Raspberry Pi: First Impressions

After pre-ordering the Raspberry Pi on launch day, February 29th, I have finally received my shipment from RS Components.

Raspberry Pi model B

As a first test, I loaded the recommended Debian Squeeze system image onto a 16GB SD card and hooked the Pi up to a USB keyboard and mouse and a computer monitor. The Debian installation comes complete with a lightweight graphical desktop environment (Xfce) with the usual raft of applications, including a browser. Browsing worked pretty well, although scrolling certainly is not smooth. All in all, the performance was decent especially considering that the Pi has a processing power comparable to my 3 year old HTC Hero Android phone.

The next project was to use the Pi as a media center. For this, I followed the instructions at the OpenELEC wiki and after about 3 hours of compilation and some time for setting up the SD card, I had the Pi running XBMC. From power on until XBMC is ready takes about 10-12 seconds and generally when moving around in the menus, performance is fine.

The Pi is connected to my home network via wired ethernet. So far, I have tested streaming of 1080p content (h264 encoded) from my NAS. This works beautifully and I have yet to notice any stutter or lag. A DVD ripped and re-encoded to h264 also played perfectly. It seems the Pi is not able to handle mpeg2 encoded files. When I play these, the sound is OK, but the screen is just black. Update: an mpeg2 license key is now available for purchase from the Raspberry Pi store – this will unlock hardware accelerated mpeg2 decoding.

Raspberry Pi running OpenELEC with XBMC streaming a 1080p trailer for “Battleship” over wired ethernet from a NAS.

To control XBMC, I use the Official XMBC Remote app. This works extremely well both for navigating the interface and for entering text, hence there is no need for keyboard and mouse.

Considering the price of just $35, the Raspberry Pi is a very impressive piece of kit. With a power consumption around 3W, it is perfect as an always-on personal web server, file server or print server. As described above it can also form the basis of a very capable media center.

Next project: use the Pi for interfacing with a Lego Mindstorms robot…


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2 Responses to Raspberry Pi: First Impressions

  1. Tom West says:

    To play mpeg2-encoded files, you’ll need to download a (non-free) driver. See the RPi website for details.
    Also, any chance you could reveal how exactly you got H264 to stream from NAS?

  2. Thanks for tip – I have updated the text to point to the RPi store.

    As for streaming, I have tested it with some movie trailers from iTunes. These are encoded as h264/AVC in 1080p with MPEG-4 AAC audio. I have not tried other codec variations.
    I have dumped the files on the NAS in a folder shared via SMB. From XBMC, I select Video > Files > Add videos… > Browse > Windows network (SMB). Next, I select my workgroup, the server and the share. You can also enter the SMB path directly in the form smb://server/share. Once you have done this, the share will be added to the list of video sources in XBMC, so to start streaming, select Video > Files > share-name. This will list the files in the share. Select one and it should start playing.
    I hope this helps?

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