The Ultimate Guide On How To Make A Raspberry Pi Media Center
A lot of Raspberry Pi users creating XMBC media centers with their Pi’s. Honestly this project always appeared too simple for me and when I first got my Pi I wanted to try much more challenging projects. I thought a media center was too easy because you already had everything nicely bundled as an image and you basically just put the SD card in boot up the Pi and viola you are running an XMBC media center. I finally got the itch to give it a try. I mean everybody else is running a media center I should probably have one. After all, if you drink the Pi kool-aid you better try a media center.
What Operating System To Run A Raspberry Pi Media Center With?
I start researching the different media center options and find a few flavors of XMBC for a media center OS. Here are a few articles I read to help me with my decision Raspberry Pi Working On Media Center Performance, Adafruit Media Center Overview, and Lifehacker’s Tutorial On Turning A Pi Into A Media Center.
I decided to try OpenELEC for the media center operating system. I installed the image after a little work, put it on my Pi, plugged in my cheap USB WiFi dongle and went to the settings page on the screen. I of course hooked up my HDMI cable to view the XMBC home screen. To my amazement I was easily able to connect to WiFi, go to my music tab, download Pandora and stream Internet radio. Admittedly I am thinking okay this media center thing is pretty cool. But what else can I do. I mean if people are so hot on this idea there has to be more to it. I wanted to connect all of my iTunes media, including movies, music, and pictures. But what is the best way to do that?
Well I do have a NAS on my network, which is more than ideal. I guess if you are reading this and don’t have a NAS to connect your media center to that is a big hole in this set up. It is hard to move around this detail because there are so many different types of NAS set ups, options, and configurations. I will say this, finding a NAS operating system, the hardware, and getting the correct network configuration was an awesome learning experience but it was frustrating. It can be especially frustrating for someone with a limited networking background and a full time job. So if you don’t have a NAS, are thinking of a building a NAS, or using a NAS other than freenas some of this might be way different for you. If you want a recommendation on an operating system for a NAS I would go with freenas because it is built off the freebsd kernel, is open source, has a growing community, and is extremely saleable [link to freenas].
So back to this whole Raspberry Pi media center debacle. I try to connect my freenas box using a samba share and it goes off without a hitch. I excitedly load up some music to blast through my TV and there are not music files. Huh, I know they are there, I can see them on my Mac and Android phone. I guess Google it is. I look and see that a smb share is not going to work because of the file format of the music in iTunes. Great, another snafu with Apple products. But wait there is hope, what about NFS, AFS, and a direct mounted drive? Well this is where things get murky for my level of experience, knowledge, and ability to find a definite answer in Google. Then I have this idea to make a massive blog post detailing everything I do to get this set up. Why not? I mean someone else out there has to be using FreeNas, iTunes, OpenELEC and a Raspberry Pi to make a media center. So here it goes. I want you all to know that I am going to reflash my SD card to start from scratch just for this post. I am also going to make a sweet light box to give my photos some extra attention that I have greatly neglected in the past. If I am going to do an awesome Raspberry Pi Media center post, then I’ll be damned if I don’t go all out.
You can use either a Raspberry Pi Model B or a Model B+. Stuck on which model to select for a media center? Here are a few considerations to help guide you to the best Pi for a media center. Are you going to use a wired connection or utilize a WiFi dongle? If you are going to use wired then a model B would be a good choice. If you want to use a WiFi dongle you could consider a B+ as it has more usb inputs.
Pi Case (optional)
A Pi case is a good idea if you want to give your Pi a little protection. Most cases are fairly affordable and allow easy access to all of the Pi ports. If you want to embed the media center or place it on the back of a TV, a case is an ideal solution.
Pick up an HDMI cable for this project. It is the best way to display sound and video via the Raspberry Pi. For a media center sound quality is important. If you are embedding this device behind your TV grab a 3-ft cable so it is easy to hide the leftovers.
This is important because the media center boots from the SD Card. You will need at least an 8gb SD card to run this project. If you are like most you will have a bunch of media that you can store on an external device. It is not ideal to use an SD card for heavy data writing/reading cycles as they can become corrupt and crash your media center. You will also need a way to insert a SD card into a computer/laptop.
A WiFi dongle plugs into a USB port to allow your Pi to connect to your WLAN. I was worried that buying a cheap WiFi would either not work or be hard to set up. I ended up biting the bullet and going with a cheap WiFi dongle for my media center and it works great. My apartment is small so perhaps a more expensive one is worth it.
Wireless USB Keyboard
Having a wireless keyboard allows you to interact with your XMBC media center. This keyboard is going to be used when you want to turn on/off your media center as well as move around the OS and select files. For me I wanted something small and compact that I could leave in my living room coffee table.
Now that we got all of our Raspberry Pi media center parts we can start installing software, plugging in hardware, and configuring our media center. The following guide is the ultimate guide to a raspberry pi. If you want a step by step process on how to install OpenELEC, connect to WiFi, connect a NAS, and maneuver around the OS, then download the free guide and get your Raspberry Pi powered media center up and running. Once that is done you can invite your friends over for a party and supply all the jams from your Raspberry Pi. Or load up a movie marathon, it really is amazing the Pi can power movies through this media center.
Step #1 Download OpenELEC media center on your Raspberry Pi’s SD card.
I visited Raspberry Pi’s website to download the zip file.
The image is a compressed folder with a .gz file extension. Gzip is a file format for Linux software applications that is used for compression and decompression. In order to unzip this easily you will need another piece of software.
Raspberry Pi documentation suggests downloading Win32DiskImager to take the gzip (.gz) compressed folder and write it to your SD card. For this you must download Win32DiskImager [link to it]. Open the Win32 application. Where it says image file put the folder we downloaded from Raspberry Pi. In the device drop down pay close attention and select the drive of your SD card. If you don’t know how to find it open your file browser and look for a letter drive with the OpenELEC files in it. Then click “write”. But I for some reason was having problems. Maybe this step will work for you but I ran into a formatting issue
For some reason my SD card was formatted incorrectly. I ran right clicked on the drive and reformatted it to the default settings. After that I was able to extract the image and write the files to the SD card.
Also, this could be my HDMI cable but I found that having the HDMI inserted BEFORE powering the Pi makes a difference. When I had the HDMI plugged in after I was shown nothing but a black screen. Could be the way the drivers are loaded up from the BOIS, not quite sure.
Step #2 Boot OpenELEC Media Center On Your Raspberry Pi
Boot OpenELEC media center up on the Pi. If you haven’t already connected your Pi to power, insert the SD card, plug in the HDMI cable, and plug in the USB WiFi dongle and wireless keyboard.
The first screen is your “Welcome” screen that will start a wizard to guide you through the initial start up of the media center. Go ahead and click your settings as you want them. You will choose your language, hostname (name of the media center on your network), and you will be asked to connect to WiFi, LAN in this section. Also, when you connect it will show you the Pi’s IP address, you might want to write it down, but it is easy to find later. Last it will ask if you want sharing and remote access options. If you want to be able to have remote access with the media center I would select SSH, but it personal preference as I am more comfortable with SSH to access the command line interface. If you don’t know what this means leave it as default and continue. That is it. You have a media center up and running
Can you believe it? Your first Pi project is up and running, look at you with that fancy new media center. Now like I mentioned this project is cool and all but what about some configuration settings?