Friday, May 24, 2013

The Raspberry Pi Airplay Receiver

About two weeks ago, I saw a Kickstarter project that would allow a Raspberry Pi computer to control a Lego Mindstorm robot. I’ve been playing with them a little with the native Mindstorm controller, but it’s bulk and eats batteries. I backed the project, and hoping that will come through this summer.

However it got me slightly excited, and I decided to buy one of the computers. I looked around for a project since I didn’t want to get one and have it sit around, and I found lots, but not a ton that I thought were useful. Except this one: building an Airplay receiver. I ordered two Raspberry Pi’s (and a case) from Allied Electronics and they shipped in a week, arriving late last week.

Here’s a Raspberry Pi:


That’s my hand in the picture, so it’s a fairly small device. Easily fits in my palm, but it has HDMI out, audio headphone out, RCA video out, USB plugs (2) and micro USB for power. An SD slot is on the bottom for storage. It doesn’t look like much, but it’s fairly powerful, as I found.

Once it arrived, I realized I hadn’t planned things out and had to order a couple 8GB SD cards and wifi adapters. I got the parts fairly quickly, and yesterday I decided to give this a try while talking on the phone for work.

I downloaded the raspbmc image, and burned it to an SD card. That was simple, and I configured the wifi generically in the setup. Once that was done, I inserted the SD card into the device, added the wifi adapter and then headed upstairs. I used my cell phone charger to power this up, plugged in a keyboard in the other USB port and hooked this to my TV with HDMI.


It booted itself up!


I have to say this was actually the easiest setup of a computer ever in my life. Outside of the Apple II, which had everything burned in ROM, this just worked. It actually connected out to the Internet, after a Linux style boot, and started downloading updates and packages.


I let it run, talking on the phone, checking on work downstairs. After about 20 minutes, it was up and running. The interface was fairly intuitive for a GUI without a mouse, and I was able to get an add on for NPR running, and also the Airplay system worked. My old iPhone, connected to the same wifi network, saw it as a destination for playing music and I was able to send things through. A slight delay, so it must buffer things, but it worked great.

The kids liked it, and we were able to also download some photo apps as well. The raspbmc image allows for audio and video, and images, including a screen show type display. That is interesting. I was thinking to just use this in the kitchen for Airplay audio from the iPad, but I’m now thinking I should consider setting up some small video display as well. We’ll see what I can come up with that might look good in the kitchen.

I set this up, and it worked great. No chance to cook last night, but I’ll give it a whirl today.


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