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Hackernoon logoCan a Pi 4 replace your home theatre PC? by@devnull

Can a Pi 4 replace your home theatre PC?

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@devnullJulian Lam

Co-Founder (@NodeBB) | Husband πŸ€·β€β™‚οΈ | Saxophonist 🎷 | Conductor 🎡 | Rock Climber πŸ§—β€β™‚οΈ | Foodie πŸ₯™

The short answer is yes. For my labour day long weekend project, I decided to try my hand once again at configuring a Raspberry Pi as a home theatre PC.

I'd been enamored with the little device ever since the original version came out, and always wondered what could be achieved. Over the years, work and life got in the way, and I never fully utilized the full potential of the little devices, leading to a number of them sitting unused in my desk drawer.

Pictured above are two Raspberries Pi, the original and the 2B (on the left). Neither do much right now, and given the fact that the second didn't even have a case, it was never really put into use. The 2B I actually purchased in an attempt to use as a home theater PC, but it ended up not being suitable because it was much too slow for my (and my spouse's) use case.

Having gotten used to the relatively snappier UI of a HTPC built on a repurposed desktop computer, the UI delays were simply too much to bear.

Is the new Raspberry Pi 4 a more worthy successor?

My basement smart TV has been more trouble than it was worth. For starters, its UI was unbearably slow, and would often disconnect from the wired or wifi connection, and to top it all off, it would turn itself on at odd hours in the morning. Lovely.

In preparation, I bought the 4GB variant of the Pi 4 from BuyaPi.ca (Hello Ottawa!) with a Flirc case and micro-HDMI adapter. I threw in a Rii keyboard as this was meant to be a media PC.

Here I thought the build would take awhile, but with the Flirc case being dead simple to use (it didn't come with instructions, but who needs instructions anyway?), four screws and one (included) thermal pad later...

I bought an SD card pre-loaded with Raspbian, and in ten minutes flat, I was good to go (8 minutes of which was spent on glorious unboxing)

What I discovered was the Pi was more than suitable for HTPC tasks. It was snappy, and it's not a leap to say that you could use this credit-card-sized computer as a development machine if you wanted (although build tasks would take longer).

Just for fun, I installed NodeBB on it and ran a sample build -- how does it stack up?

2020-09-05T03:44:10.875Z [3006] - info: [build] Asset compilation successful. Completed in 93.391sec.

Not bad... 93 seconds is pretty terrible compared to my XPS, which can run the full build in 10 seconds, but comparable to a $5 DigitalOcean instance, which on average builds the entire NodeBB asset base within 70-100 seconds.

What did I end up doing with the Pi?

  • Followed this guide to enable better media playback of YouTube and Netflix
  • Set up MythTV Light to act as a frontend to my existing MythTV backend server (on another HTPC) -- no need to run additional cable wires through my house to access the main antenna!
  • Installed Pi Hole to filter out unwanted trackers and advertising network-wide

All of these were installed on the RPi 4, which itself has shown no signs of slowdown. To be able to replace the awful on-board UI on the TV with what is basically a full-fledged desktop for $100 is beyond amazing. The Raspberry Pi community is large, active, and arguably the best part of owning a Pi. If you've got one kicking around, give this a try!

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