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Review of XBMC Bundle for Raspberry Pi

Scoring

Product Performed to Expectations: 10
Specifications were sufficient to design with: 10
Demo Software was of good quality: 10
Product was easy to use: 9
Support materials were available: 9
The price to performance ratio was good: 7
TotalScore: 55 / 60
  • RoadTest: XBMC Bundle for Raspberry Pi
  • Buy Now
  • Evaluation Type: Independent Products
  • Was everything in the box required?: Yes
  • Comparable Products/Other parts you considered: Apple TV, Western Digital Play!
  • What were the biggest problems encountered?: Price is high in Norway due to VAT/customs.

  • Detailed Review:

    Equipment

    • Raspberry Pi model B, with 512MB RAM
    • Sony Bravia 46-inch TV (running Linux!)
    • Netgear ReadyNAS with video/audio/photos
    • Netgear WNR3500L v2 router running Tomato firmware

    DSC_0415.jpg


    Preface

    I want to start out with a few lines about my previous experiences with a similar solution.I have previously played with RaspBMC and OpenElec on my Raspberry Pi, and controlled them with a traditional mouse/keyboard or an app on my smartphone.My experience with this was that it worked ok, but not perfect;

    • Installation on the SD card is not difficult, but could confuse new users
    • Earlier versions of RaspBMC were kind of sluggish (in the menus etc - the media was played fine)
    • Controlling through WLAN is fast, but I found it to be just a little slower than I’d like. In addition I like to use my smartphone for other things while watching media, so I prefer not having to switch to the XBMC app every time I need to control XBMC.

    I was therefore looking forward to starting fresh, with a pre-installed SD card and a mini-keyboard with a touchpad built in.


    Startup

    And a positive experience it was!

    Everything was in a nice package, with a simple manual for connecting the cables.

    I simply put the SD-card in the Raspberry Pi, and connected the cables (network and HDMI) and keyboard/touchpad and watched it boot on my TV. The first boot was pretty slow, as the software needed to unpack itself and update itself. This is totally acceptable, considering that this is a 700MHz ARM CPU with limited RAM. I guess this took 10-15 minutes, before I was greeted with the XBMC menu. My WDTV Play (a standard media player from Western Digital) used more time than this on its initial boot.

    DSC_0428.jpg

    The mini-keyboard responded immidiately when used, both on navigating with keys and navigating with the touchpad. It has a great form, fitting nicely in my and it’s relatively quick to write on - considering the size. It also doesn’t feel cheap, it’s nice and tight. The keyboard has media keys, that all do what they should in RaspBMC som it feels like a good fit. There are some media keys (such as browser and email) that do not work, but I assume this is intended - as far as I know RaspBMC doesn’t have - or need - a browser or an email client


    As a side note, I tested the keyboard on my Windows 8 computer, and that worked fine also.

    Not that it really matters to the XBMC Bundle, but it is nice that it works just as a standard mouse and keyboard, regardless of the OS.



    Comparing with other devices

    I own a Western Digital Play, that is kind of simular to an Apple TV, and also comparable to Raspberry Pi with XBMC. My TV also has some media functionality built in, so I also compared with this


    The built-in software in the TV has the advantage that you don’t need an extra device. It can find DLNA shares, and play media from them - but nok MKV files. It is ok in use, but it is a bare minimum of functionality.


    My WDTV cost a little less than an Apple TV, but plays all formats (including MKV). It also supports Netflix. These two features were the reason I bought this device in the first place.

    However, the device is really slow to navigate, and the remote control is also really slow in use.


    Both of these are running Linux, but neither of them give you any control over how they work. Either they work for you, or they don’t.

     

    The Raspberry Pi also plays all formats great, and XBMC give you lots of control. It is also quite fast compared to the WDTV, and compared to running a 2012-version of XBMC on a Raspberry Pi. Navigating is simple and quick with the mini-keyboard, and everything feels nice and tight.


    Conclusion

    The Raspberry Pi with the XBMC bundle is a great package. It’s affordable, powerful and gives you lots of control. In addition, the Raspberry Pi can be used in a variety of ways that a pre-built media player can not.


    Although affordable, the total price is pretty close to a WDTV or an Apple TV. I believe that these units would be a better fit for non-tech users, as they can have support etc. In addition, they support various streaming services.


    As I mentioned, one of the reasons why I bought a WDTV was the ability to use Netflix. My 5 year old son uses Netflix for watching children’s shows both on the TV and on the iPad, and my girlfriend also uses Netflix on her tablet, as well as the TV.

    To put it short - if Netflix is needed, then the Raspberry Pi with the XBMC bundle is not suitable. The funny thing is - if I was asked about this a year ago, this wouldn’t even be considered. Netflix wasn’t available in Norway before the end of 2012.


    If you want something that plays backed up media and other local files, is scriptable, and gives you total control - then go with a Raspberry Pi and the XBMC Bundle. It really does what it should, and it’s simply fun to have something that you can modify.


    If you want something that supports streaming services like Netflix and Spotify - then go with a pre-built device. The Raspberry Pi and XBMC Bundle is a tinkerer’s toy



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