With all of the online and digital content we are consuming these days, media center PCs are quickly becoming a staple in households worldwide. Some prefer large purpose built PCs with tons of storage, while others simply settle for OEM set top boxes like the Roku or Pivos XIOS, and either of these routes will end up costing anywhere between $75 to $1000+, depending on how elaborate you wish to go. With the introduction of the small but powerful Raspberry Pi, we are able to cut the cost down to a mere $45 for an entry level streaming media center that is also online friendly.
Today I am going to walk you through the process of creating a media center PC with just your little Raspberry Pi. Before I get started with that, in case some readers are unfamiliar with the Raspberry Pi, I would like to walk you through what the Raspberry Pi is and how to get it up and running for the first time.
The Raspberry Pi is a credit-card sized computer that plugs into your TV and keyboard. It's a capable little PC which can be used for many of the things that your desktop PC does, like spreadsheets, word-processing and games. It also plays high-definition video at full 720p. The Raspberry Pi model B features 512MB of RAM (earlier versions featured 256MB) and has USB and Ethernet connectivity. Video output can be achieved through a full sized HDMI port or an old school RCA video connector.
The biggest feature, however, is that the Raspberry Pi only cost about $45 shipped to your door - this makes the Raspberry Pi a formidable choice when choosing the hardware for your media center.
What You Need
As mentioned above, the Raspberry Pi is a fully functional PC that is capable of running Linux. In fact, several custom Linux distros have been created just for the Pi, of which Rasbian is the most popular. For that reason, this is the distro we will be using today. You will need several accessories to get your media center up and running, but they are all common household items.
I have created a list below that outlines each item:
A Raspberry Pi: You can pick up one of these from your favorite electronics supply site like Element 14 or Sparkfun Electronics. A quick search will yield tons of results.
A common HDMI cable: The same kind of cable used to connect your DVD player to your TV.
A 4GB or higher SD card: This card need to be a full sized SD card and rated at Class 6 or higher.
USB Keyboard and Mouse: The ones you use for your every day PC will work fine. I recommend getting a wireless USB media center keyboard that has a built-in track pad or track ball.
An Ethernet cable: This can be CAT5 or CAT6, just make sure it is long enough to reach your router or switch. Alternatively you can use a wireless USB network adapter, but you will also need to connect a USB hub if you are using a separate USB mouse and keyboard.
A Micro USB power supply: This is the same kind of power supply you use to charge your smartphone, unless you are an iPhone owner. These can be picked up for next to nothing. Just make sure the one you purchase can support a minimum current draw of 700mAh.
An External USB hard drive: This is completely optional, but it does come in handy if you do not wish to stream video or music over your network from another device.
A copy of Raspbian and Raspbmc on your PC: Raspbian is the operating system we will be running, and Raspbmc is a version of XBMC that has been optimized for the Raspberry Pi. You can download Raspbian from here and Raspbmc from here.
MPEG2 Codec: In the event that you will be playing video content that is coded in the MPEG2 format, you will need to purchase a license from the Raspberry Pi foundation. It is quite cheap, but it is only needed for MPG2 playback. If your collection has no MPEG2 content, then this is not needed.