For years I have wanted a centralized digital home theater system. The limitations of almost every component failed for a variety of reasons. Cost being a big issue, limitations in computer speeds, noise and complexity all played their part in preventing me from getting the system that I wanted. The biggest issue was not requiring a full blown media center enabled PC on every television in the house. Even the cheapest PC is several hundred dollars, and you are forced to deal with consumable parts such as hard drives and fans wearing out. Size is also a big issue, and boot up times is REALLY annoying. Additionally, even the quietest of PC’s will add at least 30DB’s to the noise of the system by the time you add in several quiet cooling fans, power supplies, spinning hard drives, etc… The way around this is long cables, dedicated rooms, etc… which is just more cost, complexity, etc…
My goal was rather simple, I wanted a centralized storage drive which contains all of my photos, movies and music. Then I wanted to be able to play, watch or listen to my content from any computer or television in the house. I don’t want to wait around for a computer to boot, and due to power costs and noise, I don’t want to leave it on all the time.
I did look into MythTV and I really wanted to like MythTV, but it just didn’t work the way that I wanted it to. MythTV has really high hardware requirements, and it just didn’t suit my needs.
With all of this is mind, I found my solution which allows me to maintain a centralize repository of media
The server component is the easiest for me. I have a network server running Suse 12.4 at my house. This is a dedicated server for the house and is always on. So, I just needed to enable Samba service and remote access is achieved. My server is mounted in a network rack which offers security and some noise insulation. I currently have several Tera-bytes of redundant storage in it, so if suits the purpose very well. This is the cost of doing business in my profession. However, for the average user any computer would work, or any off the shelf storage solution would be fine. This is just a storage location for the media files.
Additional cost: $0 (for Jim)
The solution was in front of me, for the past year. Last year, I purchased a Raspberry Pi micro computer for $35. It runs from an OS installed on an SD card. It has a 10/100 NIC, HDMI out, 2 USB ports, Compsite video and audio out. The Raspberry Pi is about the size of a deck of cards, runs off 5V of power and runs an ARM processor just like most smart phones. So, what does this mean? It is small, inexpensive, has no moving parts or fans so it is absolutely quiet. Not kinda quiet… but completely quiet so there are no annoying hums and it even comes in black. I setup a USB Lenovo wireless keyboard with a track ball mouse to the Rasberry Pi. So, I have a fully functional keyboard in the form factor to a remote.
On other minor consideration is that a Raspberry Pi uses only 5V of power. So, as well as being silent, it only costs about $4 per year to power. So, there are no real issues leaving it running 24/7/365, so there is no boot up needed.
In addition to the Raspberry Pi, the true power of the system is the software. Sure, the hardware is great, but the software is the component that makes it happen. XBMC is an open source home theatre system who happen to also support the Raspberry Pi community. Instructions, downloads, et all are available at www.raspbmc.com. I chose to run the network installer. Once the SD card is imaged and inserted into the Raspberry Pi, the software reached out across the internet, partitioned the drive, configured the system and after a few scripted reboots, we were off and running.
It took just a matter of minutes and I had the media share configured via SMB and was watching movies. The only issue I have is the video out is set up to 1280×768 while my LG plasma television is 1366×768 so that we slight video resolution issues I need to work out.
Go get one and try it out.