Tag Archives: The MagPi

Securely tailor your TV viewing with BBC Box and Raspberry Pi

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Thanks to BBC Box, you might be able to enjoy personalised services without giving up all your data. Sean McManus reports:

One day, you could watch TV shows that are tailored to your interests, thanks to BBC Box. It pulls together personal data from different sources in a household device, and gives you control over which apps may access it.

“If we were to create a device like BBC Box and put it out there, it would allow us to create personalised services without holding personal data,” says Max Leonard.

TV shows could be edited on the device to match the user’s interests, without those interests being disclosed to the BBC. One user might see more tech news and less sport news, for example.

BBC Box was partly inspired by a change in the law that gives us all the right to reuse data that companies hold on us. “You can pull out data dumps, but it’s difficult to do anything with them unless you’re a data scientist,” explains Max. “We’re trying to create technologies to enable people to do interesting things with their data, and allow organisations to create services based on that data on your behalf.”

Building the box

BBC Box is based on Raspberry Pi 3B+, the most powerful model available when this project began. “Raspberry Pi is an amazing prototyping platform,” says Max. “Relatively powerful, inexpensive, with GPIO, and able to run a proper OS. Most importantly, it can fit inside a small box!”

That prototype box is a thing of beauty, a hexagonal tube made of cedar wood. “We created a set of principles for experience and interaction with BBC Box and themes of strength, protection, and ownership came out very strongly,” says Jasmine Cox. “We looked at shapes in nature and architecture that were evocative of these themes (beehives, castles, triangles) and played with how they could be a housing for Raspberry Pi.”

The core software for collating and managing access to data is called Databox. Alpine Linux was chosen because it’s “lightweight, speedy but most importantly secure”, in Max’s words. To get around problems making GPIO access work on Alpine Linux, an Arduino Nano is used to control the LEDs. Storage is a 64GB microSD card, and apps run inside Docker containers, which helps to isolate them from each other.

Combining data securely

The BBC has piloted two apps based on BBC Box. One collects your preferred type of TV programme from BBC iPlayer and your preferred music genre from Spotify. That unique combination of data can be used to recommend events you might like from Skiddle’s database.

Another application helps two users to plan a holiday together. It takes their individual preferences and shows them the destinations they both want to visit, with information about them brought in from government and commercial sources. The app protects user privacy, because neither user has to reveal places they’d rather not visit to the other user, or the reason why.

The team is now testing these concepts with users and exploring future technology options for BBC Box.

The MagPi magazine

This article was lovingly yoinked from the latest issue of The MagPi magazine. You can read issue 87 today, for free, right now, by visiting The MagPi website.

You can also purchase issue 87 from the Raspberry Pi Press website with free worldwide delivery, from the Raspberry Pi Store, Cambridge, and from newsagents and supermarkets across the UK.

 

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New book (with added computer): Get Started with Raspberry Pi

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The Raspberry Pi Press is really excited to announce the release of Get Started with Raspberry Pi. This isn’t just a book about a computer: it’s a book with a computer.

Ideal for beginners, this official guide and starter kit contains everything you need to get started with Raspberry Pi.

Inside you’ll find a Raspberry Pi 3A+, the official case, and a 16GB microSD memory card – preloaded with NOOBS, containing the Raspbian operating system. The accompanying 116-page book is packed with beginner’s guides to help you master your new Raspberry Pi!

  • Set up your new Raspberry Pi 3A+ for the first time.
  • Discover amazing software built for creative learning.
  • Learn how to program in Scratch and Python.
  • Control electronics: buttons, lights, and sensors.

A brilliant Christmas gift idea, it’s available now in the Raspberry Pi Press store. As always, we have also released the guide as a free PDF – minus the 3A+, case and SD card, of course!

Raspberry Pi Beginner’s Guide 3rd Edition

And that’s not all! We have also created a new edition of our popular Raspberry Pi Beginner’s Guide book.

