Media Centres

There are two main distros available here  - Raspbmc and OpenELEC.  Both of these are completely self-contained XMBC operating systems - i.e. they boot directly into XMBC without providing the user with a desktop.  The benefit here is that 100% of the Pi's processing power, memory, etc., is put towards XMBC, rather than shared between a XMBC and a full desktop OS.

First glance - nice, stable distro, easy to install (standard image as well as automated installer), works well.  Raspbmc was created for one single purpose - running the XMBC Media Centre on a Raspberry Pi.  You can start by heading over to the website.  Under the downloads section you'll find several options which I'll try explain.

Windows/Mac OS X Installer
This will download a standalone installer that, when run, will download the latest image and write it to the SD card.  Couldn't be simpler.

When the installer is run you'll be presented with the screen above.  Simply select the relevant device, accept the license agreement and click install.  The latest image will be downloaded and applied to the SD card.  Once the installation is complete you'll see this image:

Network Installer
This is a image that you'll need to write to the SD card yourself, and will need to ensure your Pi has network connectivity.  Once it boots up it'll connect to the Raspbmc site, download the latest image and apply it to the SD card.  A little more work on your side, but a very clean approach, making sure that the latest image available at the time of first launching your Pi is applied, rather than the image available at the time you download the installer.  Not necessarily a big issue for everyone, but there are scenarios where this might be beneficial.

To write the image you'll need DD for Windows.  You can find the details here - just substitute the image names where relevant.

Standalone Image
As with the Network Installer this is an image you'll need to write to the SD card yourself, although this is the full image you'll download, so you run the chance of using an out of date image.  If you're slightly OCD like me, this somehow seems like the preferred method as you know exactly what you're writing to the card!
As with the network installer above, if you need help writing an image to your SD card then take a look here.

First glance - pretty much the same as Raspbmc, nice and stable.  Slightly more work to install, but works well.  OpenELEC is slightly different from Raspbmc in that it is a well know, stable Linux-based XMBC solution targeted at any number of platforms.  The installation process is more manual here.  The website has a great tutorial but you'll essentially need to get the latest code, compile and build the solution.

Luckily, there are people out there that are more than happy to do that for us on a daily basis!  Have a look at Chris Swan's blog, also detailing compiling and building the latest OpenELEC version.  Chris kindly posts a daily build of both the compiled code as well as an image ready to be written to your SD card (thanks Chris!)

As with the other options above, use this info to write the image to your SD card.

I'll post feedback following my testing


  1. Hi Tass, I'm very interested in buying a Pi together with a PiBow case to do some tinkering.

    I currently have a dell zino hd410 handling my media center needs but I'm sucker for geek tech so yeah... ;)
    What I would like to know is how well does the Pi play SD mpeg-2 video/audio. I hear there are a lot of issues with sound? Did you have any? I still have to see a descent review/test video on Youtube so it's making me question it's potential as media center. (I'm sure it serves other purposes perfectly but this one interests me the most)



    *sorry for spelling errors :)

    1. Hi Stanny

      Now what I've got my wireless us and running I've played around with my media centre and my audio seems fine, although my media mainly consists of h264 & divx. I'll dig a bit and see if I can find some mpeg-2 and try it out.

  2. Hi Stanny

    Sorry, I haven't had a chance to play around with much streaming - the wireless card I've tried is playing up. I'm aiming to pick one up at Maplin this weekend (apparently they work well). I'll try give you some feedback soon.