Thoughts on Cheap Mediacenter

No popcorn included.

One of the perk of living on my own is be able to decide what’s the center of entertainment going to be. Is it digital, or old-school disc set? For me, it’s a question of choosing between media center, or media streamer.

Media Center vs Media Streamer

Raspberry PI as media center and Chromecast as the streamer.

So what’s the different between both? Well, Media Center is a full-fledge computer where you turn from basic processing into playback machine. At heart, it is still a computer but now with specific functions. You can choose to play your media locally, store inside the media center itself or you can have it streamed from your network storage. Throw in RM50 IR remote and you don’t have to mess your coffee table with ugly keyboard.

Media Streamer, on the other hand is a very simple device to stream your content from internet to your TV. With some workaround, you can stream your local media as well but this usually involves another device to do the processing (and storing as well).

Put simply, if you like to centralize all your media then Media Center is the perfect setup. Else, if you don’t mind store your content somewhere else then Media Streamer will do the job.

I went with Media Center route at first because that’s what i could build quickly based on already available Raspberry PI. This is the cheapest computer you can buy that can play 1080p movie with great image quality just fine. Plug in some power via micro usb, flash Kodi image into sd card and play your files from flash drive. Simple as that. Don’t forget to get calibrate your TV to get aspect ratio right.

When Simple becomes Complex

As soon as you try to expand it - let’s say, installing wifi dongle so you don’t have to connect using cable to network. This is where you might end up spending more time trying to get it to work because of Raspberry PI’s limited compatibility with hardware. The easiest part is getting the right hardware, but the trickiest part is getting that same hardware to work reliably. Random network drops, random crashes and random freeze, it’s not just something that i would like to deal with for now. In the end, you can’t ask more from $35 computer. Do note if you plug your PI directly to network using RJ45 and store all your contents on external HDD powered by its own brick, it will work just fine.

PS : If you’re still interested in getting media center and have budget to spend, i would highly recommend for you to get Intel NUC as media center computer. Even the cheapest dual-core Celeron will do the job. Just install enough RAM and biggest 2.5inch HDD you can find, business is done.

The best media center you can buy. Forget the remote, just control from your smartphone.

Ka-ching the Chromecast

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

I quickly put an order for Google Chromecast on for RM179 after decided i would just stream all my content. While this might be a pretty steep deal (promotion goes as low as RM149!) but i think its worth the hassle for flawless playback.

The theater of unboxing - by Google.

There is nothing fancy to show and tell about unboxing the Chromecast, as this is a very simple product that came together with minimal packaging as well. Aside from Chromecast itself, bundled together are USB wall adapter to power up Chromecast and HDMI extender to improve wifi connection and get around some quirky HDMI slot on your TV.

Plug in, Switch on, and Set up

Sorry about the dust.

You don’t need more than 3 minute to get it up and running - just plug Chromecast into any available HDMI port, connect the power source and you’re done. Just follow the setup process to have it connected to your network. Do note that Chromecast required internet to work, even playing local content on your network.

Chromecasting Experience

Casting Youtube content from Nexus to Chromecast.

To start, just run any Chromecast supported apps and you’ll see casting icon to beam your current playback to Chromecast. Your smartphone will act like a remote control where you can pause the playback or building a list of queue content. I found Chromecast to work better with Android than iOS, since current streaming will appear on your lockscreen with some basic option for quick control.

But how do you play local media stored on your computer? That’s simple. Just install Chromecast extension from Chrome Web Store, drag your media file into Chrome’s tab and cast it to your Chromecast. Streaming has never been easy.

Posted June 20, 2015

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