Anyone with a large digital media library will be familiar with the problem.
Thousands of MP3, MKV, AVI, FLAC and MOV files sit at your beck and call, but how best to unleash their full potential instead of keeping them cooped up on a hard drive somewhere?
FiveNinjas thinks it has the answer. It's a media player called Slice and it's set to be the first device to hit the shelves with a Raspberry Pi Compute Module at its heart.
It's designed to transform your media library into a 1TB personal, portable Netflix, allowing you to plug into any TV via HDMI and play back any media file you have in your collection.
Slice media player at a glance
- Slice media player
- 1TB Hard Drive
- Slice remote control
- USB RF dongle
- Power supply
- HDMI Cable
- USB Cable
- Protective carry bag
The project clearly carries some clout. Masterminded by pro music producer Mo Volans, the five titular ninjas also include two directors of hardware and software engineering at Raspberry Pi and the team behind popular online Linux store Pimoroni. Together they have designed and built a media player which runs a brand new customised build of the XBMC open source media software.
It's launching today on Kickstarter, with the team hoping to raise £90,000/$150,000 so it can put the final touches to the design. By pledging £109 or more (£159 for one with the 1TB drive included), you can bag yourself one of the first units when they ship in November.
"It's a throwback," says Paul Beech, director of Pimoroni and one of the Five Ninjas in an interview with TechRadar. "Western Digital, among others, tried to turn MythTV boxes into something consumer but they don't have the love for the product. The first Apple TV was a much loved, and hacked, product, but nobody's given HDD players a decent try outside of the geekosphere."
The product works pretty much as you'd expect it to. Plug it into a PC and it'll show up as a standard external HDD, enabling you to drag and drop your files onto it.
Slice will then scan the new files you've added and automatically download extended info about them including album art, movie thumbnails, synopses and so forth. And because it uses a Raspberry Pi Compute Module as its "brain", it uses very little power and needs no active cooling.
Why Raspberry Pi?
The Compute Module itself is tiny and looks just like a typical laptop SODIMM memory module, but it's actually a full-blown Raspberry Pi Model A computer that's been squeezed into this new form factor so product designers such as FiveNinjas can use it inside their own products.
It has 4GB of flash storage, which is where the Linux-based XBMC OS runs. And because it's fully compatible with all Raspberry Pi software, you can mod, hack and update to your heart's content.
It all sits alongside a 1TB HDD in a solid aluminium case which sports a glowing strip of light, using colour changes and movement to signify what it's doing.
But what about Netflix and similar services? While YouTube is the only built-in app on launch, the team is hopeful that streaming services like Netflix make an appearance at some point in the future. Currently though, no dice.
"The Raspberry Pi has proved to be the killer platform for DIY media boxen," says Beech. "And XBMC goes from strength to strength. The software can be improved through it's life, and that includes getting Netflix on there. We know it works on the hardware, so we hope our backers will make them take notice and get Netflix on the Raspberry Pi. 3 million plus is a heck of a market to ignore."
What can Slice do?
Team lead Mo Volans says the player itself is powerful enough to play full, uncompressed 48GB 1080p Blu-ray rips and is also compatible with 3D videos if that's your thing. Built-in networking and DLNA features also mean you can stream your music and movies to and from the Slice over a network, even if you're using different services like Plex to catalogue the files on your computer.
It can also act as an AirPlay receiver if your home is predominantly Apple-based, comes with a remote control and it's compatible with IR and wireless-based third party remote controls and smartphone apps, so you'll be able to use your phone to control the player no problem.
The key strength to Slice, though, is its openness to change, as both the Pi and XBMC are very malleable.
The product ships with plenty of different skins and themes to choose from. But the more advanced or adventurous can install different versions of XBMC, switch out the compute module or hard drive, or even run Debian Linux OS on it.
"We've used XBMC [soon to be called Kodi] and OpenElec as a base. It's mature software with a massive community and it can be made to work for everybody," says Beech. "We've then stripped it down to the essential stuff people actually want to do, so you start with a clear and simple media player. It works well, we've removed a bunch of quirks and bling so it has some of that Jony Ives magic that you don't see in a lot of interfaces.
"It's a player you can actually love and hack and share experiences with, as you have a whole Raspberry Pi community behind you. Try and build the same thing yourself from parts and it's the same story, you'll have spent more, you just won't know that until you add up the receipts."
If you're interested in Slice, check out the Kickstarter page to see how you can get hold of one.