As well as covering Raspberry Pi 4, this 252-page book features programming and physical computing projects updated for Scratch 3, which is available in the latest version of Raspbian.

It’s available now in the Raspberry Pi Press Store, with free worldwide delivery. And, as always, you can also download a free PDF version.

Free downloads: why?

Curious minds should make note that Raspberry Pi Press releases free downloadable PDFs of all publications on launch day. Why? Because, in line with our mission statement, we want to put the power of computing and digital making into the hands of people all over the world, and that includes the wealth of information we publish as part of Raspberry Pi Press.

We publish new issues of Wireframe magazine every two weeks, new issues of HackSpace magazine and The MagPi magazine every month, and project books such as The Book of Making, Wearable Tech Projects, and An Introduction to C & GUI Programming throughout the year.

If you’d like to own a physical copy of any of our publications, we offer free international shipping across our product range. You’ll also find many of our magazines in top UK supermarkets and newsagents, and in Barnes and Noble in the US.

 

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Build the ultimate 4K home theatre PC using a Raspberry Pi 4 and Kodi

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We love Raspberry Pi for how it’s helping a new generation of children learn to code, how it’s resulted in an explosion of new makers of all ages, and how it’s really easy to turn any TV into a smart TV.

While we always have a few Raspberry Pi computers at hand for making robots and cooking gadgets, or just simply coding a Scratch game, there’s always at least one in the house powering a TV. With the release of the super-powered Raspberry Pi 4, it’s time to fully upgrade our media centre to become a 4K-playing powerhouse.

We asked Wes Archer to take us through setting one up. Grab a Raspberry Pi 4 and a micro-HDMI cable, and let’s get started.

Get the right hardware

Only Raspberry Pi 4 can output at 4K, so it’s important to remember this when deciding on which Raspberry Pi to choose.

Raspberry Pi has been a perfect choice for a home media centre ever since it was released in 2012, due to it being inexpensive and supported by an active community. Now that 4K content is fast becoming the new standard for digital media, the demand for devices that support 4K streaming is growing, and fortunately, Raspberry Pi 4 can handle this with ease! There are three versions of Raspberry Pi 4, differentiated by the amount of RAM they have: 1GB, 2GB, or 4GB. So, which one should you go for? In our tests, all versions worked just fine, so go with the one you can afford.

Raspberry Pi Cases

Flirc Raspberry Pi 4 case

Made of aluminium and designed to be its own heatsink, the Flirc case for Raspberry Pi 4 is a perfect choice and looks great as part of any home media entertainment setup. This will look at home in any home entertainment system.

Official Raspberry Pi 4 case (in black and grey)

The official Raspberry Pi 4 case is always a good choice, especially the black and grey edition as it blends in well within any home entertainment setup. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also hack the case to hold a small fan for extra cooling.

Aluminium Heatsink Case for Raspberry Pi 4

Another case made of aluminium, this is effectively a giant heatsink that helps keep your Raspberry Pi 4 cool when in use. It has a choice of three colours – black, gold, and gunmetal grey – so is a great option if you want something a little different.

Optional Raspberry Pi add-ons

Maxtor 2TB external USB 3.0 HDD

4K content can be quite large and your storage will run out quickly if you have a large collection. Having an external hard drive connected directly to your Raspberry Pi using the faster USB 3.0 connection will be extremely handy and avoids any streaming lag.

Raspberry Pi Fan SHIM

The extra power Raspberry Pi 4 brings means things can get quite hot, especially when decoding 4K media files, so having a fan can really help keep things cool. Pimoroni’s Fan SHIM is ideal due to its size and noise (no loud buzzing here). There is a Python script available, but it also “just works” with the power supplied by Raspberry Pi’s GPIO pins.

Raspberry Pi TV HAT

If you are feeling adventurous, you can add a Raspberry Pi TV HAT to your 4K media centre to enable the DVR feature in Kodi to watch live TV. You may want to connect your main aerial for the best reception. This will add a perfect finishing touch to your 4K media centre.

