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Want another chance to win a Raspberry Pi 2 from the element14 Community?

 

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Through March 31 we are giving away Raspberry Pi 2 units to selected members who have earned a Plugged In badge.

 

Just take the following steps to enter the giveaway:

 

1) If you are not a registered member yet, register now.

 

2) Once you are a registered member, complete your Plugged In badge.

 

For a chance to win a Raspberry Pi 2, you have to complete the Plugged In badge by March 31st, 2015.

 

That's it! Once you join the element14 Community and earn your Plugged In badge your name will be entered into the giveaway. We will announce the winners after March 31st. (Be sure to use a working email address as well as your preferred shipping address when you register so we can contact you if you are selected. If you are already a registered Community member, please make sure your email and shipping details are current.)

 

Meanwhile, check out all of the latest Raspberry Pi 2 content:

 

Good luck from the element14 Community!

Terms and Conditions are attached.

Introduction

 

Well it took an extra day or two, due to the weather, to get the parts in that I ordered, but they are finally here.  I decided that the first project I would try was OpenElec because I already have my old Pi set up with it and it will give me a good comparison.

 

For those of you who haven't tried OpenElec, or aren't familiar with it, I highly recommend you give it a shot.  It is a distribution of Linux that is streamlined to run Kodi (formerly XBMC).  What's great about it is that it is extremely easy to set up and it works very well.  I mentioned in my last post about all the time and money I had spent trying to build a comparable setup in the past.  OpenElec is easier and runs better than any other setup I've had.  Here's a small list of the pros and cons, as I see them, of OpenElec on a Pi compared to a full home theater PC (HTPC) running Windows:

 

Pros:

  • Much easier to set up
  • Built in support for HDMI-CEC (You can use your regular TV remote to control Kodi without any extra hardware, like Lirc.)
  • Quiet (No fans = no noise)
  • Small profile (Zip tie it to the HDMI cable behind the TV if you want it completely hidden)
  • Lots of user created add-ons for Kodi for all sorts of services

Cons:

  • No Netflix (I have two other devices, a Wii U and a blu-ray player, plugged into the TV that provide Netflix ability if I need it anyways.)
  • Not as powerful processor-wise (The Pi, and especially the Pi 2, are very smooth running OpenElec, however.)
  • No automatic "on-the-fly" quality adjustments to prevent buffering (This can be annoying at times.)

 

Setup

 

So let's jump into getting this set up.  It's really simple.  First head on over to the OpenElec website and get the latest release from the download section.  Make sure you download the "Diskimage" file for your appropriate Pi.  I'm obviously using a Pi 2 and the current release is 5.0.5 so I downloaded OpenELEC-RPi2.arm-5.0.5.img.gz.  Follow the instructions here to get the image on your SD card.  I run Ubuntu and my SD card is at /dev/sdb so my install went like this:

cd ~/Downloads

gunzip -d OpenELEC-RPi2.arm-5.0.5.img.gz

sudo dd if=OpenELEC-RPi2.arm-5.0.5.img of=/dev/sdb bs=4M

sync

That's all.  Now we stick the card in the Pi and plug it into the TV.  I use an ethernet cable to connect it to my network.  On the first run it will expand the image to fill the SD card.  It will also run a few plugin updates and ask you a few questions.  The defaults are usually fine but I like to enable SSH and Samba now.  You can always go back and do this later in the settings if you change your mind.  As I mentioned, my Samsung TV supports HDMI-CEC so I don't need any extra remotes or hardware to control it.  Many new TVs support this but they don't market it as "HDMI-CEC".  From Wikipedia:

Trade names for CEC are Anynet+ (Samsung), Aquos Link (Sharp), BRAVIA Link and BRAVIA Sync (Sony), HDMI-CEC (Hitachi), E-link (AOC), Kuro Link (Pioneer), INlink (Insignia), CE-Link and Regza Link (Toshiba), RIHD (Remote Interactive over HDMI) (Onkyo), RuncoLink (Runco International), SimpLink (LG), T-Link (ITT), HDAVI Control, EZ-Sync, VIERA Link (Panasonic), EasyLink (Philips), and NetCommand for HDMI (Mitsubishi).

You may have this ability and didn't even know it.  This is by far my favorite thing about using the Pi as a media player.  The Kodi remote control app for the iPad is also awesome.  You can browse your files, and even add-ons, in the app and play them on your TV with ease.  A lot of times I won't even touch the TV remote.  I'll select a movie or show in the remote control app and the Pi will turn the TV on, select the correct source on the TV, and begin playing the video.  I was pleased to see that some of the other popular add-ons that I use are already available in this new release without having to add any repositories.  A few of my favorites are NHL Gamecenter (requires subscription), NBC Sports Live Extra, Revision3, TWiT, and YouTube.  To install these simply navigate to "Videos" and "Get more...".  Select the add-ons that you want and choose "Install".

 

My impressions

 

Having used the Raspberry Pi model B for a few years now I can feel a bit of a speed boost on the new Pi 2.  The main menus are comparable between the two but where the new Pi jumps ahead is the sub-menus inside the apps.  This is probably due to the fact that the Pi is doing some scraping or processing work to generate these sub-menus inside the apps that I'm using.  The faster processor handles this better.  Based on my small experience with the new Pi I would say this time is almost cut in half.  On the old model B it would take 5 seconds or so to load the sub-menus in NHL Gamecenter while now it's only taking around 2.  That might not seem like much but when you have to navigate down through a few sub-menus it starts to add up.

 

Video playback on both Pi models is great.  I can play 5000 kbit/s streams of my NHL Gamecenter games with no problems.  When I get my server set up in my new house I'll be able to add that as a source and play the files off of it too.  I also like the AirPlay feature.  I don't use it a lot because it can be hit or miss.  I think that is a WiFi issue though.  My setup used to have the Pi on a wireless bridge so streaming a YouTube video to the Pi took 3 times the wireless bandwidth.  (Once to get it from the router to the iPad, once from the iPad back to the router, and once from the router to the Pi.)  The Chromecast is smarter about this.  (It just passes the URL to the device and let's it get it on its own.)  I imagine if you were streaming from a wired device or a video that you have on your device already it would work well.  Streaming music from my iPad works well though.

 

I'm very satisfied with this new device.  I would say it's worth the purchase just for this purpose.  I would even recommend to someone using a model B for this already to upgrade to a Pi 2.  They would benefit from the increased performance AND have another spare Pi to re-purpose, maybe for a RetroPie install, for example.

{gallery} OpenElec on the new Pi

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Main Menu

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My Video Add-ons

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NHL Gamecenter

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YouTube

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NBC Sports

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Menu overlays on video without any performance hit

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Some Music Add-ons

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iPad XBMC controller browsing Video Add-ons