In the last decade I’ve used several media player devices to watch movies on my TV; a DVD player with built-in DivX support (which overheated as soon as you watched a movie longer than 30 minutes), a laptop with a TV-out connection, or simply a laptop sitting on the coffee table. Since early 2010 I have been using the AC Ryan Playon HD Mini, a reasonably capable media player. It enabled me to clean up the DVDs from the livingroom, and storing them on my NAS in the attic.
However, the spartan interface and the under-specced decoding capabilities began to annoy me more and more. Also, it didn’t support Netflix, so I had to get a Chromecast for that purpose. Lately it wasn’t being used very much at all because of all the issues with it.
Raspberry Pi B+
Earlier this week I purchased a Raspberry Pi B+.
I had been wanting one for ages, just to tinker with it, but seeing that it was my birthday yesterday (my 12th primeday to be exact) I finally had an excuse.
I was amazed on how much this 32 euro minicomputer was capable of. For less than 60 euros all-in, I was able to play all my media from XMBC (in OpenELEC), and the Raspberry Pi was simply dangling from a HDMI wire behind my TV. It even supports HDMI CEC, so I can use my TV remote to control the Raspberry Pi.
Amazing! However, even though the hardware video decoder of the Pi is very capable (MPEG-2, VC-1, 1080p h.264/MPEG-4 AVC high-profile), I noticed some issues: realtime conversion of DTS audio streams to stereo (my TV only accepts Dolby Digital 5.1 or stereo) is too much for the Pi, and playback of DVDs and Blu-Ray ISOs was not very stable. I cannot blame the Raspberry Pi to be honest, as it’s only a 700 MHz ARM CPU that has to do all the work. So, I’ll be replacing the Pi with a more capable system ; an Intel Next Unit of Computing, or NUC. (The Pi will be set up as a low power Peercoin mining rig, webserver, or something else alltogether )
Intel Next Unit of Computing
I didn’t really know the about NUCs before, but I have to admit, the idea behind them is brilliant. We all know the ultrabooks; small, sleek, lower power laptops with ultra low voltage CPUs.
The guys at Intel realized that if you remove the keyboard and the screen, the processing power of the ultrabook could be fit into a different form factor. The 4×4 inch Next Unit of Computing was conceived with that in mind. Simple, small, sleek desktop computers, incomparable to their bigger brothers, the old fashioned desktop PCs.
I decided to look online for a used NUC, and for € 185 I managed to get my hands on an Intel D34010WYK, a NUC with an i3 4010U CPU (dual core Haswell @ 1.7 GHz), 30 GB mSATA SSD and 4 GB of memory. This device is more than capable of running a mediacenter; in fact, it outperforms the full fledged desktop PC I’m currently using. It also includes built-in IR, so I should be able to use a Xbox Mediacenter remote control to turn it on and off, and to control the menu.
This afternoon it’ll arrive, and I’ll be tweaking, nerding, and messing with it for the next couple of weeks. I already know that I need to sort out something to enable HDMI CEC on the NUC, and I also have to decide whether or not I’ll stick with OpenELEC, or move to Windows 8.1 with XBMC. So, if you’re in the market for a new HTPC or media player, keep an eye out on this site for updates.
Oh, the doorbell! Who could that be.