in Technology

Using Raspberry Pi and XBMC to build an ultra-cheap HTPC.

Back in 2006/7 I used to use XBox Media Center (XBMC) on my original XBox to play films and show pictures on our television. Since then XBMC has become a cross-platform homebrew juggernaut, available for almost every platform. And that now includes the Raspberry Pi, a low-cost device to stimulate interest in Computer Science.

I’m not going to wax lyrical about my computing history, but suffice to say I’ve spent a decent amount of time looking for the perfect Home Theatre PC (HTPC) setup. At the moment we’re using a PlayStation 3 with the PlayTV accessory. It’s a great, easy-to-use (and visually appealing) solution, but a proprietary one that uses a fair amount of power. The Raspberry Pi on the other hand can be powered from the USB port on my television whilst outputting silky-smooth 1080p video. Amazing.

With every week that passes it seems that it’s possible to do ever more with a XBMC-powered Raspberry Pi but, at the moment, here’s what I’m using mine for:

  • Streaming videos from our Network Attached Storage (NAS) drive
  • Playing photos, videos and music (including Spotify)  from our iPad via Airplay
  • Catching up with BBC iPlayer (as well as catch-up services from other channels)

Given that there’s free XBMC apps for both iOS and Android devices navigation via wifi on a tablet or phone is a breeze. It feels like using a much more expensive device.

How to get started

If you want to do what I’ve done then it couldn’t really be much easier:

  1. Buy a Raspberry Pi (and a case, if you want one)
  2. Find an SD card (2GB is plenty big enough)
  3. Use a Mac and XPi installer
  4. Put the SD card in the Raspberry Pi
  5. Hook the Raspberry Pi up to power and a screen
  6. Enjoy!
  7. (optional) Follow some of the advice here and install add-ons not in the built-in repository (such as BBC iPlayer)


  • http://ictsteps.com Kevin McLaughlin

    Many thanks for posting these steps Doug. I’ve finally got a reason to open that Raspberry Pi in the corner now ;-)

    • http://dougbelshaw.com/ Doug Belshaw

      Excellent! Let me know how you get on :-)

  • http://twitter.com/NickCzuma Nicholas Czuma

    Do you experience any lag? I know there’s a team that ported xmbc over for the Pi, but I heard it still had issues.

    • http://dougbelshaw.com/ Doug Belshaw

      It’s pretty smooth. The pinch point in my house is the wifi network, not the RPi!

  • colgur

    How do you foresee Pi being used in the classroom? What is the educational value of getting XBMC running on Pi versus some generic laptop?

    • http://dougbelshaw.com/ Doug Belshaw

      Good question with (at least) three answers:

      1. It frees up the the teacher’s laptop
      2. It’s less likely to break or overheat
      3; it does 1080p video

      I’d have one in my classroom!

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