Rii i8+ Mini Wireless Keyboard

If your TV does not support HDMI-CEC, allowing you to use your TV remote to control Kodi, then this nifty wireless keyboard is extremely helpful. Plug the USB dongle into your Raspberry Pi, turn on the keyboard, and that’s it. You now have a mini keyboard and mouse to navigate with.

Read more for free…

Looking to read the rest of this article? We don’t blame you. Build the ultimate 4K home theatre PC using a Raspberry Pi 4 and Kodi is this month’s feature article for the brand-new MagPi magazine issue 87, out today.

You can read issue 87 today, for free, right now, by visiting The MagPi website.

You can also purchase issue 87 from the Raspberry Pi Press website with free worldwide delivery, from the Raspberry Pi Store, Cambridge, and from newsagents and supermarkets across the UK.

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Raspberry Pi 4: a full desktop replacement?

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The MagPi magazine puts Raspberry Pi 4 to the ultimate test as writer and all-round tech tinkerer PJ Evans uses it for a week as his desktop computer.

When Raspberry Pi 4 was launched earlier in 2019, the significant improvements in processor speed, data throughput, and graphics handling lead to an interesting change of direction for this once humble small computer. Although it’s impressive that you can run a full Linux operating system on a $35 device, a lot of people were just using their Raspberry Pi to get Scratch or Python IDLE up and running. Many people were skipping the graphical side altogether and using smaller models, such as Raspberry Pi Zero, for projects previously covered by Arduino and other microcontrollers.

Raspberry Pi desktop experience

Raspberry Pi 4 was different. Tellingly, the Raspberry Pi Foundation released a new all-in-one kit and named it the Desktop Kit. For the first time truly in Raspberry Pi history, the new model was considered powerful enough to be used as a daily computer without any significant compromise. Challenge accepted. We asked PJ Evans to spend a week using a Raspberry Pi 4 as his only machine. Here’s what happened.

Day 1 | Monday

Decisions, decisions

Our new favourite single-board computer comes in a selection of RAM sizes: 1GB, 2GB, or 4GB. Given a price difference of £20 between the 1GB and 4GB versions, it made sense to go right for the top specification. That’s the version included in the official Desktop Kit that I went out and bought for £105 (inc. VAT) at the official Raspberry Pi store; it normally retails for $120 plus local taxes. My last laptop was £1900. I’m not suggesting that the two can be reasonably compared in terms of performance, but £1795 minus the cost of a monitor is a difference worth remarking upon.

Back at the office, I inspected the contents. For your money you get: a 4GB version of Raspberry Pi 4, thoughtfully already installed in the new official case; the official keyboard and mouse; the new USB-C power supply; a 16GB microSD card preloaded with the Raspbian Buster operating system; and a copy of The Official Raspberry Pi Beginner’s Guide 252-page book. It’s very well packaged and presented, with little plastic waste. The book is the icing on the cake if you are looking at this set for a young person’s first computer, short-circuiting the ‘now what do I do?’ stage. What pleased me, in particular, was the inclusion of two micro-HDMI cables in the kit, allowing me to set up a dual-screen system without delay.

First tests

I set up my new workstation next to my existing laptop, with two 1080p monitors that only had DVI connectors, so I had to get a couple of £2 adapters and an additional cable to get sound out of the audio jack of my Raspberry Pi. Time for an initial test-drive. Booting up into Raspbian Buster was quick, about ten seconds, and connection to WiFi easy. There’s no doubting the feel of the speed improvements. Yes, I’ve read all the benchmark tests, but I wanted to know how that translates to user experience. This new kit does not disappoint.

Raspbian has matured impressively as an OS. For my daily desktop scenario, the jewel in the crown is Chromium: having such a capable web browser is what makes this whole experiment feasible. Others have upped their game, too: Firefox has come a long way, and many other browsers are now available, such as Vivaldi. A check of some of my most visited sites showed Chromium to be just as capable as Chrome on my regular machine. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t as snappy and I hit a few bumps, but we’ll get to that.

