Thoughts on Cheap Mediacenter

No popcorn included.

Living on my own has its perks, especially when it comes to deciding the center of entertainment. The choice between a digital media center or an old-school disc set becomes an exciting question to answer. In my quest for an affordable yet efficient solution, I explored the options of a media center and a media streamer.

Media Center vs. Media Streamer:

After careful consideration, I opted for the Raspberry Pi as my media center and the Chromecast as my media streamer. But what sets them apart? A media center is a versatile computer that can be transformed into a dedicated playback machine. While it retains its computing capabilities, it focuses on playing media files. With a media center, you can choose to play media locally, store it within the device itself, or stream it from your network storage. Plus, by adding a RM50 IR remote, you can eliminate the need for an unsightly keyboard cluttering your coffee table.

On the other hand, a media streamer is a straightforward device designed to stream content from the internet directly to your TV. Though it requires a bit of tweaking, you can also stream local media with the help of an additional processing and storage device.

Ultimately, the decision between a media center and a media streamer boils down to whether you prefer centralizing all your media or are comfortable storing it elsewhere.

Being on a tight budget, I initially embarked on the media center route using the Raspberry Pi—an affordable computer capable of playing 1080p movies with excellent image quality. Setting it up was a breeze: simply power the Raspberry Pi via micro USB, flash the Kodi image onto an SD card, and play your media files from a flash drive. It was a hassle-free experience that offered impressive results. Just remember to calibrate your TV to ensure the correct aspect ratio.

The Challenges of Expansion:

However, as I attempted to expand the capabilities of the Raspberry Pi media center—such as adding a Wi-Fi dongle for wireless connectivity—I encountered some compatibility issues. Raspberry Pi’s limited compatibility with hardware made it a time-consuming task to ensure everything worked reliably. Network drops, crashes, and freezes became occasional nuisances that I wasn’t willing to tolerate. Still, considering the Raspberry Pi’s price point of $35, it performed admirably. It’s worth noting that connecting the Pi directly to the network using RJ45 and storing media on an external HDD powered by its own brick can mitigate these issues.

PS: If you have a more flexible budget and still wish to pursue a media center, I highly recommend investing in an Intel NUC. Even the cheapest dual-core Celeron variant, paired with ample RAM and a spacious 2.5-inch HDD, will serve your needs effortlessly.

The Chromecast Solution:

Took only 48 hours to reach my doorstep - Thanks Poslaju!

Seeking a simpler and hassle-free alternative, I eagerly ordered the Google Chromecast from for RM179. While this might seem like a higher price point (though promotions sometimes offer it for as low as RM149), I found it worthwhile for the seamless playback experience it delivers.

Unboxing the Chromecast:

The unboxing experience of the Chromecast is straightforward, with minimal packaging. Alongside the Chromecast itself, you’ll find a USB wall adapter to power it up and an HDMI extender to improve Wi-Fi connectivity and work around any finicky HDMI ports on your TV.

Plug-in, Switch-on, and Set-up:

Sorry about the dust.

Within three minutes, you can have the Chromecast up and running. Just plug it into an available HDMI port, connect the power source, and follow the setup process to connect it to your network. It’s important to note that the Chromecast requires an internet connection, even for playing local content on your network.

The Chromecasting Experience:

Casting Youtube content from Nexus to Chromecast.

With the Chromecast, streaming your favorite content is a breeze. Simply launch any Chromecast-supported app, and you’ll see a casting icon allowing you to beam your current playback to your Chromecast-connected TV. Your smartphone becomes a convenient remote control, enabling you to pause playback or create a playlist of queued content. While the Chromecast works seamlessly with Android devices, its compatibility with iOS is slightly more limited. On Android, you’ll even find the current streaming session conveniently displayed on your lock screen, complete with basic control options.

But what about playing local media stored on your computer? It’s as simple as installing the Chromecast extension from the Chrome Web Store, dragging your media file into a Chrome tab, and casting it to your Chromecast. Whether you choose to centralize your media with a media center or opt for the simplicity of a media streamer, affordable options are available that cater to your entertainment needs.

Posted June 20, 2015