Raspberry pi XBMC media server (nearly)

One of the exciting possibilities of the Raspberry Pi is using it as a media server – potentially providing a cheap as chips way of watching online video at home (for almost the same cost as a PS3 game) or serving as a cost effective video booth for displaying content. I suspect this is one of the factors that lead to the excitement of the Raspberry Pi’s launch and the 600,000 or so pre-orders.

Raspbmc running on my lego pi
Raspbmc running on my lego pi

I’ve used XBMC before on low-end systems – it works quite well on the (now ancient) Asus EEEpc 701 and I originally installed it on an old Xbox 1 – which soon became it’s most used feature. 

I’ve recently been playing with a version of XBMC for the Pi called Raspbmc created and maintained by Sam Nazarko, an 18 year old student from London, and it’s impressive. I’ve been able to play 720p video from YouTube and Vimeo smoothly. So I thought i’d post up some instructions in case anyone wants to give it a try.

For starters I’m using a Mac as my main PC, and my Raspberry Pi is connected to a Samsung TV via a HDMI to DVI adapter. The following worked for me!

I’ve been using a Samsung 8 GB class 6 card from Amazon which seems to work fine.

First was to download the Raspbmc installer – once you get this up and running it connects to the internet and installs Raspbmc. As I’m on a Mac I modified the Raspiwrite script to include a link to the installer. If you open the python script you can either rename one of the existing links or add it as an option. You can use my edit of the Raspiwrite script here (right click and save). 

Raspiwrite is easy to use – make sure you have a blank SD card mounted on your desktop then open the terminal in your mac and type cd – then drag and drop the folder that contains your copy of Raspiwrite onto the terminal – this saves you having to write the full path (just make sure there’s a space after cd).

Then type sudo python raspiwrite.py – it’ll ask you for a password and start the script which guides you through the process. It will take a while to write to the card, so be patient. Go and have a cup of tea, or try baking some cookies.

Once it’s finished writing, you might need to add a config.txt file to the card. I had to use this to get my display working – so for reference if you’re using a Samsung SyncMaster 940MW LCD TV monitor with a HDMI to DVI adapter made by Nikkai the code you need is:


(if you don’t have any display issues you can ignore this bit – if your display blanks after booting it’s worth checking out the threads on the config.txt file on the Raspberry Pi forums)

Then you can put the card in the Pi – either you’ll see the installer or you’ll get a command prompt. You can login to this using root and root, after which you’ll need to use shutdown -h now to shut the system down and reboot.

I think I saw this step as my Pi connects to the internet through network sharing on the ethernet on my mac – when I encounter issues with this, stopping and restarting internet sharing usually works to fix it. When I did this step I found it worked ok for me and booted into the installer – which I was able to leave to do it’s own thing, and then hey presto! Raspbmc is up and running.

It works well – some of the menu transitions are a little bit slow but video plays smoothly at 720p (which is as much as my monitor can handle). I got sound up and running by changing the settings to analog output.

Pretty HD videos to try from youtube are First Orbit which re-creates Uri Gagarin’s flight around the earth, the trailer from BBC’s Planet Earth or on Vimeo the quirky Plan of the City.

You can donate to the Raspbmc project here.

Update: there’s now a new version of the installer script which includes scripts for mac and windows – making these instructions redundant. I have got the iplayer plugin working so i’ll post up instructions on how to do that shortly.

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