A day of impressions

I’m no expert when it comes to GPUs, but I was impressed with the dual-monitor support. The setup worked first time and didn’t seem to have any detrimental effect on the machine’s performance. I was expecting slow window drawing or things getting ‘stuck’, but this wasn’t the case.

By the end of the first day, I was getting used to the keyboard and mouse too. They are a nice mixture of being both functional and aesthetically pleasing. The keyboard comes with a three-port hub, so you can connect the mouse if you wish. It does not have the build quality and precision of my daily wireless keyboard and trackpad, but for a fraction of the price, I was surprised how much I got for my money. By the end of the week, I’d grown quite fond of it.

Day 2 | Tuesday

Back to basics…


If you’d like to see what PJ got up to for the rest of his week spent using Raspberry Pi as a desktop replacement, head over to The MagPi magazine’s website, where you can either buy the magazine with international home delivery or download the PDF for FREE!

The MagPi magazine is also available from most high street newsagents in the UK, or from the Raspberry Pi store in Cambridge.

What we’re trying to say, dear reader, is that there is absolutely no reason for you not to read the rest of this article. And when you have, let us know what you thought of it in the comments below.

And while we have your attention, here’s the latest video from The MagPi — a teaser of their review for the rather nifty RockyBorg, available now from PiBorg.

RockyBorg: the £99 Raspberry Pi robot!

Power. Performance. Pint-sized. The new RockyBorg has it all. Read our review in The MagPi 85: https://magpi.cc/get85 Would you like a FREE #RaspberryPi? Subscribe today to twelve months print subscription! You can see all our subscription offers on The MagPi magazine website: https://magpi.cc/subscribe

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IoT community sprinkler system using Raspberry Pi | The MagPi issue 83

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Saving water, several thousand lawns at a time: The MagPi magazine takes a look at the award-winning IoT sprinkler system of Coolest Projects USA participant Adarsh Ambati.

At any Coolest Projects event, you’re bound to see incredible things built by young makers. At Coolest Projects USA, we had the chance to talk to Adarsh Ambati about his community sprinkler and we were, frankly, amazed.

“The extreme, record-breaking drought in California inspired me to think of innovative ways to save water,” Adarsh tells us. “While going to school in the rain one day, I saw one of my neighbours with their sprinklers on, creating run-offs. Through research, I found that 25% of the water used in an average American household is wasted each day due to overwatering and inefficient watering methods. Thus, I developed a sprinkler system that is compliant with water regulations, to cost-effectively save water for entire neighbourhoods using a Raspberry Pi, moisture sensors, PyOWM (weather database), and by utilising free social media networks like Twitter.”

Efficient watering

In California, it’s very hot year round, so if you want a lush, green lawn you need to keep the grass watered. The record-breaking drought Adarsh was referring to resulted in extreme limitations on how much you could water your grass. The problem is, unless you have a very expensive sprinkler system, it’s easy to water the grass when it doesn’t need to be.

“The goal of my project is to save water wasted during general-purpose landscape irrigation of an entire neighbourhood by building a moisture sensor-based smart sprinkler system that integrates real-time weather forecast data to provide only optimum levels of water required,” Adarsh explains. “It will also have Twitter capabilities that will be able to publish information about when and how long to turn on the sprinklers, through the social networks. The residents in the community will subscribe to this information by following an account on Twitter, and utilise it to prevent water wasted during general-purpose landscaping and stay compliant with water regulations imposed in each area.”

Using the Raspberry Pi, Adarsh was able to build a prototype for about $50 — a lot cheaper than smart sprinklers you can currently buy on the market.

“I piloted it with ten homes, so the cost per home is around $5,” he reveals. “But since it has the potential to serve an entire community, the cost per home can be a few cents. For example, there are about 37000 residents in Almaden Valley, San Jose (where I live). If there is an average of two to four residents per home, there should be 9250 to 18500 homes. If I strategically place ten such prototypes, the cost per house would be five cents or less.”

