Building a Media Center with Raspberry Pi

4.5 (10 reviews total)
By Thomas Hamilton
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  1. The Raspberry Pi

About this book

The Raspberry Pi is a complete computer built on a single circuit board and is used for a variety of different purposes and projects, including building automation systems, media centers, networks and servers, robotics, gaming, and education. It is also capable of running an operating system.

This book will give you the ability to turn a Raspberry Pi and SD card into a media center. It starts by showing you how to download the OSMC operating system and install it on your SD card. Then, you will learn how to hook up all the peripherals for the Raspberry Pi to function. Furthermore, you will see how to get OSMC into a functional and usable state for regular use and future changes. You will also explore advanced addons that will enhance the functionality of the media center. To complete your media center experience, you will use a smartphone as a remote control by installing and configuring the OSMC remote control.

By the end of this book, you will be able to program, set up, run, and troubleshoot a media center using your Raspberry Pi boards.

Publication date:
March 2016
Publisher
Packt
Pages
140
ISBN
9781784396220

 

Chapter 1. The Raspberry Pi

In this chapter, we are going to look at all the versions of the Raspberry Pi that exist currently. At the time of writing this, these include six different variations of the Raspberry Pi (Pi from here on). You can find all of these versions on the Internet. Some are no longer in production but are easily found (new, in some cases) on auction sites such as eBay and Ali Baba. Other versions are still being produced and can be found on major electronics websites. We will learn how to find each version as it is explained. The six versions of the Raspberry Pi are as follows:

  • Raspberry Pi Model B

  • Raspberry Pi Model A

  • Raspberry Pi Model B+

  • Raspberry Pi Model A+

  • Raspberry Pi Zero

  • Raspberry Pi Model B 2

 

Raspberry Pi Model B


Model B was the flagship version of the Pi when it was first launched. This was the fully featured version as compared to Model A:

Features

The features of Raspberry Pi Model B are as follows:

  • 700 MHz single-core ARM processor

  • 256 MB RAM (version 1), later upgraded to 512 MB RAM (version 2)

  • RCA video output

  • Stereo audio through the headphone jack

  • HDMI

  • 2 USB 2.0 ports

  • A fast Ethernet (10/100) port

  • A full-size SD card slot

  • 26 pin GPIO

  • A camera interface

Appearance

Model B is about the size of your favorite mint tin, but it will not quite fit inside of it because of its square corners. The mounting holes on the main board are in seemingly random places and do not follow any convention for standard mounting. Any cases that you purchase for this system will probably not even utilize these mounting holes to secure the Pi in place.

Thoughts

The Raspberry Pi Model B originally sold for $35. It is no longer in production as it was replaced by Model B+, so search eBay if you want this specific version of the Pi for your build. From the viewpoint of using it as a media center, this model is perfectly capable of handling the task. It is also what I used the first time I did this project.

 

Raspberry Pi Model A


Model A was a slimmed-down version of Model B with less features. It used less power, so for some projects, it was a better choice than the more fully featured Model B:

Features

The features of Raspberry Pi Model A are as follows:

  • 700 MHz single-core ARM processor

  • 256 MB RAM

  • RCA video output

  • Stereo audio through the headphone jack

  • HDMI

  • 1 USB 2.0 port

  • A full-size SD card slot

  • 26 pin GPIO

  • A camera interface

Appearance

Model A was built on the same board as Model B but with less features. Model A isn't as tall as B as it does not have an Ethernet port and has only one USB port. The tallest feature of A is the GPIO pins, but these will not be used for the project outlined in this book. Any cases designed for Model B will also work with Model A. The downside is that there will be cutouts for where the Ethernet port and extra USB ports would have been.

Thoughts

The Raspberry Pi Model A sold for $25 while it was in production. It can still be found on websites such as eBay if you choose to buy one. For the purposes of this project, I would not recommend using Model A. The lower amount of RAM will cause the system to be slow, and without an Ethernet port you will have to use Wi-Fi, but you will not be able to plug it in and use a keyboard at the same time because of the single USB port. It can be done, but for what my advice is worth, you will enjoy this project a lot more if you stick to one of the B models.

 

Raspberry Pi Model B+


This model marked a big change in the layout and features of the Pi lineup:

Features

The features of Raspberry Pi Model B+ are as follows:

  • A 700 MHz single-core ARM processor

  • 512 MB RAM

  • Video and stereo audio through a three-way stereo output jack

  • HDMI

  • 4 USB 2.0 ports

  • A fast Ethernet (10/100) port

  • A micro SD card slot

  • 40 pin GPIO

  • A camera interface

Appearance

B+ got a significant facelift from the earlier Model B. It now boasts 4 USB ports and 40 GPIO pins for more complicated projects. The full-size SD card, like the one your digital camera probably uses, has been replaced with the more common micro SD card, which is similar to what you would use in your cell phone. This design allows the card to sit flush with the Pi rather than sticking out like it did on older versions. The unit itself is the same size as always, but the mounting holes are now in a logical square pattern that allows for more common mounting options. In some cases, you will actually use these holes to assemble everything together. A few power relays have been upgraded since the older B models, which allow for more efficient operation and lower temperatures.

Thoughts

The Raspberry Pi Model B+ originally sold for $35 but can now be found for $30. It is still in production and can be found through the links found on the Raspberry Pi official website. At the time of writing this, most tutorials and operating systems you will find for a Raspberry Pi are designed to work on this system. Model B 2 is the successor to this system, but not all Pi operating systems have been upgraded to utilize the new system. All media center systems can work on any Pi, but if you want to purchase one that will allow you to create multiple projects, this system, as well as the newer Model B 2 which will be introduced later, will be the recommended versions to buy.

