Monday, July 29, 2013

Converting Raspberry Pi into Media Center Using OpenELEC (XMBC)

One of the most discussed and common use of Raspberry Pi is to turn it into a media center for music and videos. Raspberry Pi uses very less power so it is an ideal device for people who listen to music all the time. Talking about media center, XMBC is a very popular choice with Linux users these days. It is a full fledged media center operating system, running Linux at its core. It comes packed with all the common codecs and presents a very pleasing user interface and playlists to organize the videos and music.
Sounds good? But the catch is that it can be too heavy for a Raspberry Pi. So we need to look for a lighter alternative.

OpenELEC (Open Embedded Linux Entertainment Center) is an appliance which means that almost everything will be pre-configured. OpenELEC takes an easy XMBC and makes it even easier to install and maintain. So let us start installing it on our SD card for Raspberry Pi. Latest version of the OpenELEC can be downloaded from their downloads page in .tar.bz2 form. Once downloaded, we need to extract this archive to obtain the .img file.
$ tar -xjvf OpenELEC-RPi.arm-3.0.6.tar.bz2

After the extraction of img file is done, we need to dd this file into the SD card. To do this, put the SD card into the right slot in the computer. Run df command to see if it gets auto mounted and note the path of the device file. If it does not get auto mounted then, on terminal, type ls /dev/mm*. This will list all the memory cards in your system. Once you have got this information, now run dd to install the OpenELEC into the SD card.
# dd bs=4M if=OpenELEC-RPi.arm-3.0.6.img of=/dev/mmcblk0

This may take a few minutes. It performs byte by byte copy of the img file to the SD card. Once we are done with this step, we can just insert the SD card into the slot and fire up the Raspberry Pi. First thing which I noticed is that OpenELEC is quite fast to boot. Now just insert a thumb drive with any music or videos into the Raspberry Pi and use a standard keyboard/mouse to browse and choose the media.

I had a chance to go through Mikkel Viager's Instant OpenELEC Starter. It has much more detailed explanation about installing and maintaining OpenELEC. It also talks about installation on non-Raspberry Pi platforms and provides with handy tips to manage XMBC. I liked the feature of auto indexing of movies and tv shows and XMBC management using an Android phone remotely.

Off to watch a movie now! :-D