Jeff Griffin

Quart: A Raspberry Pi Prototype

Posted on March 6, 2013

Recently I have been spending my nights obsessed with this latest prototype based on everyone's favorite low-cost, low-power, educational computing platform, Raspberry Pi.  I have to say, this platform and its community have cleared away any fear that the tech industry would someday yield nothing but and endless supply of lowest-common-denominator targeted "gadgets", leaving no refuge for thought.  Nay, this is in fact a golden age for the curious and inventive.  So now with my jaded husk removed and my enthusiasm refreshed it's time to document all the things, because I've been having too much fun to stop.


Quart Logo by Emily Griffin. Raspberry Pi is a trademark of the Raspberry Pi Foundation.

The prototype I'm now affectionately referring to as "Quart" started with my dissatisfaction with using my XBox 360 as the media solution for our bedroom.  The Windows Media Center Extender has been worthy of its tenure in our home, but every time I wanted to play a game, I'd be missing out on important visual details (truer every year), due to the extremely dated, stereo, standard definition tube in that room.  Call me cheap, I just can't justify another LCD for a room where it would be so casually used.  I moved the 360 downstairs in time to play Halo 4.

Enter XBMC as the obvious  front runner.  I really have only one overarching SAF feature requirement for this particular terminal, and that is to watch TV upstairs.  TV, in this scenario is primarily qualified as recorded shows.  I don't witness a lot of channel surfing and god knows I hate doing it.  Nevertheless I seem to get both features with MediaPortal on my server and the latest Frodo release of XBMC.  Let me say right now, from the perspective of an MCE stalwart, XBMC's is not a great TV experience right now.  It's a brand new feature so I'm sure it will be improving.  However this is a decision that reflects where the cable TV sits on my own list of priories, when laid next to other virtues; flexibility, internet streaming options, active support and  great new features like mobile DLNA and Airplay streaming.

So what else was the hardware going to be?  I had looked at some passively cooled Atom/Ion devices in the past, but this decision did not take long.  The RPi runs at a positively green 3.5 Watts under load and is completely silent.  Maybe not the most powerful system, but this room needed a light terminal.  Now, with an open source 10 foot interface, open source operating system and open hardware platform, I could  look at the whole picture with an ideal in mind.

The Ideal

Having used the XBox as an extender, It's easy to see that the gamepad as a 10-foot control peripheral works in this scenario.  I simply don't need another remote for this room.  Ultimately no remote, however ergonomically designed, works as well in the dark as a gamepad, and a UI built to support it.  This may be a polarizing point, and I'm willing to concede that it requires two whole hands, and that in a living room it would never fly.  I can't imagine flipping on my TV and expecting a visitor to find the game or start the movie this way, but this is the bedroom.  It needs to be easy to use for us, but the muscle memory is an inexpensive one-time cost.

Also, my wife and I are on the cusp of generations X and Y.  Are there games in our room?  Yes, there are games in our room.  Naturally this is not a beefy device, but it's more than capable of being a great platform on which to curate some of my favorites of old and serve them up in a pleasing way for myself, my wife and for posterity.  So here then is the short list of targeted features/qualities.

1. Plays recorded cable programming from TV server

2. Plays my old games from dusty platforms

3. All functionality must be gamepad accessible.  I'll be able to SSH into it for maintenance, but I don't intend to attach a keyboard or anything else.

4. Sturdy enclosure, well integrated with gamepad/s.  Should be pleasing to the eye, though it will be in a cabinet.

5. Fast boots/game loads

Incidentally, similar forays by Steam and OUYA lend credence to the concept of a light-weight Linux-based network appliance as a 10-foot entertainment hub.

Current progress to these ends discussed in the next post.

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