Raspberry Pi – first (XBMC) impressions

Last week I received my Raspberry Pi, after three months of waiting. In short: it was worth the wait. I first installed Debian 6 from Farnell’s (where I bought my Pi) OS Download Center. I did not play much with Debian, so I did not get a good impression of it. The OS seemed pretty usable on the Pi, though I experienced some hickups while browsing (using the default browser, I couldn’t find a package for Chrome). Anyway, let’s get to the awesome part.

Raspberry Pi?

The Raspberry Pi is a very small single-board computer. It has a 700 MHz. cpu, 256 MB of RAM and a GPU capable of decoding 1080p – the reason the Pi has become extremely popular very quickly. It is powered by a micro-USB port and can be used for lots of different things. Downside: it does not feature an optical out (S/PDIF). I would have rather seen that instead of the RCA- and 3,5mm audio port.

Raspberry Pi 654x391 (Raspberry Pi   first (XBMC) impressions)

The Pi’s OS is stored on a SD-card (not included). On the board you will find a HDMI-port, ethernet-port, RCA-port, 3,5mm audio jack, 2 USB-ports and a micro-USB-port (for power).


I’m a big fan of XBMC – that’s why I run it on my HTPC, my home server and pretty much everything else it runs on. For my HTPC and the Pi, I’m using OpenELEC. It’s a small Linux distribution built from scratch that contains nothing but BXMC. And it’s fast, really fast (much faster than XBMCBuntu, which I also tried a couple of times).

OpenELEC suggests building the OS yourself. I did not want to go through the hassle of doing that, so I tried some pre-compiled images and then upgraded to the latest build. Disclaimer: this is what I did to get it running (there might be a faster way, but this works for me).

Read my article here for installation instructions: Installing OpenELEC on the Raspberry Pi.

XBMC impressions

It works! Menu’s are kind of slow, but usable. Using the older build I first tested with, 1080p was playable but stuttered a bit. Enabling audio decoding (audio output to the 3,5″ jack) was too much for the cpu and caused a huge drop in frames per second. After updating to the latest OpenELEC build, 1080p plays perfectly fine with not stuttering at all! That’s pretty amazing for such a small and cheap device.

screenshot005 654x408 (Raspberry Pi   first (XBMC) impressions)

screenshot006 654x408 (Raspberry Pi   first (XBMC) impressions)

Overall, the Raspberry Pi works great so far and looks very promising. I can’t wait to see where development will take it, I’m probably going to order another one pretty soon.

Playing a full-HD 1080p video on the Pi

Here’s a video my cousin Peter (better known as l3p) shot when we tested the Pi at his place. The Pi is connected to a Panasonic 50″ TX-50V10E plasma tv. Audio is redirected through a Denon 1909 receiver to a Kef KHT2005 5.1 home cinema set (upgraded with a REL Q200E). The movie playing is a x264 mkv file.

  • Polohb

    Hello,Thanks for the review of the raspberry-pi with xbmc.I have some questions for you :  - like i have read that audio is 2.1 in the raspberry-pi how do you get 5.1 ? - when you have tested 1080p content, was the video on the sd card or usb disk or do you get it from a shared place (nas or computer) ?Thanks for the answers.     

    • http://www.jacobras.nl Jacob Ras

      I get it from a shared place indeed, a home server running Windows Home Server ’11. I haven’t tested videos from usb. On the sd card I keep only the OS (in this case OpenElec).

  • Matt Wilcox

    Hi, thanks for this, looks very cool. Quick question: is the Raspberry Pi able to output 5.1 surround sound? I know it sends audio over HDMI, but does it send the 5.1 over HDMI, so I can then use my TV’s Optical Audio Out to hook into my surround system and get proper surround sound?

    • Mark Child

      Works fine through my onyko, but then my onyko outputs hdmi audio sources to the tv.

      Your tv should receive from the amp and your hdmi sources should be plugged into that e.g raspberrypi, skybox (optical to av reciever), bluray, wii.

  • mentar

    As it maybe of interests to some, you can now enable the Mpeg2 and vc-1 hw decode on the RPi, it costs around $4 (for mpeg2) but it’s awesome if you have a movie collection in mpeg2 or have recorded stuff over dvb-t! More info: http://www.raspberrypi.com/mpeg-2-license-key/