Creating a Media Server

Since I started playing with my Raspberry Pi/FreedomBox, I’ve been talking about it with my friends and family (all non-geeks). They all think the software the Freedombox provides is cool, but not enough for them to shell out $100 for it. However, I’ve also been telling them about how the Raspberry Pi can be converted into a media server, and they have all shown incredible excitement over that.

Let me back up and explain exactly what a media server is, for the sake of this discussion:


What is a Media Server?

In terms of functionality, a media server is a device that contains and serves media, like music and movies. Think of a DVD player that can save your movies and music and play them back for you on-demand.

In terms of hardware, a media server is simply a Raspberry Pi connected to a TV, and most likely, a portable hard drive plugged into one of its USB ports. Your MP3 music files and DVD ISO (like those made with AnyDVD) can be uploaded to the hard drive and the Raspberry Pi can read them, and play them back on the TV. This same hardware setup (minus the TV connection), by the way, is identical to the minimum requirements to run OwnCloud, a personal cloud server. OwnCloud is one of the packages that is targeted for implementation in the FreedomBox project.


Combining a FreedomBox and Media Server

Why not have both a Media Server and a FreedomBox combined? This is the idea that I pitched to the FreedomBox group and got a variety of replies.

One important objection is that the Raspberry Pi probably does not have the bandwidth to do both. As an embedded computer, running a media server is probably going to push it to the limits of it’s computational power. There are several demonstrations that the Raspberry Pi is quite able to perform as a media center. However, FreedomBox services will probably have to be shut down or throttled during DVD playback. Alternatively, two Raspberry Pi’s could be connected together – one running the media server, the other running the FreedomBox software.


Experimenting with a Media Server

All this research convinced me to spend some time playing around with software and see how hard it would be to get a media server going. I made a backup image of the working Freedombox I had loaded on the Pi and reinstalled NOOBS with Raspbian (see previous posts on how to do all this).

While there is a variety of software that can be used as a media server, the most popular by far is XBMC. XBMC can not be installed with apt-get on the Pi as it is reported as a broken package in Raspbian. However, installation is not much more difficult than that. I found these two helpful pages:

Using my SSH remote-admin console, I was able to follow the binary install guide to the point that I should now be able to plug the Pi into a TV and run XBMC. I’ll give it a go this afternoon and report back with my findings.

I also need to verify that the Pi will detect and read my portable hard drive.

2 thoughts on “Creating a Media Server

  1. Steve Phillips (@elimisteve)

    Hi Chris,

    Glad to hear that you’ve found some non-geeks that are excited about turning a Raspberry Pi into a media center! What about hosting their own websites from home and being less dependent on central services for such things? Anyway, I ask because I work on arkOS (arkos.io; intro video at ), and we allow people to do that and much more (see http://vimeo.com/78115143). It’s all completely open source, and we (The CitizenWeb Project) are a non-profit.

    I need to try FreedomBox 0.2… what do you like most about it? Jacob Cook, the creator of arkOS, has done a great job of having regular arkOS releases for the past year or so — things are really shaping up! We’ll be launching 0.6 soon (see https://arkos.io/dev/roadmap) and we’re always adding features.

    Also, have you had performance issues on the RPi or is it fast enough? We just added Cubietruck support only yesterday (https://arkos.io/2014/05/arkos-support-for-cubieboard2-and-cubietruck/)! And we’ll be adding BeagleBone Black support soon.

    Anyway, just thought I’d touch base and tell you about arkOS since you seem to be into that sort of thing. And if you ever compare FreedomBox and arkOS side by side, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!

    –Steve Phillips
    steve at citizenweb dot is
    Technical Director of The CitizenWeb Project

    Reply
    1. christroutner Post author

      Hey Steve,

      I’ve heard of arkOS, but haven’t had a chance to play with it. I’m planning to document the steps needed to install Retro-Share on Raspbian and then I think I might try arkOS out. Thanks for the info!

      -Chris

      Reply

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