December 5, 2016

Turn Raspberry Pi 3 Into a Powerful Media Player With RasPlex

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Raspberry Pi media
This tutorial shows how to build an inexpensive Plex Media Player using Raspberry Pi 3 and RasPlex.

I have hundreds of movies, TV shows and music that I have bought over the years. They all reside on my Plex Media Server. Just like books, I tend to buy these works and watch them once in awhile, instead of relying on "streaming" services like Netflix where content isn’t always available forever.

If you already have Plex Media Server running, then you can build an inexpensive Plex Media Player using Raspberry Pi 3 and RasPlex. Plex Media Server is based on open source Kodi (formerly  XBMC), but is not fully open source. Plex Media Center has a friendly interface and it’s very easy to set up a media center (See our previous tutorial on how to install it on a Raspberry Pi 3 or on another dedicated Linux machine).

One of the best ways I’ve used my Raspberry Pi 3 was turning it into an extremely inexpensive media player. I get more out of my $35 Pi 3 than Chromecast, which costs almost the same. And if you already have a Plex Media Server running, it makes a lot of sense to turn those ‘dumb’ TV sets into powerful Plex Media players, without putting a hole in your pocket.

What you need

  • A Raspberry Pi 3

  • Micro SD card (minimum 8GB storage)

  • A Linux PC to prepare the Micro SD card

  • Monitor, keyboard and mouse for initial setup

  • 5V 2A micro USB mobile charger

  • Heat sink (Multimedia playback will get the chips hot. You can buy them online on Amazon.com)

  • A free Plex account (and paid PlexPass if you want to access it over the internet)

  • A TV with HDMI input

  • HDMI cable.

Plug in your Micro SD card to the Linux system and download RasPlex installer from the official site. Open a terminal and go to the directory where the .bin file or RasPlex is downloaded. In my case it was in the ‘Downloads’ folder:

cd /home/swapnil/Downloads

Now make the file executable:

sudo chmod +x GetRasplex-debian64.1.0.1.bin 

And then execute the file:

sudo ./GetRasplex-debian64.1.0.1.bin

(Note: The version number may change, so don’t just copy this command.)

Now it will open the RasPlex SD card writer utility. Insert the Micro SD card to your Linux PC and hit the refresh button so it can detect the card. Once detected, choose Raspberry Pi 2 from the model number and version 1.6.2 (or the latest version) from the RasPlex. (Even if the image is for Pi2 it worked fine with Pi3).

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Next click on the Download button to download the version of RasPlex. Once the image is downloaded, the Write SD Card button will become active. Just hit the button and it will start writing the image to the card.

Please install the heat sink on the chips (as shown below) so they absorb extra heat created while the Pi 3 is churning out HD videos.

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Plug your Raspberry Pi 3 into the TV using the HDMI cable. Connect the keyboard and insert the RasPlex Micro SD Card and power the device with your 5V mobile charger. You will see RasPlex on the screen. Let it install on the card and configure. Once configuration and installation is finished, you will see the welcome screen for the set-up wizard (below).

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If you are using a wireless network, then during the first setup you can configure the wireless. The following image shows the networking screen during RasPlex set up.

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In case you want to change the wireless connection, you can always do that post installation from System Settings as shown in the following image.

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Once you are connected to the Internet, you can log into your Plex account. To make things easier, RasPlex asks you to open this URL (www.plex.tv/pin) in a browser on any device and enter the PIN shown on the RasPlex screen. Once you enter the PIN, RasPlex gets access to your Plex Media Server.

Now you are ready to enjoy your  Plex Media Server (running on another machine - perhaps another Pi 3!) on any TV in your house that has HDMI input.

You can further fine-tune RasPlex from the settings.

If you have a modern TV or AV system that supports HDMI-CEC then you can control RasPlex from the TV or AV remote. I manage my RasPlex server from the remote of my Yamaha AV system. If you have an older TV, then you can either get remote modules or use a mini keyboard, something I use with my Smart TV, Xbox, and other devices as it makes it easier to enter usernames, passwords, and the like.

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This image shows Indiana Jones playing on RasPlex on my 4K Samsung TV, I am using a remote for the Yamaha AV system for navigation.

Slick experience

You can see an ultra high-definition (UHD) movie playing on my 4K Samsung TV in the image above (keep in mind that unlike Pine 64, Raspberry Pi 3 doesn’t support 4K video). Initially I was skeptical as ultra high-definition videos never played smoothly on the $35 Raspberry Pi 3, even when playing from local storage. Since Plex does all transcoding at the server side, RasPlex offers a very slick experience. Videos, even full HD play really smoothly: no jitters, no lag whatsoever.

I am enjoying my RasPlex quite a lot given that I "built" it myself. So, if you are like me and love to tinker with everything Linux, this project is for you.

Read the previous articles in the series:

5 Fun Raspberry Pi Projects: Getting Started

How to Build a Minecraft Server with Raspberry Pi 3

Build Your Own Netflix and Pandora With Raspberry Pi 3

For 5 more fun projects for the Raspberry Pi 3, including a holiday light display and Minecraft Server, download the free E-book today!

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