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The Mind Tech Podcast: Episode 21

August 8th, 2013

MindSet

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The X-Pi

Hosted by Gareth Davies and Joe Ressington

The Mind Tech Podcast is your weekly dose of tech, privacy, security and conspiracy.

Each week we'll talk about the very latest tech news and the continued threats to internet freedom.

Mind Tech News:

California issues first cellphone Amber Alert

pressure cookers, backpacks and quinoa, oh my!

FBI Taps Hacker Tactics to Spy on Suspects

Researchers say Tor-targeted malware phoned home to NSA

 

XBMC on the Raspberry Pi

I tried Raspbmc and Xbian. I looked at the OpenELEC website but it looked like more hassle than I had time to deal with.

Raspbmc:

Installation uses a Python script in Linux. For Windows has a GUI exe. Takes a few minutes to image the SD card. After boot it takes about 30 mins with several reboots.

Once it’s finished it boots into XBMC. Although playback is very smooth, the interface is very laggy. Was able to play Xvid and x264 perfectly. Even 1080p files played perfectly (better than on a decent Linux desktop with VLC).

Strange problem with some flv files ripped from iPlayer using get_iplayer where it skips the first 30 seconds or so. Otherwise seems to play pretty well.

Trivial to find and play files from a USB drive.

Also fairly easy to point it to my local apache server. Slight buffering pause but otherwise played fine. Was able to stream 1080p despite the limited speed of the ethernet port (shared with USB on the Pi).

Only problem is that some video files have subtitles in them. With most media players (like VLC) you can turn the subs on and off. Although with XBMC there is an option, it doesn’t work and the subs are stuck on. Maybe there is a menu option to turn this off. I couldn’t find one.

Xbian:

Website was down (509 Bandwidth Limit Exceeded) but I was able to find the Sourceforge page and download the image file. There are installers for Windows, OS X and Linux but I just got the image and used dd to image the SD card.

Booted straight into XBMC with no scrolling text. Nice splash screen with progress bar.

Interface considerably smoother than Raspbmc but still not perfect.

Otherwise very similar in terms of playback etc.

XBMC in general:

XBMC is a great media centre. Not only does it play video and audio files, it also allows you to download add-on programs from a list. (I really like the fact that they don’t call them apps). I didn’t spend that much time playing with them but I saw things like Facebook and Gmail. I installed Gmail but it froze and crashed the Pi. I don’t think the Pi is really capable of running these apps due to its limited cpu but on a more powerful machine this would be a really nice extra.

Some problems:

Apart from the subtitles problem and the slightly laggy interface there is the main problem of input. Unless you have a wireless keyboard and mouse combo that works in Debian you will have to use a mouse to navigate the text input which instead of being QWERTY layout is in alphabetical order which is very difficult. It is possible to use a remote control but this is more expense and potential compatibility trouble.

There is also the problem of network connection. If you aren’t using ethernet then you will need a USB adapter that is supported in Debian. Both of my adapters need non-free firmware which again is an extra hassle to set up. If you are only planning to play files from a USB drive then obviously this isn’t a problem.

Conclusion:

If you have a Raspberry Pi lying around gathering dust then running Xbian makes perfect sense. Would I recommend buying a Pi specifically to use as a media centre? Not really unless you want to use it for other things as well.

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