Raspberry Pi Jukebox (XMBC)

tldr; I wanted to use my Raspberry Pi as a jukebox (music only) using XMBC, but it doesn’t like to run without a screen.

I recently acquired a second Raspberry Pi. I’m using the first one for a bunch of web automation stuff for work, and I intended to use the new one to encourage my son in the direction of hacking/programming stuff. However, he’s mostly interested in Minecraft, which also has a lot of potential when it comes to hacking/programming, but doesn’t really lend itself to the low power of the RaspPi. So, for the moment, I have this additional Pi sitting around to play with.

One of the cool things that folks are doing with RaspPi is the XMBC project, which is a home theater server. There’s several Raspberry Pi distros of it, and I tried the Raspbmc distro, since it was *really* easy to install.

It boots up directly into the media center UI, much like a Roku does, so there’s no mucking about with user accounts, and no learning curve for folks who aren’t Linux users. Very slick.

Unfortunately, I primarily wanted to use this as a jukebox, for music, and not for media. As such, I wanted to run it “headless” – ie, without a screen – and be able to control it entirely with the remote, for the purposes of playing music in my office.

I ran into two problems.

One, in order to do what I wanted, I needed to have several USB devices hanging off of the Pi, including a wireless networking dongle and a USB hard drive. Both of these draw quite a lot of power, and so can’t be plugged directly into the Pi, but have to be plugged into a powered USB hub. It appears that all of the USB hubs I have don’t provide sufficient power. From the reading I did, this seems to be a common problem – that “powered’ USB hubs often don’t provide as much power as they promise, and so it makes it hard to actual use powered devices on them. The symptom I experienced was that the hard drive kept powering down every few minutes, and I’d get a warning message on the Pi.

Which brings me to my second problem.

When rebooting the Pi, I very consistently got a warning message that I hadn’t powered it down properly. This warning message is a popup dialog that requires you to click OK. A second dialog warns you against shutting down the device incorrectly, and also has an OK button. Unfortunately, this means that it’s effectively impossible to run the device without a screen, ’cause you can’t see to click OK. As stupid as that sounds, this was a game-stopper for me, as I don’t want to dedicate a screen to my jukebox in my very limited office space.

FWIW, I eventually purchased a Roku (as I blogged earlier) as a late Christmas present to myself and Maria, and it does the jukebox stuff as well as all of the other shiny things.

But I’d still like to do something with this Pi sitting on my desk. Suggestions welcomed.