Raspberry Pi New Year’s Party Pack (AU / NZ ONLY) - Review

Table of contents

RoadTest: Raspberry Pi New Year’s Party Pack (AU / NZ ONLY)

Author: dgashby

Creation date:

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?:

What were the biggest problems encountered?: During the initial update process (quite a long but completely automated process) a couple of the screens were oversized and only the lower left corner was visible on the TV, the corner of a dialog box was also visible but the content was not. After some time the update process continued so it didn't cause a significant problem but it was slightly disconcerting not knowing what was in the dialog box.

Detailed Review:



Firstly I'd like to thank the team at Element 14 for selecting me to participate in the road test of this bundle.  This is my first time doing a road test and I very much appreciate the opportunity.


I've been a Raspberry Pi owner for a while now, mainly using it for the IO capability and some environmental monitoring applications so I'm quite familiar with the Raspberry PI hardware and the Raspbian distribution.  I have also briefly used the OpenElec XBMC distribution but didn't have a specific need or much time to experiment with it as we took delivery of our second child last year and as any parent of two under threes will know, time becomes a very precious resource!


Over the New Year period we took the whole family on a road trip to a couple of South Island holiday spots.  At least one of the holiday homes we were staying at hadn't made the transition to Freeview (DVB-t) and didn't have any alternatives such as satellite or cable. So after a long day playing in the sand and surf at the beach we knew we weren't going to have our regular emergency backup, Nick Jr. to keep tired kids entertained for that last hour of the day when patience are wearing thin.  A work colleague has been running the RaspBMC distribution for a while now, and is very happy with it.  The RaspBMC roadtest seemed like a great opportunity to properly test the Raspberry Pi as a media centerr and solve the problem of keeping the kids entertained.


Hitting the Road


Unfortunately due to delays with customs clearing the shipment the RaspBMC package didn't arrived prior to us heading away for our Christmas and New Year break.  I had anticipated something like this happening so had a backup plan.  Having two Raspberry Pies already floating around home I decided to reconfigure one of them as a RaspBMC media center before hitting the road.  I wouldn't have some of the extra peripherals like the mini keyboard, or the PiFace and Control, but as it turns out that proved useful to compare how these devices (specifically the  keyboard) add to the package and make for a much more user friendly and simple to use package.


I installed RaspBMC from latest release, this was a relatively straight forward process, maybe only one reboot required.


While we were on the road, the TV at our holiday home didn't have HDMI so I had to use the composite output + 3.5mm stereo audio output instead.  I already had a 3 way RCA cable in my collection so just had to visit the local electronics store to get a 3.5mm plug to 2 x RCA socket adapter to handle the audio.  This all worked well.  The only other adjustment I had to make was to the appearance of the skin, scaling the screen down by 4% in order to make it fit properly.


As the mini keyboard hadn't arrived befor our departure, I did look at using one of the many iPhone apps as an alternative.  This worked well in our home environment where there was an existing wireless network, but tricky to set up when on the road.  With more time to experiment it's probably doable.  The supplied wireless keyboard by comparison was a breeze to set up and would have been great to take take away.  Being completely self contained with zero configuration it was very simple to get working with no additional wirless infrastructure required.


In order to get DVD iso playback working I ordered and installed the MPEG2 codec license from the Raspberry Pi Foundation which as a very easy process.  The instructions were clear and the turn around time was about 12 hours.


ISO playback worked very successfully after following instructions on a blog from STM labs.  This involved running an apt-get update and then installing the latest versions of mplayer and lsdvd and several other packages as well as another addon.  As it turned out the addon wasn't actually required, updating mplayer and lsdvd appeared to be enough to get things running using the default player.  Playback of MP4 versions of the same media also worked fine.


So the end result was that our kids very happy with being able to watch their favorite DVDs.  We are conscious of the amount of TV our kids watch, but at the end of a busy day building sandcastles at the beach and playing in the surf, young ones can get a bit grumpy waiting for their dinner so The Wiggles or Hi Five are usually called on to help keep them entertained, so this was a big win for us parents too.



Returning Home


Upon our arrival home I was happpy to find a package from Element 14 had arrived.


Running RasBMC distribution from the supplied SD card required lots of restarts and steps to eventually get the latest release. During the initial update process (quite a long but completely automated process) a couple of the screens were over-sized and only the lower left corner was visible on the HD TV, the corner of a dialog box was also visible but the content was not. After some time the update process continued so it didn't cause a significant problem but it was slightly disconcerting not knowing what was in the dialog box.


