When it comes to home entertainment, nothing beats a media centre. Out there in the market, one can find a hundred different ready-to-use media centre systems from many companies, but the thrill and satisfaction of building your own custom media centre is just unbeatable.
However, building a media centre totally from scratch is no child’s play. It requires a certain amount of know-how, a bit of luck, and a lot of patience. So, if that sounds good to you, read on!
Building a Media Centre
Manually setting up a home media centre involves integrating various components together into one seamless network that performs as a team. The main things to set up are mentioned below:
Things you will need:
For the actual building process, you will need a pair of cable cutters for the speaker system connections. You will also need a static wrist strap to avoid damaging the raspberry Pi with static electricity. You might also want to invest in a case for the Raspberry device, to keep it safe from dust, dirt, and accidental damage.
This device is easy to set up. All you have to do is to place it in the right direction, and ensure that the positioning is apt for viewing. The television itself will receive the audio and video cabling from the media centre device. The type of audio and video cable you need depends on what the TV supports. Most modern TVs come with HDMI support.
As with any media centre, the PC will act as the heart of the unit. All the media that you view will be streamed to the TV from the PC. An inexpensive and amazing solution for this would be to go for the Raspberry Pi, a credit card-sized computer that’s powerful enough for media centre needs. The Raspberry Pi comes with 2 USB ports, an Ethernet port, and support for HDMI cables, as well as an SDHC card slot. The SDHC card will contain the media centre software (XBMC is a good option), and you can connect a USB keyboard and your external storage solution to the 2 USB ports. The Raspberry Pi takes power from the mini USB port, so a mini USB charger will also be needed.
The Audio Set-up
Setting up the audio is easy, as long as you plan it well before beginning. Firstly, determine how many rooms will be involved in the media centre plan. Would you want to have the audio audible in more than just the main hall? Choosing the right kind of coaxial cable is also very important. Once the speaker systems are set up, the cabling needs to be done in such a way that it does not hinder movement inside the home and does not look ugly either.
The cabling system you choose will determine how well your media centre will perform. Digital coaxial audio cable is the best for this job, and setting it up is quite easy. However, it is important to choose the coaxial cable with the right impedance. Impedance is the most important factor in a coaxial cable, which determines the level of power transferred across to the speakers. For the media centre, the digital coaxial audio cable with 75 ohms impedance is the best for video streaming, while the 50 ohms coaxial cable is fine for audio. Also, a higher impedance value will be necessary if the distance between the media centre and the speakers is greater.
You will need certain types of connectors: HDMI, Audio Female type (in case of a custom made speaker), and Audio Male Type connectors. Most speakers come with a female jack of 3.5mm, and the male connector must be of the same dimensions.
A proper storage solution is essential for the media centre. With the raspberry pi being used, you will need to go for an external hard disk drive for storage that can communicate with the raspberry through a USB cable. Otherwise, a NAS solution will also do, as the raspberry Pi comes with an ethernet port too. Another important factor to consider is to connect the device to sky+ box, allowing you to access a lot of live and streaming content from across the globe.
Putting it all together
Now that we have a basic idea of all the components we will use, let’s put them together. Here are the steps to go about it all:
- Get all your components together and organise them in a way that you will find them all easily accessible.
- Insert the SDHC card into the slot in the Raspberry Pi and enclose it in the case.
- With the case ready, now connect the various cables from the raspberry Pi. Connect the mini-USB charging cable to the port and keep it ready to be plugged in.
- Next, connect the HDMI cable to the display/ television.
- Connect the external storage device to your USB port.
- The audio cables, if used, need to be connected from the television to the speakers. The TV probably has specific audio ports for specific channels. If the TV sports a 5.1 channel system, you will have 6 audio ports: rear-left, rear-right, front-left, front-right, middle, and the sub-woofer. Make sure to connect the right speaker to the right port.
- Connect the USB keyboard to the raspberry pi, boot the system, and turn on the TV. If all goes well, you should now be able to see the Raspberry Pi booting up on your TV.
- Start up the XBMC software and test your connections by playing media files off of your external storage.
This was a crash course in setting up a basic cabling system and a home media centre that works amazingly well for all your entertainment purposes. Once you set up this media centre, the possibilities are endless – hours of fun and limitless entertainment for the whole family!
Christopher Parkinson originally studied microprocessor design theory before testing phone lines and repairing faulty circuit boards for a couple of telco companies. His interest in electronics started at an early age when he used a screwdriver to open up a video game console to see how it worked. These days Chris is a home electronics enthusiast who enjoys tampering with the latest technology, when not writing about the latest Raspberry Pi kits from Newark.