Raspberry Pi XBMC tutorial


  1. Introduction
  2. The Raspberry Pi
  3. Raspbmc installer
  4. Booting the Raspberry Pi
  5. Install MPEG-2 and VC1 video codecs
  6. Change the default skin to Quartz
  7. Set up a WiFi adapter
  8. Change resolution to 720p
  9. Disable thumbnail extraction
  10. Power it off a USB port on your TV


The Raspberry Pi, while just a bit slower than the Apple TV 2, can run XBMC media center and provide output in 1080p H.264 video, all from approximately £35 as you may have most of the required accessories at home already.

XBMC interface

This tutorial will detail how to build a lightweight HTPC front-end by installing and configuring a minimal Raspberry Pi XBMC distribution called Raspbmc.

To complete this tutorial, you will need:

  • Raspberry Pi board model B
    This version has 512MB of RAM and should cost approximately £30
  • Raspberry Pi case
    This is optional and you could even build a case for it yourself out of lego
  • Ethernet cable
    You may have a spare at home and will need this for easier initial setup, then you could convert to a wifi dongle
  • HDMI cable
    You may also have one of these spare at home
  • SD memory card
    At least 8GB class 6 or 10 recommended - unbranded or cheap cards may not work
  • USB stick
    You should definitely get a fast USB 3.0 stick and install XBMC on it. You will get much quicker menus and fast fan arts
  • Micro USB power adapter
    Your phone charger should work if it is NOT an iPhone - any micro USB 5V charger with more than 1amp
  • XBMC compatible remote control
    You can use a standard wired or bluetooth keyboard or even a smartphone with official XBMC app
  • Raspbmc Installer
    Information detailed below

The Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi is a tiny computer that plugs into your TV with a HDMI cable. It decodes 1080p H.264 HD video smoothly, and the XBMC user interface is quite responsive as long as you use a light weight skin.

You can also unlock MPEG-2 and VC-1 decoding by purchasing a license from the foundation's online store.

Raspbmc installer

Raspbmc installer

The Raspbmc distribution is created and maintained by Sam Nazarko and you can download the latest version here. This tutorial uses the Windows installer.

Before launching the application, plug-in the SD card reader and unplug any other USB storage devices to make sure you will not format an incorrect drive by accident.

Now, launch the Raspbmc installer application and select the SD card reader from the devices list. As mentioned earlier, it is recommended to use a USB stick as a storage partition on the Raspberry Pi, so tick the box on "Install Raspbmc to a USB drive".

After clicking the "Install" button, it will take less than a minute while the installer downloads and restores the image to the SD card.

Booting the Raspberry Pi

Raspbmc installing

After plugging in the memory card, USB stick, USB keyboard or remote control, Ethernet cable and power adapter, the computer will boot up and the installer program will run for about 15-20 minutes.

The Raspbmc will boot up the computer once the installer script is ready.

Congratulations, now you have Raspberry Pi XBMC ready to use.

Install MPEG-2 and VC1 video codecs

In order to play MPEG-2 and VC1 video files, you will need to purchase codec licenses from the Raspberry Pi foundation.

Install the codecs by following these steps:

  • Purchase MPEG-2 and VC1 codec license keys
  • You will receive the license key to your email within 72 hours
  • In Raspbmc, go to Programs > Raspbmc Settings > System Configuration
  • Enter the license key from your email to MPEG-2 and/or VC1 codec under the Advanced system settings
  • Reboot the system

Change the default skin to Quartz

Quartz skin

Confluence skin works fine, but you can improve the responsiveness of the system by using an even more lightweight skin. Quartz skin is a very responsive skin, so I would recommend installing it.

Set up a WiFi adapter

You will need to use a Network Manager add-on to configure the WiFi adapter.

First, you will need to install the add-on from System > Add-ons > Get Add-ons > XBMC.org Add-ons > Program Add-ons > Network-Manager > Install

After installing, go to Programs > Network-Manager and Add on configure your WiFi network settings.

Alternatively, if you have any problems in getting your WiFi adapter working, you should try the OpenELEC distribution.

Change resolution to 720p

If you don't watch 1080p videos, you should change the resolution to 720p as it will make the system and menus a bit faster.

Go to "Settings > System > Video Output > Resolution" to change the resolution.

Disable thumbnail extraction

By default, XBMC will extract thumbnails from videos that have no thumbnail in the library. As this consumes quite a lot of CPU performance, you should disable this feature to speed up navigation in the library.

Go to Settings menu and select Video > File lists > disable "Extract thumbnail and video information".

Power it off a USB port on your TV

As this computer does not have a separate power button, a good trick is to connect it to your TV's USB port, so that when you turn on your TV it will also boot up the computer. This way you will also need one less power plug.