 

Raspberry Pi Model A+


This is the budget board version of B+, with some pleasant surprises:

Features

The features of Raspberry Pi Model A+ are as follows:

  • 700 MHz single-core ARM processor

  • 256 MB RAM

  • Video and stereo audio through a three-way stereo output jack

  • HDMI

  • 1 USB 2.0 port

  • A micro SD card slot

  • 40 pin GPIO

  • A camera interface

Appearance

This is the first version of the Pi family to deviate in the its form factor. With only one USB port, no Ethernet port, a new micro SD card slot, and no RCA video plug, this Pi has been shrunk down to a square. It shares the same mounting holes as B+, but where B+ has the USB ports and Ethernet port hanging out past the mounts, A+ simply ends. A+ uses significantly less power than B+ and is a good candidate to be run off a battery for this reason. Any cases you buy for this unit need to be specifically for this unit as it has a unique shape compared to the rest of the Pi family.

Thoughts

The Raspberry Pi Model A+ sells for $20 and is still available through the distributors listed on the Raspberry Pi official website. This is a fun little system that can run for hours on a USB power bank. As with the older model, Model A, it is not recommended for use as a media center because of its low RAM and lack of Ethernet and USB ports. Again, it can be done, but not as a first-time project.

 

Raspberry Pi Zero


The newest member of the Pi family, this unit is also the most unique:

Features

The features of Raspberry Pi Zero are as follows:

  • 1000 MHz single-core ARM processor

  • 512 MB RAM

  • Mini HDMI

  • 1 micro USB 2.0 port

  • A micro SD card slot

  • 40 pin GPIO (without the pins)

Appearance

This is by far the smallest Pi of the bunch. The processor is the same as that which has been used on all other single-core systems, but by default, it has been overclocked to 1000 MHz instead of the standard 700 MHz of the other versions. Unlike the A and A+ models, this unit has 512 MB of RAM like B and B+. It does not have an Ethernet port, however, so you would need a Wi-Fi dongle to use wireless, which brings up the next major difference. There are no composite audio/video connections present on Zero, and the HDMI port is the mini version, which will require an adapter to be used with your TV. The USB ports are the same way. One micro USB port is used for power, while the other is used for other devices. You will need a USB OTG (on the go) adapter in order to plug in a keyboard or Wi-Fi dongle on this board.

Thoughts

The Raspberry Pi Zero sells for a measly $5 and even came as a free gift paltry the December 2015 edition of the Magpi magazine. While the price may be enticing, this version of the Pi is the least suitable for use as a media center due to the fact that you need adapters for every port that we will be using. This Pi is fully capable of running the software, but the hardware is very unique, and you would need to ensure you have the correct adapters and enough power to run everything. If this is the version of the Pi that you choose for this project, follow the instructions for the A and A+ versions of the Pi when they deviate from the standard instructions, such as setting up Wi-Fi.

 

Raspberry Pi Model B 2


The Raspberry Pi foundation really outdid itself with this one. At $35, if you thought the other versions of the Pi were powerful, wait until you get your hands on one of these!

Features

The features of Raspberry Pi Model B 2 are as follows:

  • 900 MHz quad-core ARM processor

  • 1 GB RAM

  • Video and stereo audio through a three-way stereo output jack

  • HDMI

  • 4 USB 2.0 ports

  • A fast Ethernet (10/100) port

  • A micro SD card slot

  • 40 pin GPIO

  • A camera interface

Appearance

B 2 (confusingly) looks just like B+. The only difference is the screen printing of the model name on the board itself. The mounting holes are in the same place, and it still uses micro SD and still has 4 USB ports and an Ethernet port. The bonus is that any case you purchase for B+ will also fit B 2, and vice versa.

Thoughts

For $35, this is by far the best version of the Pi that has come to the market. The only downside of this version is that the quad-core processor requires more power, so you will need to make sure your power supply can support up to 2 amps. All the previous versions only required 1 amp and could be powered quite easily with your cell phone charger. This one can run the risk of brown-outs (low power that leads to a kernel crash) during high loads if the power supply is not strong enough. B 2 is noticeably faster than its predecessors, and as such, it's recommended for those who are used to modern technology and expect quick responses. Unless you have been given another version of the Pi, or if you've already purchased one, this would be the recommended system for any projects going forward. As for the subject of this book, any version will suffice.

 

Summary


There are multiple versions of the Raspberry Pi currently on the market. The best version for this project, and most others as well, would be Pi B 2. If you already have another version of the Pi, don't worry. Any version can run the software required for a media center. The B models will be much easier to configure and use as they have the extra USB ports and Ethernet port that the A models do not have. We will go over how to use the A models during the tutorial, so do not give up hope if that is the version you have, but be prepared for a few extra steps! Now that we have a Raspberry Pi picked out to start this project, the next step will be to prepare the operating system.

About the Author

  • Thomas Hamilton

    Thomas Hamilton has worked with several operating systems on the Raspberry Pi and used it in several projects. The most notable projects include successfully using it for penetration testing, password extraction, and network analysis on his home network as well as creating a Tor-connected wireless router.

    He regularly repairs software and hardware problems on computers and laptops for clients and friends as well as building custom units that have been used as home/small business servers, media centers, and gaming computers.

    His hobbies and interests include running Fedora on a home server that functions as a web, FTP, and media storage for XBMC media centers within the house, and Minecraft server.

    Browse publications by this author

Latest Reviews

(10 reviews total)
Good
Nice content for beginners at a glance. I expect more deep for media center.
Excellent