Ask LH: Will A Raspberry Pi Media Centre Cut My Electricity Bill?

Ask LH: Will A Raspberry Pi Media Centre Cut My Electricity Bill?

Hey Lifehacker, I use XBMC to watch TV at home on a fairly old PC. I’ve been told I can migrate this over to a Raspberry Pi and save on electricity, but will this actually be worth it? Thanks, Pi-Eyed

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Dear Pi-Eyed,

It is indeed possible to set up a media centre running XBMC on the Raspberry Pi — we have detailed instructions on how to do that. Such a media centre will certainly consume less power than your current box. That won’t necessarily make a massive dent in your power bill (home heating and cooling remain the major offenders here), but every little bit helps.

That said, it’s worth recognising that a Raspberry Pi media centre has some limitations: it won’t play back 1080p content reliably, and it won’t offer access to streaming media. If those features matter to you, consider buying (or building) a new media centre machine. A newer PC should consume less power (and be less noisy) than your old one. Whatever you choose to build, good luck!

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • I have an Asrock ION3D box running windows 7 for XBMC, and it gets the job done without too many issues, if i recall it uses ~30watts (which is probably what a laptop would use, by comparison my i7 desktop can on average use something like 60watts) so if my maths is correct your looking at under half a cent per hour to run a ~30watt machine, so your looking at ~$44 a year for 24/7/365 which isn’t a lot although it all adds up, but a RasPi probably wont save you more than $50 a year if you leave it on 24/7/365 depending on the cost of your current box (but assuming its quite an old one that has a high power requirement).

  • It depends on the PC really. The old ones had really bad power management.

    I’ll also throw in that I have one, I love it simply for its low cost, easy of use with a smartphone and it does play everything. (I haven’t had a problem with hd mkv files)

  • I bought a raspberry pi to replace the HTPC I have in my bedroom so I could repurpose that box, however after much mucking around, several installs of different software, buying a faster SD card and USB3 thumb drive I have come to the opinion that XBMC on RPi sucks balls and is a slow, laggy POS.

    • Install OpenElec on it and bam she’s a beaut.
      It could also be your power supply because RPis are known to have issues with unsuitable power plugs

      • maybe I’ll give OpenElec another run, tried multiple power supplies so pretty much ruled that out (unless the at least 6 I’ve tried are all no good). Still to replace even a modest HTPC seems like a big compromise.

  • On my experience, I’ve been running OpenElec on my RPi 512Mb and streaming 1080p files have been a good experience.

    In terms of streaming content, you can AirPlay content to it which I actually prefer because finding content using the TV remote is a bitch.

    Very happy with the RPi. Extremely cheap, quiet and cool yet capable!

    • You’re right it works fine, but going from a HTPC to RPi is like trading a V8 on a Hyundai Getz. It’ll get you where your want to go but the experience is far worse.

      There’s a few second lag starting a video, can’t multitask at all, I’ll often want to bring up a webpage and quickly check something, fast forwarding and searching for a specific point in a video is painful.

      I just don’t believe they are a good replacement for a HTPC even if you save a bit on your power bill.

    • As many as you can plug in, but it’s bottlenecked by the USB2 bus. I use a hub, and have attached two USB sticks and a 1tb external drive and have got ‘mostly’ reliable performance. You have to remember that it’s running on outdated mobile phone components, and any intensive I/O can make it fall over. Trying to read/write between multiple external drives is a ‘fingers crossed’ situation. Better to do all admin from another PC and then only read from one drive at a time.

  • Ok, I hate to break it to you, but the RPi certain can handle 1080p media playback. That’s like, the thing it’s well known for (apart from being “The $35 [HUGE ASTERISK] computer”)

    • True from a technical standpoint, but in practice, streaming video is… inconsistent. I have one attached to the back of a tv with a vesa mount. When it works, it’s ok, but the UI is slow, and sometimes the video ‘stutters’.

      • Maybe your distro isn’t quite optimised? Raspbmc tends to lag because of the full linux distro bloat.

        Try using OpenElec and you’ll get 60fps UI and wayyyy faster boot time

  • Anyone else having reliability issues with their Pi? I’ve been through two in about 18 months. The poor liitle buggers are like guinea pigs, they just die on me.

    Additionally… I was at my local convenience store when a tech was installing a screen showing a slideshow of promos. From the boot-up, I could tell it was powered by a Pi running Raspbian. Two days later the the thing was dead.

    • RPis are known to be unreliable if you’re using an unsuitable power supply.
      Search for ones made by more well known brands. Preferably even the approved ones they list

      • I’m using a new 1W Samsung charger. Haven’t checked to see if it’s on the approved list, but you’d think it would be ok.

  • If you have a media server, then just get an Android media stick, like the Kogan Angora, or a Chinese one.
    They are quad core so run media quite well, have great purpose built remotes, and run off of the tv’s usb port, so no additional power waste.

    If you don’t have a media server, you can still plug in an externally powered hard drive into sticks like the Kogan.

    • LyndonL I’ve tried the quad core android stick, it’s not good for 1080p because it can’t hardware decode 1080p I’ve tried cubieboard same thing only thing that does 1080p the best is rpi. If you know how to get 1080 to work excluding mx player app let us know 🙂

  • I have found that xbian is the quickest for running XBMC on a pi (revB). using an old iphone charger I’ve not had to attempt hurdling any insurmountable’s.

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