That's true enough, but there's nothing compelling you to buy this XMBC kit - and if you're looking for a fun extra to bundle for a first time Pi-naut, this could be exactly what you're after.
Inside the box you'll find a 1m HDMI cable, 3m Ethernet cable, a 4GB SD card with pre-installed XBMC OS and a nifty all-in-one wireless keyboard/touchpad/gamepad/media controller thing. Outside of the Raspberry Pi itself, a power supply and display, this pack manages to provide everything a girl or boy would need to get a Pi up, running and having fun with.
Let's be clear, all the elements supplied in the pack can be bought or sourced separately. Element 14 sells the controller - we'll look at that shortly - on its own, the cables you may already have, and the dedicated XMBC OS can be sourced for free from a number of places and whacked on any old SD card.
But throwing a bundle of used cables at your loved one and shouting "get on with it" seems somehow less nurturing than handing them a purpose-made pack (perhaps we're just over-sentimental). We'll take a look at the controller, how well XMBC works on the Pi as part of the bundle, and then explain how you can install it yourself and get a little more from it.
1. In control
The controller is a proprietary 2.4GHz wireless unit – so not Bluetooth – and comes with a standard phone-sized lithium-ion battery, stored in a recess along with a USB dongle.
The battery is charged via a mini-USB port and there's a handy on/off switch. The controller has a decent textured feel to it and the buttons all have a reassuring click to their action.
Mouse movement from the touchpad was entirely smooth and it has two round pads that offer media and gaming controls. The main omission is a backlight - you're going to struggle to use this in the dark - and it's also overpriced for what it is, considering the lack of Bluetooth.
2. Setting up the Pi
The kit comes with relatively comprehensive instructions and certainly fits the bill as a getting-started bundle for any would be Pi-naut. An advantage of the touchpad is that it frees up a vital USB port, rather than having to use two for a mouse and keyboard. So even using a USB wireless adaptor, you could be self-sufficient without the need of a hub. Yay!
3. Easy as XMBC
With the supplied SD card inserted, power up and the Pi will boot. If you've used XMBC on Linux, PC or Mac then you'll know what to expect, but perhaps not how it's presented.
The dedicated OS boots directly into XMBC, so it's ready to go. It's a handy solution - when you're not using it as a media centre, just swap out the SD card and tinker to your heart's content.
The interface is easy enough to navigate by mouse or keypad, but before going any further you'll want to add media, ideally via a network connection or USB drive.
4. Connect me
If you use the wired Ethernet port any network should automatically configure; if you want to use a wireless dongle - as we did - you'll need to jump to the next step to find out where to configure this. If an internet connection is discovered, a rather ugly update automatically process kicks in.
So ugly, in fact, that we thought the OS had crashed - but rather a badly chosen screen mode wasn't helping. The update is rather lengthy but essential, because it updates all the plug-ins and system so they're optimised for the Raspberry Pi.
5. Select wireless
This is a handy time to mention USB wireless adaptors - the one failing of the instructions. This omission is a shame, because XMBC comes with a configuration tool built in, if you know it's there.
To configure a wireless adaptor you need to select the 'Programs > Raspbmc Settings' tool. It has a 'Networking' section where you can switch from 'Wired' to 'Wireless', then set the SSID name of your wireless network and add the password alongside, selecting the correct encryption.
6. Adding a media source
XMBC works best if it can link to a network share, UPnP device, NAS or attached media drive. If you add this as a source, it'll automatically create a linked library to whatever TV, film, music and images it finds in there. Select 'Video > Files > Add Videos'... and use 'Browse' to choose the source folder. You can add multiple sources from different places.
Our passing play with Raspbmc showed it happily handling HD content when played off USB storage. This included 1080p video with DTS audio, which is impressive for such a device.
Less impressive was wireless performance, which played 720p YouTube streams, but failed any of our HD content - even basic 720p h.264 clips. We'd suspect the actual wireless connection, but this was in an environment where other device happily streamed the same content.
Streaming SD content worked a treat. A VC-1 hardware decoder codec is available for just £1.20, and this supports any Blu-ray-based content.
8. Create your own Raspberry Pi XMBC
You can and may want to create your own SD-booting XMBC OS. The XMBC project maintains a list of compatible Raspberry Pi builds on its wiki. The version bundled with this pack is from Rasbmc and it's supplied as a single download file, which you extract and install to your SD card. It's no more complex than that with installers available for PC and Mac.