My original intentions were to push the thing to it's limits and explore all of the many possible uses for it. I did not order my SD card with a pre-installed operating system on it as I was fully aware that I could install anything I wanted at my own leisure.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas I had been researching and reading up on the potential of this tiny credit card sized computer, and was particularly interested in it's capabilities as a home media centre. Up to press I have been an ardent supporter of Apple TV however, the second generation is only capable of playing 720p content and whilst the third generation does support full 1080p, it is very limited in what it can do.
Therefore I set about finding out which would be the best media centre software to use on my new Raspberry PI, as I had read many claims that full 1080p video playback was supported via the on-board HDMI port. After extensive research it turns out that the hugely popular XBMC was the best way to go, and the best version was a completely free version called Openelec.
The installation process could not be simpler (well it could, but then I have been doing this kind of things for years). Here is a list of items which I used;
Raspberry PI Board
4GB SD Card
Windows 8 Computer with SD Card reader
The first thing I did was to download a copy of SD card formatter for Windows. I then inserted the SD card into the reader, launched the formatting software and followed the instructions, carefully ensuring that I was formatting the SD card and not some other media attached to my PC.
Next up I launched the Win32 Disk Imager software which asked me for the location of my recently downloaded openELEC image, and where to write it to (i.e. the SD card). This process took about 4 minutes, if that and once it was complete, the final step was to eject the SD card from my PC, physically slot it into the SD card slot on the Raspberry PI, and then plug it into my TV and switch the thing on.
I'm very happy to say that it worked first time and before too long, I was controlling it via an iPhone remote control app (free) and watching 1080p video content streamed from my NAS device.
The device can be controlled by using a bluetooth Windows Media Centre remote. I picked one up for £12.99 and it worked first time without any messing about.
One down side is that the only way to switch the device off is to unplug the power source. That said, the thing uses hardly any power anyway and is completely silent as there are no moving parts. Additionally the board does not tend to get very warm which is also very encouraging.
Another slightly annoying point is that the software does not support every single video codec. In order to install the MPEG-2 and VC-1 codecs, you need to purchase them from the Raspberry PI store at a cost of £2.40 and £1.20 respectively.
Finally, it has to be said that using the Raspberry PI board in this way makes for an excellent and inexpensive media centre (less than £40 all in), and don't even get me started on the many more things you can do with XBMC - maybe I'll save that for a future article.
Going forward we do have some interesting plans for Raspberry PI users, which will include some FREE colocation offerings. Watch this space to find out more.