The Entertainment Game
I strongly feel this is one area where RPi can be a winner and a trendsetter.
Take the case of Kodi. Started as XBMC, Kodi runs on many platforms and is highly customizable. Kodi acts like a home-theatre PC (HTPC) and can also stream media from online services such as Amazon, Netflix, Pandora, etc. Though Kodi’s support for a web browser is still iffy, to play media files, it is a superb application. Kodi needs a very small version of an OS and starts with a simple and user-friendly screen. It boots in under 5 seconds. Much like Android, anyone can write add-on software and can install it on Kodi. Kodi can also become the standard for live TV offered through fibre to the home. I have been using Kodi on RPi for the last 2 years, and I am absolutely delighted with its performance. I don’t have to worry about heating and air conditioning. I can run RPi (and Kodi) in literally any environment. Media files can also be played via a Home Theater Receiver through the HDMI connectivity to get a full 7.1 theatre experience.
In the last two odd weeks, I experimented with RPi 4, and it played H.265 files and 4K files flawlessly. I am waiting for Kodi to release a version for RPi 4 and 4K. Once that is available, I may be tempted to sell the expensive HTPC that I had configured a few years ago. Using a USB based Blu-ray player, you can play any DVD or even Blu-ray discs that you have.
If only someone would put the RPi 4 and a 2TB HDD into a nice HTPC case with some server software installed!!
Media Server & Player
This is where RPi has huge potential. First, let us understand what a media server is.
If you are one who uses digital versions of music and videos, you will end up with a multitude of files all over the house. Sometimes we are so lazy that we don’t even bother to remove duplicate music files or video files. In my home, I have close to 4TB of data, music and, movie files that I have collected over the last 10 years. Sometimes I rip a CD or DVD, not realizing that I have already ripped it before. I am slowly becoming smarter by tagging ripped CDs and DVDs using simple marker.
Given such a situation, can one access and play all files using any form of end device including a smartphone, a laptop, an amplifier, or even a TV? A media server allows you to do that. A media server is a central repository of all your digital media files that allows easy access to the data from any device that is connected to a WiFi or a local network connection. Your smartphone, for example, can see all the songs you have stored locally on a hard disk that is in another room, access it and, play it.
Take the case of Pi Music Box. A simple application on the RPi, connected to a hard disk and the Internet, allows you to play music across your home using any device. Using your phone, laptop or PC, you can see the songs on your centralized HDD as well as stream music from music servers on the cloud. On all the other devices, a simple browser entry makes the connection.
Pi Music Box is one of the simplest ways of using an RPi as a music server. More sophisticated (and complicated) options are available from other vendors such as Volumio and Rune.
There are multiple things that a music server does.
- It tags all the music files and let you choose an album or a song. Some of the tagging activities including images for album cover may be charged for.
- It will display all the available music on a browser or a special application developed by the company. Such applications are available for a variety of environments such as Windows, iOS, Android, Linux etc.
- When you choose an album or a song, it will be played on the device of your choice. When connected through WiFi, the music server ‘streams’ the songs to your device. It measures the connectivity speed and ensures proper transfer of the songs. In most cases, the songs will not be physically transferred to your local device, but stored in a cache or memory for as long as you are playing the song.
- The music server can also play the song on any audio device connected to the server itself.
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