One of the areas we’re putting a lot of work into is XBMC performance – we’ve been a bit shocked on working through some data* to find that the Pi now appears to have more XBMC users than any other platform in the world, bar the PC (we’ve overtaken cracked Apple TV 2s), and we want to make sure you have the best possible experience with the software.
(If you’ve started reading this and don’t understand a word of that first paragraph, head over to XBMC’s website to find out what XBMC is, what a media centre is and why you might want one, and then come back here.)
Dom Cobley and Ben Avison have been working on the platform for us, and the results so far are pretty impressive: video playback has always been good, but they’ve really tidied up the user experience in the menu in particular, and browsing through your media collection, even if it’s as big as Dom’s, is now much smoother and faster.
We’ve seen people online (particularly over on the XBMC forums – and particularly particularly in response to posts asking for recommendations for cheap XBMC platforms) calling Pi users fanbois, and announcing that the Pi is too laggy to be a real media player. That’s just not the case. If you’re running the latest firmware, XBMC on the Pi is more than useable: it’s something you can happily use as your main HTPC. Dom made this video so that when challenged, he and other XBMC users can demonstrate when asked that actually, the Pi’s pretty good at this stuff. He says: ”I’d quite like the laggy complainers to have something concrete to look at and admit either ‘actually it’s better than I thought’, or admit they are speed freaks who need desktop PC class equipment.” Here it is.
What you’re seeing here is OpenELEC with some performance patches Dom is currently working on, along with some other patches from Ben. We expect to see these patches appear in the standard OpenELEC and RaspBMC very soon. Those of you who are feeling brave can get Dom and Ben’s code – which is currently in beta – here. While it isn’t stable yet (we expect it to be very, very shortly) it gives you a very good idea of where we’re going with this. Enjoy!
*If you’re trying to interpret the linked data and figure out where we got that statistic from, it’s helpful to understand that XBMC/12.2 Git:20130502-32b1a5e (Linux; Debian GNU/Linux 7.0 (wheezy); 3.6.11 ARMv6l; http://www.xbmc.org) represents Raspberry Pis running RaspBMC, and the dozens of other ARMv6l platforms are OpenELEC on the Pi. OpenELEC appears more fragmented, as they tend to use bleeding-edge kernels. (They are on 3.11.1 now.) We don’t believe any other XBMC platforms use ARMv6 (ATV2 is ARMv7).
If you’re a beginner with a Raspberry Pi, things just got a whole lot easier.
We started this project with the premise that throwing people in at the deep end and making them jump hurdles, to mix my sporting metaphors, is a good way to get them to learn stuff. It is: but it can also put some people off, sometimes terminally. And we don’t want people to put their Raspberry Pi down in horror after five minutes. So with this in mind, we’d like to introduce you to NOOBS.
NOOBS is a way to make setting up a Raspberry Pi for the first time much, much easier. You won’t need network access, and you won’t need to download any special imaging software. Just head to the downloads page, grab a copy of the NOOBS zip file, and unpack it onto a freshly formatted 4GB (or larger) SD card. When you boot up for the first time, you’ll see a menu prompting you to install one of several operating systems into the free space on the card. The choice means you can boot the Pi with a regular operating system like Raspbian, or with a media-centre specific OS like RaspBMC.
The main OS selection menu.
Once you’ve installed an operating system, your Pi will boot as normal. However, NOOBS stays resident on your card, so by holding shift down during boot you can return to the recovery interface. This allows you to switch to a different operating system, or overwrite a corrupted card with a fresh install of the current one; it also provides a handy tool to let you edit the config.txt configuration file for the currently installed operating system, and even a web browser so you can visit the forums or Google for pointers if you get stuck.
Viewing the forums in the Arora browser.
Thanks to Rob, Gordon, Dom and Floris (of BerryBoot fame), who together developed NOOBS from scratch in less than a month. Also, thanks to our army of volunteer translators for the localisation; and to the operating system maintainers, most notably Alex, for producing updated images in time for integration into the final zip file.
Our partners will be offering SD cards pre-installed with NOOBS in the near future, but until then please download, have a play, and let us know what you think.
Update, June 4: Carrie Anne Philbin from Geek Gurl Diaries has recorded a tutorial video showing you how to set up your own installation of NOOBS. Thanks Carrie Anne!
Here’s a guest post from our friend Pete Wood at RS Component’s community arm, DesignSpark. Pete is one of the organisers of the Oxford Raspberry Jams. This post was first published at www.designspark.com.
Raspberry Jams are now being held all over the world; I’ve been trying to go to about one a month, and am lucky enough to be in Tokyo for some press and meetings while the Tokyo Jam is on later this month. There’s a list of events in each month’s MagPi, and if you’re looking for something near you, it’s worth checking the events page on our forums. If you can’t find a Jam near your home, why not look into setting one up? There’s information on how to get started at the Raspberry Jam website, which Alan O’Donohoe tells me will be getting a redesign in the coming months.
Over to Pete!
This month’s Jam held at DesignSpark HQ in Oxford UK was our biggest turnout yet, with over 30 Pi Geeks crammed into the room!
