sure TV vendors will pick up on this fast and put out more 4K TVs at more affordable prices.
ML: What other projects are you working on?
SN: I am currently working on a variety of projects at the moment. Unfortunately I can’t talk about many of them. I am doing work on a classroom hearing aid device, working as the lead engineer for HearToday and I am writing a second book.
ML: And lastly, what’s your current home theatre setup? What would you like to change?
SN: My current home theatre set up is:
Audio: Monitor Audio BX Centre, BX 5, BXFX with Qed Silver Xt Anniversary wiring with a BKElec XLS4000 subwoofer.
Display: Optoma HD25 3D Projector.
Media Player: My work PC is used to play XBMC, my other devices are always being tested or developed on.
I would love to upgrade my sound system, but at the moment I really can’t fault it!
I just want to thank Sam for taking the time for the interview. I’m excited to see how OSMC and Sam’s other projects will continue to evolve.
For more information on Sam’s projects, see the following links:
Building a Rasperry Pi media center is the perfect way to get the home theatre PC experience for a budget. For under $100, you will have a unit that can play most multimedia formats, supports XBMC and only uses about 5w of power. Our guide will take you through the entire process of building your Raspberry Pi media center, from buying all the components to setting up XBMC.
Items you will need for the Raspberry Pi Media Center:
We’ve recommended the Raspberry Pi Model B at a minimum due to its in-built Ethernet support. This makes it much easier to set up should you be having wireless issues (for example, if your wireless dongle requires too much power or you can’t get a stable connection). Furthermore, the new Raspberry Pi Model B+ provides a high current USB mode making it more suitable for a Raspberry Pi media center due to its ability to power USB harddrives as well as wireless dongles that are more power hungry. However, these instructions will equally work for the Ethernet-less Model A. However, a full image install may be preferable.
Choosing a case
Choosing a case for your Raspberry Pi media center can be daunting with the array of cases on the market. We are big fans of the ModMyPi cases, due to its stylish look and venting. Another top pick is the basic case from Element14 due to its low cost and secure grip on the Pi, although getting the Pi into the case initially can be a challenge due to the clips.
Those of you who are lucky enough to own the new Raspberry Pi. MODEL B+ don’t have as many case choices as it only came out recently, although both ModMyPi and Elements cases look appealing.
Choosing a memory card
Some of you are probably wondering why we emphasised a Class 10 SD card over some or the cheaper alternatives. This is because the class of the SD Card refers to its minimum write speed. The higher the class, the faster guaranteed write speed you have. This means that data (i.e. Downloads, fanart, etc) can be copied to the SD card faster, leading to improved performance. Similarly, Class 10 Cards often have better read speeds too, meaning loading fanart should be faster.
Building your Raspberry Pi Media Center
Step 1: Installing the OS
Easy Method: Use the Raspbmc Installer
The first step in building your Raspberry Pi Media Centre is to get the Operating system. We have chosen Raspbmc for our Raspberry Pi media center due to its ease of installation, extra features and the simplicity of adding codec licenses.
Download the Raspbmc installer from the website, unzip it and double-click the “setup.exe” file. This will extract the Raspbmc installer to the current folder. When this is complete, double-click “installer.exe” and you will be presented with the screen below:
Insert your SD card into your reader and select your SD card in the list. If your SD card doesn’t appear, click the “Refresh” button on the right. Make sure you have selected the correct device as this process will wipe the SD card contents and we’ve heard a few horror stories of precious photos being lost.
Check the license agreement box (after reading it of course!) and click “Install”. The installer will download a minimal Raspbmc image which is sufficient to boot, but does not contain XBMC. It will be downloaded automatically on the first boot.
Alternative Method: Full Image Install
On the Raspbmc website, full images are available. Using a tool such as Win32DiskImager, burn the image to your SD card.
Once you’ve got your Raspberry Pi media center SD card ready, insert it into the Raspberry Pi’s SD card slot.
Step 2: Connect everything up and boot your Raspberry Pi media center
Your Raspberry Pi media center is almost ready to go. Now you just need to connect it all up.
Plug in your HDMI cable into the Raspberry pi and your TV, connect the power cable to your power supply and into the Pi’s micro USB port and connect the Ethernet cable to a spare network port.
Now plug in your power supply. Your Raspberry Pi media center should boot up automatically, showing a color spectrum before automatically starting to download XBMC and install it. This may take some time depending on the speed and type of connection.
When this is complete, your Raspberry Pi media center should be ready to use, with XBMC appearing on your screen.
Step 3: Configuring your multimedia sources
Adding media sources to your Raspberry Pi media center is easy. Simply navigate to videos and select “Add Source”. Local sources can be readily selected using the folder browser. Network locations will most likely need to be typed in unless you are in the same work group.
Your Raspberry Pi media center is capable of playing a diverse set of media formats. However, some of these require licenses. The Raspberry Pi Foundation elected to support h.264/AVC and MPEG-4 ASP.
MPEG2 or VC-1 was not included but the licenses can be purchased from the Foundation economically here. The licences are linked to the specific serial number of your Pi and thus, are not transferable between devices.
MPEG2 is used for DVDs and some Blurays, whereas VC-1 is less common and is arguably not worth the cost unless you have VC-1 files already or want to further support the foundation. When purchasing a codec, you will get a code that can be added into the Raspbmc settings app and then reboot. When Raspbmc boots back up, you will be able to play back videos with the purchased codecs.
Enabling High Current USB Mode (Model B+ Only)
To enable the high current USB mode if you have a Model B+, simply select the “Boost USB Current” option in Rasbpmc Settings
Now you’ve got your Raspberry Pi media center set up, all you need to do now is put on a movie, grab a drink, sit back and enjoy your hard work.