Using the same procedure as I used for my temporary replacement, I haven't managed to get ISO playback working on this yet, even with the MPEG2 codec.  I need to review the steps again just to ensure I've follwoed them correctly.


Another experiment that I have tried with good success is running the Pi from TVs USB port rather than the supplied power supply.  The TV USB appears to have enough current to run the Pi, I haven't noticed any strange behaviour as a result.  I am running a risk in that it's easy to put the TV into standby mode which also cuts power to the USB causing the Pi to shutdown without any warning.  So far this hasn't caused any problems although it does mean you get a dialog at the next restart warning you that XBMC closed unexpectidly and that if it continues report it to the XBMC team.


Unfortunately the HDMI TV (Samsung) that I was testing on at home had zero CEC support - probably more the fault of the TV than the Pi, RaspBMC, or libCEC.  FIngers crossed this may change over time as support for more TVs is added to libCC.  My work colleague has a Panasonic TV hand was very pleasantly surprised when CEC work out of the box, meaning he could control XBMC using his normal TV remote.  If you're looking to buy a new TV then CEC compatibility with XBMC is probably another thing worth researching, the XBMC wiki contains a page that documents support among different brands and in some cases models.


First time SSh'ing in as pi automatically started the package configuration application for setting locales and languages.


I had read in numerous places that NFS was better than SMB or Samba for mounting media stored on another device attached to the network as there is less overhead and performance is generally better.  This suited me fine as I'm firmly in the Linux camp and both the the laptop I was taking on the road with us and our home server are both Linux.  I hadn't had to set up NFS for quite some time, probably late last century, so there was a bit of re-learning to do but there are a plenty of simple guides on-line, even some specifically related to setting up a server to work with RaspBMC.  Initially I took the approach of keeping things very tight security wise but struck a few problems mapping user accounts or more specially UIDs back as I'm using LDAP for authentication on the server.  Loosening things up a bit solved the access problems and connecting and streaming media became a breeze.


The original NASA TV addon didn't work, it repeatedly reported Addon failed: addon.py.  Looking and the XBMC log it appeared to be a problem with the streams scraper python code. Some googling revealed that this problem started occurring after NASA re-arranged the layout of their site late last year and the general recommendation was to upgrade to the latest version of the addon by downloading it directly from the developers source repository. After installing the latest version of the NASA addon by removing the original, and then installing the latest from the zip file, three out of the four streams are working OK.


The New Zealand TV on demand plugin also failed to work, I suspect like the original Nasa plugin this is probably due to the fragility of the screen scraper.


I also haven't manged to get ISO playback working reliably on this setup even with the addition of the MPEG2 license.  Playback of MP4s continued to work perfectly.




The Raspberry Pi Media Centre Bundle + PiFace Control and Display is a very complete package, it contains everything you need to get up and running with an HDMI capable TV.  Because I was using a slightly older LCD TV that only supported composite I needed a few extra bits like a suitable RCA cable and adapter for the audio.  An MPEG2 codec licenses would have been a good addition but that could be difficult given that each license is specific to the Pi on which it is installed.


The keyboard is an absolute must-have accessory, without it using XBMC can be a very painful experience, especially some of tasks that you have to do initially like setting up mounts to media servers that require quite a bit of typing. The track pad could be smoother though, the motion is a little jerky, I tended to use the cursor buttons to navigate the menus.  Also the home button didn't appear to be bound properly - in theory this can be modified by editing the keyboard.xml file but I haven't tried this and am curious about how to determine the name of the home key - further investigation is required here..


Overall I was happy with the hardware package and what it is capable of.  I did strike enough issues with the XBMC software to question whether it is suitable for someone with no technical ability or desire to experiment and learn.  Most of the problems I struck were either due to the configuration of external systems such as our NAS, or third party plugins which can be quite fragile especially where they are scraping content from other web sites.  For anyone with some technical ability most of these problems can be solved by checking the XBMC log file and googling the symptons.


Thank you again to Element 14 for giving me this opportunity to test and review the RaspBMC Media Centre and Pi Control and Display.  As ye I haven't found a use for the PiFAce Control and Dsiplay but I have several other hadrware related projects underway which may provide I good testing ground and I will provide more feedback on this in the future.