Finally I received my Raspberry Pi on Saturday.  I didn’t jump on the pre-order bandwagon as I knew I didn’t have the time to play with it properly, and it would have only led to frustrations when it didn’t arrive on time, so I let all the fuss and initial craze pass by before ordering (I was busy playing with my Nexus 7).  So, time for a quick review of Raspberry Pi XBMC and OpenELEC.

I ordered a blank 4GB Class 10 SD Card, and some other accessories which weren’t required (dual USB plug, HDMI to DVI adapter).  It all arrived from CPC the following day – top service like always.

So after 5 minutes on Google I stumbled across Squirrel Hosting who provided a step by step guide to install a pre-built image of OpenELC and links to the utilities to format the SD Card. I simply ran through the steps and within 5 minutes I had OpenELEC running on the Pi plugged in to my TV – the process could not be any quicker or easier. You can follow their guide here.

First throughts – bear in mind I use XBMC running on a Compaq Evo DC5100 P4 with 1GB RAM and a separate PCI Express graphics card supplying sound over HDMI. This set up, albeit on an ‘old’ PC has worked flawlessly for years, cold boots to XBMC in 43 seconds and has never ever lagged once.  So can the Raspberry Pi contend with this old PC as a potential replacement?  Well, yes and no.  It is slower to boot (1 minute), but as I don’t tend to sit and watch the boot process this isn’t a huge deal, unless you have to reset it part way through a movie, which I have had to once.  The menu is OK, quite usable, but there is definitely a slight delay.  I am using the default skin (Confluence) on both to compare.  I chucked a few movies at it – if they are encoded using H.264 there is a good chance they will play.  I played various movies at 720p with great results.  Now if you can watch a movie all the way through without pausing it then great – but if you need to pause, rewind, fast forward then I found the picture would go all blocky – once this cleared within a few frames, but it can regularly take 10-20 seconds to clear the screen again. A few movie files I tried stuttered badly, which I know worked fine with the PC, but these weren’t using H.264.  Sometimes a reboot cleared it and it would then play perfectly – but here is the issue – once it has started to stutter, there seemed no way to stop playback – mouse and keyboard inputs were dead.  Also when it is playing a moview perfectly, if you then press Escape to go back to the menu to navigate around further, expect huge delays between pressing a key and the menu chaning.  I found it is best to stop the playback before returning to the menu, which is a shame as it looks fancy having the movie play in the background.

The sound is good – I only tested on 2.0, I haven’t chucked any surround sound at it yet to see how it handles that, but so far so good.

So a quick review – it works, it is slow, it requires patience, it is however a £30 computer so should not be overstated.  For £30 it is a good bargain, and I’m sure OpenELEC will improve within time.

Why did I chose OpenELEC over Raspbmc?  Nothing other than I read on a forum post that OpenELEC is quicker.  Whether that is true or not I don’t know, or if it applies to the curent releases I am not sure, so I plan to test both and form my own opinion anyway.

If I can get XBMC running acceptably, I intend to give it to my parents – my mum often wishes she could watch iPlayer on her TV (they have a nice LCD, but it is not a smart TV), and as they have limited space, certainly no room for a computer, this could be a perfect solution.

 

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