Raspberry Pi Camera
I kicked off the event by showing the new Raspberry Pi camera module, which will be available from RS Components later in May. In the picture is a pre-production module, the production version is a couple of millimetres taller. The camera gives stunning HD video from a 5MP sensor at 30 FPS.
Next up was one of my RS colleagues, Pete Milne, who showed us his Digital Signage application. Pete has connected up a network of Raspberry Pis to flat screen TVs here at the RS Oxford Offices and at our main facility in Corby, Northamptonshire. The Pis run a libreoffice slideshow in a continuous loop and display Health and Safety messages for RS employees. He’s been running these continuously for over 8 weeks without having to re-boot, so it’s very robust. The Pis runs without a keyboard or mouse and the content can be updated remotely over the network.
If you want to create your own Digital Signage Application, Pete has shared how to do it on GitHub. Just follow the INSTALL file for setup details.
Wii Controller Car
Oxford Raspberry Jam regular Alex Eames presented another cool little project using a Wii controller and Nunchuck. This one was for controlling a remote control car that has an on-board Raspberry Pi with Bluetooth dongle. It also allows the control of brake lights, headlights and indicators and also drives an aircraft propeller. Alex plans to build all this into the car itself, which would need to accommodate the Pi, the electronics hanging of the GPIO, some model aircraft batteries and the motor and fan. Alex, I think you need a bigger car… how about a Monster Truck?
Our next demo was one that has been featured on the Raspberry Pi site a few weeks ago for a Raspberry Pi powered video wall. Alex and Colin from the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE) have built this system in C and some Python Code. It has clever features like bezel compensation to accommodate different styles of screens. They showed a 4 screen setup, but have also run a 9+4 configuration. The software is scalable to any size or shape. Each screen needs a Pi, and one separate Pi is used as the master. This is a classic example showing that you can build your own video wall for a fraction of the price of a commercial solution that would certainly cost a lot more! Chaps, I can see a business opportunity here for screening big screen sporting events on a budget down my local pub. ;0) They expect to licence the software/design at some point. More details are available on their website.
Motion Detected Camera
Another Oxford Jam regular, Dave R, showed his Pi with a webcam motion detection system and linked to a DSLR. Dave created this for his bird table, to capture pictures of birds when they land on the table, I think I need to build a similar solution to stop my kids from stealing my Haribos…
Touch Screen Display
Paul had two projects to show. The first was a simple touch screen for the Pi to allow control and display. Paul was reading and displaying temperatures. The screens are semi-intelligent, storing screen images and having a sound output available. The screen images are loaded via a Windows app and USB connection. The Pi can then control the display of those images.
Sky Remote Controlled LED Lighting
The second demonstration was a programmable LED strip and infrared receiver, controlled by a Sky TV remote control. A simple Python script reads the codes from a remote control. He could the use this to flash the LEDs in various patterns and colours. The LEDs are driven by SPI and can be daisychained up to 1024 LEDs.
Paul M and Annierei L, showed us their ChiPhone box. ChiPi is an Electronic messaging system for children allowing them to send and receive voice messages. They have designed a child friendly box with large buttons and microphone. With simple record and ‘To/play’ buttons it makes for an easy messaging system connected to the internet via WiFi. You can find out more about their project on their website.
Pi Keyword Cruncher
Pi Jam regular and Data Geek John finished off our live demos by showing us his Pi based RSS feed collector and keyword analysis tool. The Pi collects data from various RSS feeds every 30 minutes and stores the results in a MySQL database. The data is then used to monitor trends in keywords, which over time show either peaks of activity or trends of ‘chatter’ about specific topics. The advantage of John using his Raspberry Pi Instead of his 50W laptop, is that it the Pi only takes 2W and can be left on all the time. It also frees up his laptop to do other tasks.
RaspBMC Toddler In-Car Entertainment System
The final presentation of the evening from one of my Jam co-hosts Alex Gibson, who in true Hollywood awards winners style couldn’t attend in person so sent a video message! Alex’s video featured his project for a Pi based RaspBMC In-Car Toddler entertainment system. One of the most impressive bits was a headrest bracket he had printed out on his Raspberry Pi-based 3D printer.
Thanks to all those who showed their projects. Looking forward to the next event!
News for all you media-player types from Sam Nazarko, the terrifyingly young developer of Raspbmc:
Although the Raspberry Pi’s real goal is education, its powerful GPU has made the device very popular amongst HTPC tinkerers and enthusiasts.
I’ve been working on Raspbmc for a year and am now happy to announce the final release and congratulate XBMC on such a remarkable new release. Raspbmc is a self-updating Linux distribution that brings XBMC to the Raspberry Pi with simple installation. It can be run off an SD card, USB drive or even an NFS share and fully supports WiFi out of the box.
Raspbmc comes with AirPlay, PVR, 1080p playback and much more. You can read more about what Raspbmc can do at www.raspbmc.com/about and be up and running in less than 20 minutes.
Sam’s got a little more to say about things Raspbmc in a post on his blog about this final version of the software. Nice one, Sam – thanks!