Be forewarned….. this is gonna get a bit techy.
This past weekend I was home alone. Erin was off to Medicine Hat for a wedding shower, and Cole was at the lake visiting Grandma and Grandpa. I don’t often get a solo weekend to myself, so I did what any guy *batching it* would do….. work on the computer? I spent a good chunk of time on the weekend (when I wasn’t watching baseball, football and catching up on Making a Murderer) tweaking another project on a Rasperry Pi. I have 3 in the house and another couple on the way (upgrades).
What is a Raspberry Pi you ask? I talked about it briefly in a previous blog post. It is a small, barebones, low power computer. It comes with a board/cpu/memory/usb ports/sd card slot/video out/nic (and wifi/bluetooth on the model 3). No case, no keyboard, no power, no storage. But it is all about the size of a wallet and can be had for around $50. These little mini computers are just perfect for building projects that require low power (you can run from battery if you like), small footprint, and little storage. Since initially being released a few years back, they have upgraded the machine to be more powerful and have a few more bells and whistles while keeping the same price point.
At the moment there are 3 projects I have worked on using a Raspberry Pi:
This is what I started with. I have a big storage server (unraid, a topic of a future blog post) that I have all my media on (TV/Movies/Music) so I was looking for a small/low powered computer to hook to my TV and allow me access to all those items. Openelec was a perfect fit. It was a relatively simple install to an SD card. Then you hook up to your TV and off you go. The Pi has an HDMI port built in so it was a simple hookup to the TV, pointing Kodi to my network storage and it was pretty much setup. If your TV supports CEC (pretty much all new TVs do) you will even be able to control the device with your TV remote. It is a great/low cost way to access all your media you have available. If you hook up an external drive to the Pi you can run everything right from there. With Kodi you can add a tonne of plugins. There is streaming, integration into other devices, etc. There is so much it can do. This is a great way to get started in the Kodi world. If you want a full featured home theatre computer, her is a great project to look in to.
Once I set up my Plex server (see my previous post), I wanted something that integrated a bit better than Kodi did (with PlexBMC/Kodi plugin, which works OK if you want Plex with Kodi). RasPlex is an alternative project to take your Raspberry Pi and make it into a Plex client. Again it hooks direct to your TV with HDMI and with a CEC TV you can control with your TV remote. If you get the new Model 3 Pi you have wifi built in. Otherwise you need to hook up to your network via a cat5 cable or an add on wifi usb device. Setup is even simpler. If you have a Plex server already running, it is usually as simple as writing the SD card, hooking up to your TV/Network and powering on. Then you are off and running. If you run a plex server, this project is an absolute must for the TVs in your house. RasPlex is one of the best clients around.
RetroPie is my latest project. RetroPie allows you to hook up video game controllers to your system (usb/bluetooth), install rom dumps of old video game systems, and then allow you to start gaming like you did in the old days. Lots of old systems are supported. I spent the better part of my weekend configuring it to run Nintendo, Gameboy, Gameboy Colour, Super Nintendo, Sega Master System, Sega Genesis, Turbo Graphics 16, Nintento 64, TRS-80 CoCo (my first computer as a kid), Sony Playstation and more. It requires a lot of patience and some techy know-how to get setup, so it isn’t for the faint of heart. But with a little time invested you can re-live your youth with this system. Some folks have taken this to the next level, building fancy stand up arcade boxes to house this Pi and give your basement rec-room that vintage arcade feel. Once I get the project set up the way I want…. I may even tackle that as a project. For anyone that lives the old retro gaming vs the new systems, this project is a must.
OpenHab is my next planned project. I have a few devices that are taking advantage of automation. I have a couple lights on remote. I plan to expand adding other devices (smart thermostat, computer controller, etc). The OpenHab server (which you can run on Raspberry Pi) will allow you to manage all those devices and control with phone/computer/controllers. In there you can write programmatic control of your devices (turn the lights on at random times while you are gone, email me if someone opens the door, phone me if the furnace quits, etc). I’m pretty excited to get this one going.
So that is a summary of the projects I have on the go, but there are many more on the net. Many peripherals have been built for the Pi that have allowed people to use them in new/creative ways. Touch screen monitors, environmental sensors, robotic controls, unique power systems with device control are just a few. People are building smart touch screen calendars and smart mirrors for the home. Others are building smart in vehicle entertainment systems. Security monitoring, portable gaming, inexpensive internet appliances, the combinations are endless. And you can pretty much get started for under $100 all in (that will get you a kit with Pi, case, power supply, memory card and cables). If you are technically inclines at all, I highly recommend giving it a try.