|Product Performed to Expectations:||10|
|Specifications were sufficient to design with:||10|
|Demo Software was of good quality:||10|
|Product was easy to use:||10|
|Support materials were available:||10|
|The price to performance ratio was good:||10|
|TotalScore:||60 / 60|
One of the "must have" appliance to have in a modern house is some type of kit that will allow you to play your music and videos on your TV and through your audio system. I am hesitant to define this better than a Media Station simply because media is a broad term and these appliances tend to do more every day. Furthermore if the platform you use is a computer then it really can be anything you want it to be. Media Station is a comprehensive term I am using for something entertainment related but not only.
With this in mind choosing the right hardware platform which could serve as a base for the Media Station was fairly easy and I opted straight away for the new Raspberry Pi 3B.
The Raspberry Pi has always been a good candidate for Media Centres and it has been used for that purpose shortly after its introduction to consumers in 2012.
One of the most limiting factors of the Raspberry Pi has been for a while the slow performance of the CPU and the limited amount of RAM in early models. Over time we have seen successive models adding memory and providing better performance initially by leveraging on overclocking the CPU and eventually moving on a new platform all together with the new Broadcom BCM2837.
When it comes down to multimedia these are all important factors so that the fruition of contents via specialised GUIs and the playback of medias all happens flawlessly and without major hiccups.
The Raspberry Pi 3B delivers just those kind of requirements adding to an already powerful GPU the features that makes it into a perfect Media Centre which can be easily turned in a Media Station.
There are many OS distributions targeting primarily one or more types of medias:
For some reason Pictures always come in second and are generally marginalises. The reason I believe is found in the average life cycle of a picture which starts on a phone, goes on a cloud and reaches others via either social networks of some kind or directly with our phones and tablets. Having said that the possibility for offline content for pictures is often available in those distributions which are mainly targeting video and plugins for social media are also offered.
Examples for the three categories above can be Volumio, Rune Audio, Moode Audio, etc. for the Audio type. For the Video Kodi is the de facto standard and OpenELEC, LibreELEC, OSMC, etc. implement that in one way or another with striking similarities across them. When it come down to games it has to be reminded that it is retro-games that we are talking about and the offer out there is mainly given by Recalbox, Retropie and Lakka.
The idea was to realise a portable system which allowed me to play Audio, Video and Games albeit retro ones. My requirements seemed to be met by the following:
BerryBoot is the perfect boot manager for the Pi, it has the possibility to specify parameters which need to be common across the various OSs which come in handy when needing to provide the configuration for the audio boards which generally require a few entries in config.txt.
WD Labs offer a custom version of BerryBoot but for the purpose of this project we need to resort to the official version which provides more flexibility.
Having this boot manager allows us to switch between the various OSs every time the system is restarted and effectively "transforms" our platform into something else every time without needing to change SD cards. By using the WD PiDrive we provide plenty of space for all our media be that audio files, movies or games. These last ones could be very large especially since the RPi 3B can easily run PSX games!
As for the SmartPi Touch and the official touchscreen they seemed to be the best choice to render the platform portable.
The first part of the assembly is to put together the Raspberry Pi and the Touchscreen within the SmartiPi Touch case, some time ago I made a video to explain that in great detail.
The WD PiDrive needs to be placed in its case before being attached to the SmartiPi Touch case. I used bluetack but hot glue will make it for a more safe choice. As for the JustBoom DAC it needed an additional stacker header and a couple of spacers so that it could be fixed at the back of the case with the protective lid in place (refer to the video about the lid).
|This is the final result||Detail of the back|
Although there are ways to install standard OSs with BerryBoot the best approach is probably to download them "ready made" via Berry Server which in fact provides pretty much every OS for the Raspberry Pi converted in the right format for BerryBoot so that it can easily be imported as you would copy a file across.
Installing and configuring BerryBoot is fairly easy and so it is downloading the images from Berry Server and importing them onto the WD PiDrive. As for the configuration necessary to enable the audio card it is sufficient to change the config.txt so that it includes the following:
also make sure that to comment out dtparam=audio=on if present.
As for the various OSs used for the Media Station each requires minimal configuration for example to do with the media location, plugin installation, additional settings for the audio card, etc.
The Raspberry Pi 3B keeps its promise of being a versatile platform and with increasing performances and better hardware also kept the promise of keeping the $35 mark for the price. This setup is not cheap but all things considered still pretty economical given all it can deliver.
Using the various OSs was quite a pleasant experience as with the rather powerful hardware now available for the B series of the Raspberry Pi the booting time is dramatically reduced, the GUI is virtually flawless and having the onboard WiFi and Bluetooth makes connectivity immediate and painless. Despite I used the Ethernet cable for some higher quality movies the onboard WiFi was otherwise more than capable of handling everything else.
With booting time greatly improved using BerryBoot to switch between OSs wasn't a problem at all and things could be kept neatly separated between them.
The quality of audio coming from the JustBoom DAC was impressive and this is largely due to the underline system being able to handle HiFi quality audio through I2S. This makes it the perfect platform for high quality audio with the likes of Spotify and Tidal inching to better and better integration.
Movies can be played in full HD although with this particular screen things couldn't be appreciated in full but the end result is still quite spectacular thanks to improved performances of the Raspberry Pi 3B using Kodi is practically frustration free and we no longer need to disable things here and there for the GUI to be responsive.
The retro games don't require great performance when it comes down to the ZX Spectrum or the C64 but the ability of playing PSX games was really quite impressive and confirmed how much this little inexpensive platform has really got to offer.
Last but not least I added the possibility of running Raspbian as we shouldn't forget that the main purpose of the Raspberry Pi is to mainly serve as aid for future generation's education! The results were rather encouraging as with the Raspberry Pi 3B I also used the official touchscreen which, especially for the young ones, offers the possibility of providing input in the familiar method that tablets offer. Despite the GUI has to catch up to it this is certainly a welcome addition to the more traditional keyboard and mouse.
My apologies and thanks go to the people at Element 14 who organised this road test a year ago. I was given the possibility to participate but somehow life caught up and ... well here I am now, sorry it took so long! Once again thanks for the opportunity and for all the hard work you guys put into making things like this possible.