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Saturday, 25 May 2013

My New Raspberry Pi & OpenElec System

Been meaning to post about this one for a while, but I suppose with some actual experience using the system now i'm better placed to give some real feedback.

The Hardware

So before getting started, the following are the various bits of hardware I had to purchase from Amazon:
I already had a few SD cards lying around, so I just used an 8GB SD card that used to be in my SLR. It was actually one of these:
Putting it together is not complex. The case I bought fits the RPI perfectly, just slots into one half and just attached the other. Couple of screws later and it's sealed. You shouldn't need to open it ever again, unless you are planning on customising the hardware i.e. using the GPIO port. I attached mine using the VESA 100 mount to the back of my TV. Plugged in the Flirc device, Wifi Adapter and power supply and the hardware setup was done. All in all, around 15 minutes.

The Software

I'm a big fan of OpenElec. Have been since I set up my first media centre more than a year ago now. It does everything you'd expect and well.

There is a specific version for the RPI (Raspberry Pi) thats fully supported and maintained, so best to download it straight from their site. Here for those who want the shortcut. They also have non-RPI versions if you are interested.

The guys over at OpenElec have been kind enough to put together a fairly good guide already. You can find it here. It's relatively straight forward. You copy the OpenElec OS image to the SD card, insert the card into your RPI and you are off! It really is that simple.

So I won't try to re-invent the wheel with super detailed instructions, but instead provide some pointers based on my experience.
  • I did the installation of OpenElec to my SD card using my Macbook Pro running OS X, so be comfortable with the command line, otherwise use Windows.
  • You will lose everything on the SD card during the installation process, so backup and remove everything from the card.
  • The RPI won't run an OS on a USB stick, it has to be on the SD card.
  • I actually discovered after I bought the power supply above that I already had several that would fit the mini-usb port on the RPI. However make sure there is enough supply. If you want to run USB devices off the USB ports on the RPI, make sure it supplies more than 1000mA, ideally around 1500mA. But of course this depends on the USB devices themselves.
  • Don't attempt to power a USB based hard drive that doesn't have it's own power supply. This will cause all kinds of issues for the RPI.
  • The RPI can just be powered off the USB on your TV, so long as your TV supplies enough juice. Be warned though, every TV is different in when it supplies the power e.g. in standby or not and may just cut the power whenever it pleases
  • Don't choose a complex skin like Aeon Nox, the RPI will run it, but badly!!! Use the default OpenElec skin, it has good performance.
  • If like me you are going to mount it to the back of a TV, then get short cables, nothing worse than going to all the effort in making a small and nimble system if you have 3 metres of HDMI cable hanging from the back
  • The FLIRC device is amazing. So simple to configure. Check out their site for a short video on how to use it.
  • I ended up using an old Sky HD+ remote paired with the FLIRC device
My Setup

So because I have a few OpenElec media centres, I have a MySQL DB and a NAS which keeps the Thumbnail content and database centralised and consistent. It turns out that as of XBMC Frodo that this kind of setup of having a centralised Thumbnail content repo isn't really required, although I stand by the decision to keep it as RPI's generally don't have much storage attached. I'm reluctant to attach an additional drive (because I want to keep the setup simple), but may consider in the future attaching a larger SD card and making thumbnails local.


Well i've covered some of these already above, but there are some more.
  • OpenElec is awesome! But don't hate the alternatives. Raspbian is a good alternative if you find OpenElec lacking in some respect. There are others like Raspbmc which offers a similar setup to OpenElec.
  • Highly recommend mounting the RPI unit to the back of the TV, gets it out of the way
  • Don't worry about the FLIRC device being out of sight behind the TV. IR devices are not lasers, they are beams of light similar to lights on a car, which means it will bounce off walls and eventually reach the FLIRC device
  • HDMI-CEC wasn't working with me, but I think it's because i'm using a non-Branded TV from a supermarket
  • There is a good guide to read if you are interested in HDMI-CEC here
Thanks for reading. Hope I helped.

And if you are looking to do something crazy different, check out this post for some inspiration