Raspberry Pi first thoughts  Wednesday 30th May 2012, 20:53

I've had my Raspberry Pi for a couple of days now (it arrived on Monday) and I thought a quick post about my experiences and how far I have got with the device.

User Image
My Raspberry Pi in the flesh!

First Experiences
First of all I had read all the instructions downloaded the Debian image, used dd to copy to my new SD card but no magic, the machine would not boot; I was getting the infamous mmc0 timeout error message, disaster! After some tinkering and a trip to the pub I came across the following site (http://elinux.org/RPi_VerifiedPeripherals right at the bottom) indicating the list of compatible SD cards. How could I have missed that considering my usual, verging on obsessive product checking before making any purchases; the card I went for is a SanDisk Ultra 16GB class 6. Instant failure, I wasn't having any of that, as far as I'm concerned an SD card is an SD card I bet I can get it working... and I did. Now it appeared to me there was a kernel update that would alleviate the issue, but I couldn't for the most part find a working image containing that fix. As follows is the process I devised to get around this using whichever image you wish.

Custom Image
I came across the following site (http://blog.kmp.or.at/2012/05/build-your-own-raspberry-pi-image/) explaining and providing a script to create your own vanilla Raspberry Pi image, something that would have interested me regardless and therefore I gave it a spin. As the latest version of Debian does luckily include this fix the system booted and I was glad to find my Raspberry Pi was working as expected!

Getting it booting
Ultimately I wanted to play with XBMC and see if the Pi would be a viable HTPC front-end with my own eyes, unfortunately that image was one of the ones that did not work. However I had read another thread which suggested a couple of files in the boot partition were the culprits for the boot issues (I had tried swapping them out to no avail). My thoughts were as follows 'if I take an image of the boot partition itself, use the XBMC image and then restore the boot partition with my working copy then hopefully XBMC will be able to configure itself and run'. This has appeared to be the ideal solution and in contrast to the way I feel technology usually goes, it worked. Just to clarify this method worked for the Debian image that it provided as well, although I am yet to attempt with the others however the theory may well be the same.

XBMC
Now to my experiences with using XBMC as this so far is what I have mainly played around with. For some reason if I try to connect to my DAAP music streaming it just crashes, this is beta software so I'll not dwell on that fact but that will be a nice addition when it works.

The next thing I tried would be to stream a recording off my MythTV server to the Pi for display on my TV; here my intention is not watching TV on my computer anymore! However I had read while trying to get the thing working with my card that the Raspberry Pi Foundation did not purchase the licenses to allow hardware decoding of the MPEG2 streams (problem), according to this source http://forum.xbmc.org/archive/index.php/thread-113824-41.html. I was lead to believe software encoding would take place which would be acceptable but I however received perfect audio and no video to speak of. I obviously need to do more research as this was not right it should have at least tried to display it? If all else fails I'll find a way to get my server to re-encode to H.264 on the fly even if that does sound like a horribly wasteful process.

I wasn't going to let the videos not streaming hamper my efforts so I installed the iPlayer (which I usually stream through my Blu-ray player) 4oD and 5 on Demand plugins. These all worked like a dream and I was able to stream the video without any discernible (to my eyes/ears) flaws.

Review
Even though my initial experiences with the Raspberry Pi were extremely negative and that little bit frustrating (however I was the one who didn't check SD card compatibility) I am overall pleased with my purchase and look forward to find strange and unique uses for it in the future; especially when XBMC has those tiny niggles ironed out!

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