Evaluation Type: Independent Products
Did you receive all parts the manufacturer stated would be included in the package?: True
What other parts do you consider comparable to this product?: Other media centre capable product I own, are a beagleboard, pandaboard, and a Dlink Boxee Box. All these units run a variation of XBMC
What were the biggest problems encountered?: None this kit is extremely easy to use.
The items supplied from element14 contained everything you would ever need to turn the raspberry pi into a feature packed media center. The items shipped were, a raspberry pi with power connecter, a pi-face expansion module and an XMBC solution kit.
The XBMC package contained the items needed to enhance any media center application, including a HDMI cable, a CAT6 Network cable, a 4Gb pre-load SD Card (containing raspbMC), amd a wireless keyboard. This package assumes you already own a raspberry pi, so it was a good thing one was also shipped.
The Pi-Face Kit is an expansion for the raspberry pi, providing the raspberry pi with some basic I/O in the form of an LCD and various buttons. The instructions on the element14 page outlined how to enable this expansion.
With the SD card, power, and HDMI cable connected, I ventured into the lounge room and proceeded to connect it to my TV. The boot screen was very simple and the boot time 4 times faster than my 2 year old boxee box. However, with no actual media to play the first use of RaspbMC was very limited in what I could do. However, the interface was similar to many of the various xmbc clones I have used before. But out of all the ones that I have used this one seemed to be the most featureless out of the box. However installing some of the add-ons would improve that significantly. It is a shame that this kit assumes people have a netwrok port in their lounge room. I for one don't so a WiFi solutions needs to be found. Since my WiFi access point is at the other end of the house and goal is to stream high bit rate video a decent wifi option need to be found. Element14 does provide some wifi dongles suitable for the raspberry pi, but I wanted one with an antenna to ensure high bitrates. So after a bit of web searching I have ordered an auspi wireless adapter (http://www.buyraspberrypi.com.au/shop/auspi-wireless-adaptor-802-11-bgn-wifi-for-raspberry-pi/). So with no network for the time being, the only possible way of bring media to the raspberry pi was via some form of USB storage. So in order to test the unit I ripped my favorite BluRay movie and transcoded a small portion of it into a high quality 1080p AVI. This would represent a stress test of the unit. This was copied on to the USB drive and the drive connected to the raspberry pi in the only remaining USB port (the other occupied by the wireless keyboard). This wasn't enough to run the USB drive, so a second USB port on my TV was used. Ultimately I wont need the USB drive as the WiFi will stream the media, so this isn't a major problem. So the media appeared under the videos menu and click the movie, evoked the player. The raspberry pi was not only able to play the video with out any frame drops it also managed to play it at the 1080p resolution with no issues.
I intend to test this unit further and install a few other main stream MC operating systems on this unit, but I am going to put this into the blog (New Year’s Party Pack - To entertain the masses or just babysit the kids - Introduction). So in conclusion, how do I feel about this kit in the way it was supplied. Well, based on my use of the product, I think this kit is great. Never before have I come across a complete some-assembly-required package (excluding commercial end-user products) that offers an out of box easy to use solution. The only limitations I can see with this kit, is need for a WiFi dongle. Also, a USB hub may solve some issues for other users. But as I said, it wasn't a major issue for me. The total cost of this package still makes this one of the cheapest MC solutions around. And when you get bored with the MC, there is a whole big world of raspberry pi projects you can implement on it.