Monday, July 8, 2013

OpenELEC and the Raspberry Pi

So while on holiday in Jeffreys Bay, a friend offered to borrow me her Raspberry Pi. I was overjoyed, though this was a working holiday - I did find the time to install OpenELEC on it.

The Raspberry Pi is the size of a credit card, it was created with the goal to promote computer programming among school children. Although a lot of users are older than that. It's not a super powerful computer, but that was not the purpose. The Pi can and has been used for several different uses: from robotics, to running a PABX system, to running a home security system and home automation or a media center.

The Raspberry Pi uses a SD card instead of a hard drive, so if you have multiple SD cards you can install a different operating system on each and swap them as needed.

I had an 8 GB SD card, but left my ADSL connection at home. On holiday I have a 3G connection, which here in South Africa is very expensive to download large amounts of data on. I was now searching for a small operating system to load onto my SD card. Rasbian and Pidora where too large for my budget, so I kept looking. I settled on OpenELEC, which transforms your Pi into a media center for watching videos, listening to music and looking at photos.

 Then I loaded a 100 MB bundle on my Samsung Galaxy Pocket (cost me $3) and downloaded OpenELEC. Downloaded OpenELEC from here. Now my problems started. The downloaded file had no extension, and even though I renamed it to have the .tar.bz2 extension - the file could not extract :(

My friend was kind enough to let me use her Internet connection to download it and this time there the file worked, yay! Now I need to install it. So I went to their wiki. Ok, now I had another problem. I often remind people about my limited knowledge about Linux and how little things can still stump me.

Extract the archive:

  • Go to your downloads folder
  • Right click the file
  • Left click on Extract here

  • Then open a Terminal window and navigate to that folder:

  • cd /home/batman/Downloads/OpenELEC-Rpi.arm-3.0.6

(substitute batman with your username, also remember that Linux is case sensitive, so you need to type it exactly right or you will get an error message).

  • Next insert your SD card and type in: dmesg | tail and press <ENTER>

This will tell you what the drive name of your card is, mine is sdb1 (be careful in the following steps, if you enter the wrong drive details you may wipe your hard drive. Don't type a number for the drive, just the name: sdb instead of sdb1 - otherwise you will also have an error message stare you down).

  • Next type sudo ./create_sdcard /dev/sdb and press <ENTER>

This will install OpenELEC to your card. Eject the card (open your file manager (PCManFM in my case) click the eject button next to your drive name).

You can now insert the SD card into your Raspberry Pi, connect it to a monitor using RC or HDMI, connect speakers and a keyboard and you are good to go. Connect a flash drive or USB hard drive to it and you can watch or listen to your media in the living room or bedroom.

To recap: Requirements

* A Raspberry Pi
* A SD card (the higher the class, the faster the drive. Try to use at least a class 10 card)
* An Internet connection
* An HDMI monitor & cable or RC cable and capable TV
* Speakers
* USB keyboard

My impressions of OpenELEC:

I found it easy to use and very capable. The interface is easy to navigate. OpenELEC also supports adding a remote, instead of depending on your trusty USB keyboard.

Video and audio playback was smooth and I found using OpenELEC to be pleasurable experience. I would definitely recommend that you try this if you have  a Raspberry Pi.