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Raspberry Pi: the Media Center for $25?

We have already talked a lot about the Raspberry Pi, the $25 or $35 “computer” (depending on the equipment). And this device is even more impressive now. In a credit card size, there is an ARM SoC Broadcom, a USB 2.0 port, an SD card reader and HDMI output. The $25 version offers 128 MB of RAM and the $35 goes to 256 MB of RAM and adds an Ethernet jack.

What impresses the most, it is not the raw performance of the beast – the SoC integrates an old ARM11 700 MHz away from today’s standards – but the capabilities in the world of video. Two recent examples are quite revealing.

The first shows the device as an AirPlay receiver, an Apple technology that allows the deportation of a video to an external display with just a “click”. The only officially compatible device is the Apple TV, but the Raspberry Pi also appears to be effective for a fraction of the price (the Apple TV worth $100).

The second example shows the device running the widely used XBMC Media Center software, which is rather popular on the… Apple TV.

A problem remains: the processor. If it plays video in H.264 – as in the examples – there are no problems, even in 1080p, but using other codecs may be less effective. H.264 is actually decoded by a dedicated and efficient unit, while switching to other formats means to decode the video software on the processor. And ARM11 700 MHz is not a good customer in this regard. It provides about half the power of a Cortex A8 at 1 GHz, a chip that can not exceed the 720p decoding software.

But for the price, the Raspberry Pi is obviously a very good choice.

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