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I am looking for a simple solution to play videos and music stored on my NAS. I've found the Raspberry Pi and projects like OpenElec and RaspBMC which will run XMBC on the board.

My problem is that I've found inconsistent reviews regarding the performance. Some sources say, the board isn't powerful enough to render the GUI, which results in lagging, while others say, they play HD videos without any issues.

Although the price of the device is pretty low, I don't want to buy it simply to find out it isn't powerful enough for my needs.

It would be ok for me if

  • I don't need to wait a minute for a reaction in the XBMC menu
  • I have to wait some time until playback starts
  • If it doesn't play all videos (I could re-encode)

It would not ok

  • If videos are lagging

Is the Raspberry Pi sufficient for this requirements or should I have a look for more powerful hardware? Please keep in mind that I am not a consumer and I am perfectly fine to play around with the device.

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OpeneElec is the best thing out there.. as of now! I tested it and XBMC works well- decodes xvid/divx @ 15fps with audio(no lag) But the menu does take a second to a few seconds on high CPU usage. That is the best option in terms of price and extendibility. I have not seen anything better than XBMC for Pi.For my media centre I have use a dualcore AMD with a GTX card and BluRay player. That is still the best way to go.. You wont see me replacing that with a Pi for the next 2 years. –  ppumkin Aug 13 '12 at 12:00
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@ccellar The thing is that the HD video goes through the GPU and the menu doesn't... as far as I am aware. –  Alex Chamberlain Aug 13 '12 at 14:40
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Yea- So if the source is all encoded in H264 then the video will play independent of the GUI and should be slick enough. But they are working on the GUI to run in OpenGL:ES too (which is independent from the H264 decoder). So it will much faster once they get to that! –  ppumkin Aug 13 '12 at 14:44
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Keep in mind, not all of the H264 profiles are supported by HW acceleration (for example 10-bit per channel Hi10p decoding is not supported -- if you have a lot of recent anime in your collection you probably have a few of these files floating around) -- also you'll want a TV set that can decode hi-def DTS audio on its own -- that leaves the lightest load on the RPi as it can just stream the unmodified audio channel out with very minimal processing overhead -- otherwise you may drop frames if you attempt to decode hi-def audio. –  BrainSlugs83 Feb 2 '13 at 8:05

7 Answers 7

up vote 28 down vote accepted

First of all, remember that software for RaspberryPi is in early state of development and there are a lot of problems with it. They are worked on all the time but still, it's not yet as polished as it could be. Currently RaspberryPi is more oriented to developers than to normal users. It was never designed to be media center it just happens to be possible to use it like that. So a lot of people are running raspberrypi as media center with success. However here are a couple of glitches you may encounter:

  1. The CPU of RaspberryPi is quite low-end and it can't really decode video at decent speed (even SD MPEG2). Hardware acceleration has to be used but by default only H264 can be hardware accelerated. You can buy a licence key to enable additional hardware decoders from RPi foundation (currently you can buy MPEG2 and VC-1 license). Graphics chip on RaspberryPi is VERY powerful and if video is encoded with a format supported by the hardware decoder, it can easily play HD content 1080p. But you will have to transcode all your material that is in different formats. And hardware decoding only works with dedicated video player (omxplayer). It is used by RaspBMC so if you plan on using this solution, you should have no problem. If you are planning on running your own distribution, you have to integrate omxplayer. Also bear in mind that omxplayer is quite young project and while it's quite stable, it's not perfect (like most things on RPi dedicated software). Normal graphical environment (X server) does not use accelerated graphics. This is why you found some informations about slow GUI rendering. AFAIK XBMC is using OpenGL ES which does use hardware acceleration so it's not a problem if you plan on using it.

  2. There are some problems with sound as it's drivers are not good quality right now. You may hear some glitches in audio.

  3. There are also problems with USB on Rpi, this wont let you use USB card to make audio problems go away. And since network chip is also connected using USB, there may be some glitches. Most of them are addressed right now in new versions of software but there may be some more.

  4. Because of the way USB on RaspberryPi was designed and because of the drivers issues, there may be problems with some USB keyboards or other remote contollers. You may need to use good active hub to connect USB devices. Especially if you are planning on using Wifi.

Most of the issues mentioned above will be invalid after some time as it will probably be fixed. But this may take some time to get there.

To sum up - you asked if it's powerful enough. I believe it's not a good question because it's not really power issue here. Hardware is powerful enough (if you can transcode everything to h264) but software is not mature enough and has some glitches. It may not be simple enough to get it working without problem and this is what you are looking for.

So my suggestion is - if you plan on learning something about Linux, embedded devices, multimedia etc and are willing to spend some time reading about that and experimenting and having working multimedia device is only a bonus, Raspberrypi will be good choice. if all you need is multimedia player, buy something else, some finished product designed for this purpose.

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The pi consists mostly of a chip which was intended to be a media center, rather than a general purpose computer. That is why its GPU is so capable, but inflexible. The pi project is riding on that, but re-purposing the capability for general purpose computing more than for media. –  Chris Stratton Aug 13 '12 at 13:33
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I just wanted to say the the "Graphics chip" is not responsible for decoding H264, the hardware H264 decoder is. The graphics chip is OpenGL:ES which is independent and the CPU is also separate.Using openelec i watch divx at 15fps- once they move the GUI to OpenGL:ES it should be faster. –  ppumkin Aug 13 '12 at 15:09
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But h264 decoder is inside VideoCore chip which I called graphical chip. And I believe it is using some code running on VC core so I think one could say it's running on gtaphical chip. But truth is it doesn't matter in this context. –  Krzysztof Adamski Aug 13 '12 at 17:25
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An addition to your answer: since yesterday, you could by license for MPEG-2 and VC-1 which enable hardware decoding. See raspberrypi.org/archives/1839 –  ccellar Aug 28 '12 at 10:47
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The same (hardware + software issues) is true about any media player out there. The question then becomes - are you willing to spend under $50 and be frustrated or do you want to spend $xxx and beyond and be frustrated. At least in the first option, you have the power to change things, not to mention - its lighter on the pocket as well. –  Mrchief Nov 6 '12 at 17:45

Soon there will be a completely new alternative, Razdroid. It is Android 4 and already has a proven track record for embedded devices (Smartphones/ Google TV/ and posh toasters). A developer (Naren) from Braodcom is the main project contributor and in the final stages of porting Android 4 to the Raspberry Pi.

