The $50 XBMC Media CenterST
This is going to be a departure from my usual Wall Street stuff, but I wanted to share a project with you guys that I did over the weekend. For anyone who's read my stuff for awhile it won't come as a surprise that I'm a closet geek. I wasn't always this way, but the Internet kinda flipped a switch in my brain and now I'm an amateur programmer and all around technophile.
When I read about the Raspberry Pi in the New York Times a couple weeks ago I knew I had to have one. The notion of a fully functional computer for $35 was too much for me to resist. Well, the fact is you can't find any for $35 unless you're willing to wait six months, but you can get a top of the line model on Amazon for $50. Sold.
So what can you do with it? Turns out a lot of things. But I found one project that really stood out and solved a big problem for me. My kids have a really nice TV in their room. They've got a DVD player and a Wii hooked up to it. Which is great, but neither of those devices will play digital files. And unless I wanted to go to the trouble of hooking up a laptop to the HDMI (I didn't), they were relegated to watching the same old DVDs.
The Raspberry Pi was the cheapest solution to my problem. I found these easy to follow instructions on Lifehacker, re-purposed an old TV as an analog monitor, and a half hour later I had a full blown XBMC that fits in the palm of my hand.
Here's the unit while I was working on it.
And the old TV I used while I was installing the OS.
Finally, a close-up of the finished unit.
Believe it or not, the thing worked like a champ the first time I plugged it into my kids' TV (via HDMI cable). As an added bonus, their TV remote control worked with it as well, so there was no need to attach a mouse or some other kind of interface.
A couple things you need to be aware of if you're thinking about doing this: as a closet geek, I had everything I needed to make it work lying around the house. You might not. These items included an SD card (like in your digital camera), an HDMI cable to hook it up to the TV, a smartphone charger to use as a power supply, and a USB drive to store the digital files you want to play (music, video, etc...). Obviously if you don't have these things lying around you'll have to buy them and that increases the cost. Also, I spent an extra $14 on a protective case for the whole thing.
There are a lot of other projects you can build with these things (including setting up your own VPN server or building an AirPlay receiver), and there's even a magazine devoted to the geeks who do cool stuff with their Raspberries.
I realize this is a departure from the things I usually write about, but I figured if I needed a cheap XBMC then some of you probably do too, and if you can learn something cool while saving a buck then so much the better. I can tell you the thing works great and it was really easy to put together.
If any of you pick one of these up and do something cool with it I'd really like to hear about it. I actually sold my wife on the idea once she saw how well it worked on our kids' TV, so I've got another one on the way to use as a VPN (and finally get access to Netflix and Hulu from France). If you're interested I'll let you guys know how that works out.
If you have any questions, fire away and I'll do my best to answer them.