{Community Mod- It would be great to embed a video right here} Link to video on Youtube

It supports H264 videos nativley and the GUI is slick because it uses OpenGL:ES directly. The only thing left to do is port the sound system. This is potentially the OS for the Raspberry Pi as it is already has tons of application for media centre use and games.

The plan is to merge Razdroid port into the Debian Kernel already available.

You can download beta versions here.

Android 4 reference 1, reference 2

enter image description here

Android 2.1 as mentioned in comments

enter image description here

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That screenshot shows the Android version as 2.3.7 Gingerbread, yet your post mentions Android 4. Also from the speed and stability of Android on an even much faster device (1 GHz dual core Tegra, 512 MB RAM), I would think that some major advances would have to be made to make Android run well on a Raspberry Pi. –  Kibbee Aug 17 '12 at 12:18
    
You are right I did not even notice that.I added the 4 img and reference. Apparently the new port 4 runs quite well on the Pi. Sure, it wont be amazing but still! –  ppumkin Aug 17 '12 at 13:07

Ive been using Raspbmc (http://raspbmc.com) for a little while and I have found it to be really good, more than adequate performance and great stability (I dont remember it ever going down).

The only comment I would make is that when I compare xbmc runing on the raspberry pi v's running it on a 'typical pc' is that the when streaming videos from my NAS drive over my network I get more 'buffering' when running on the raspberry pi, I can only assume this is due to the raspberry pi not being able to allocate enough memory to the 'buffer'.

Increasing the cache in xbmc advanced settings made a big improvement, but it still not 'as good'.

However when streaming media off attached storage, i.e. the sd card or a usb drive for media, I noticed no different at all in performance.

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Thanks a lot for the hint with the caching. I stumbled already over this ;) –  ccellar Oct 2 '12 at 11:46

I recently set up my RPi with the intention of using it as a media center. I have three computers networked that are all accessible via XBMC running on XBian. Setup was as easy as downloading the .img file from xbian.org and then writing it to SD card via Win32DiskImager. All I did after that was hook it to my TV with HDMI, plugged in the SD card and then the power adapter and voila...instant media center.

It had no issues whatsoever finding files from my three networked computers and was capable of playing high quality 720p video over the network (wired, not wireless) without any glitches whatsoever, No lagging and no other issues. I have yet to try any 1080p content but that's my next step.

On a side note? After hooking up the the RPi via HDMI I was able to use my TV remote to navigate through menu's, I didn't have to change any settings...it just did it out of the box but your mileage may vary. :)

Hope this helped

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What? You used your TV remote to navigate the menus on Pi via HDMI? CEC –  ppumkin Aug 17 '12 at 11:47
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@ppumkin Recent versions of Raspbmc, XBian and OpenELEC contain support for CEC. See raspberrypi.org/archives/1839 –  ccellar Aug 28 '12 at 10:44
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I navigated XBMC with my remote by accident and I almost fell off the chair :) –  Florian Gerhardt Aug 31 '12 at 19:09

I have used Raspbian which is general purpose Debian based distro and added XBMC to it with this guide - http://michael.gorven.za.net/blog/2012/08/06/xbmc-packages-raspberry-pi-running-raspbian

This is best guide for getting XBMC to work on Raspbian.

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This thread is a little old, but figured I'd give my 2 cents anyways.

Like Stu, I'm using XBian on my Pi and have a few different computers networked to it. So far I'm not having any issues. I use network shares from my main computer, and my roommates, to watch videos in the living room. Over a network cable I have not seen any lag. I don't have a WiFi dongle to test out the wireless, but my wireless sucks anyways. There are only a couple of places where I can say I have experienced "lag". When trying to access the menu during playback it takes 3-4 seconds before it displays, but that's trivial in my opinion. Also, after closing the menu while the video was still playing in the background, I have noticed a slight increase in the playback speed as if it were trying to catch up, but that might just have been because of the amount of time I had spent in the menu while troubleshooting a sound issue. In case you are curious, I had it plugged into the wrong input and then not plugged in at all. Spent an hour trying to figure that out.

Besides that, everything runs very smooth. Menu transitions are fluid, even during playback. Audio and Video sync up. Setup is pretty much nill. I had to adjust my screen alignment, but I am also using an older TV. The only problem I am faced with now is DVD playback and figuring out how to get the samba "shortcuts" to the proper sections, if that is even possible. All-in-all, I think this was a wonderful investment that beats my prior investment in a PS3, that I don't really use anymore, hands down.

Besides, it has so much potential! I can't wait to start pushing this puppy to the max!

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You should get one, RASPBMC is a super easy to setup with the network installer and it works great, get the iphone remote controller app, and 1channel add-on and you've got more free tv and movies then you deserve, all for $35.

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Raspbmc has already been mentioned by the OP himself and in other answers. –  Alessandro Cosentino Jan 4 '13 at 1:32

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