Massive saving

Adarsh continues, “Based on two months of data, 83% of the water used for outdoor landscape watering can be saved. The average household in northern California uses 100 gallons of water for outdoor landscaping on a daily basis. The ten homes in my pilot had the potential to save roughly 50000 gallons over a two-month period, or 2500 gallons per month per home. At $0.007 per gallon, the savings equate to $209 per year, per home. For Almaden Valley alone, we have the potential to save around $2m to $4m per year!”

The results from Adarsh’s test were presented to the San Jose City Council, and they were so impressed they’re now considering putting similar systems in their public grass areas. Oh, and he also won the Hardware project category at Coolest Projects USA.

The MagPi magazine #83

This article is from today’s brand-new issue of The MagPi, the official Raspberry Pi magazine. Buy it from all good newsagents, subscribe to pay less per issue and support our work, or download the free PDF to give it a try first.

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Make a retro console with RetroPie and a Raspberry Pi — part 2

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Here’s part two of Lucy Hattersley’s wonderful retro games console tutorial. Part 1 of the tutorial lives here, for those of you who missed it.

Choose the network locale

RetroPie boots into EmulationStation, which is your starter interface. It’s currently displaying just the one option, RetroPie, which is used to set up the emulation options. As you add games to RetroPie, other systems will appear in EmulationStation.

With RetroPie selected, press the A button on the gamepad to open the configuration window. Use the D-pad to move down the options and select WiFi. You will see a warning message: ‘You don’t currently have your WiFi country set…’. Press the D-pad left to choose Yes, and press A. The interface will open raspi-config. At this point, it’s handy to switch to the keyboard and use that instead.

Choose 4 Localisation Options, and press the right arrow key on the keyboard to highlight Select, then press Enter.

Now choose 4 Change Wi-fi Country and pick your country from the list. We used GB Britain (UK). Highlight OK and press Enter to select it.

Now move right twice to choose Finish and press Enter. This will reboot the system.

Connect to wireless LAN

If you have a Raspberry Pi with an Ethernet connection, you can use an Ethernet cable to connect directly to your router/modem or network.

More likely, you’ll connect the Raspberry Pi to a wireless LAN network so you can access it when it’s beneath your television.

Head back into RetroPie from EmulationStation and down to the WiFi setting; choose Connect to WiFi network.

The window will display a list of nearby wireless LAN networks. Choose your network and use the keyboard to enter the wireless LAN password. Press Enter when you’re done. Choose the Exit option to return to the RetroPie interface.

Configuration tools

Now choose RetroPie Setup and then Configuration Tools. Here, in the Choose an option window, you’ll find a range of useful tools. As we’re using a USB gamepad, we don’t need the Bluetooth settings, but it’s worth noting they’re here.

We want to turn on Samba so we can share files from our computer directly to RetroPie. Choose Samba and Install RetroPie Samba shares, then select OK.

Now choose Cancel to back up to the Choose an option window, and then Back to return to the RetroPie-Setup script.

Run the setup script

Choose Update RetroPie-Setup script and press Enter. After the script has updated, press Enter again and you’ll be back at the Notice: window. Press Enter and choose Basic install; press Enter, choose Yes, and press Enter again to begin the setup and run the configuration script.

When the script has finished, choose Perform a reboot and Yes.

Turn on Samba in Windows

We’re going to use Samba to copy a ROM file (a video game image) from our computer to RetroPie.

Samba used to be installed by default in Windows, but it has recently become an optional installation. In Windows 10, click on the Search bar and type ‘Control Panel’. Click on Control Panel in the search results.

Now click Programs and Turn Windows features on or off. Scroll down to find SMB 1.0/CIFS File Sharing Support and click the + expand icon to reveal its options. Place a check in the box marked SMB 1.0/CIFS Client. Click OK. This will enable Samba client support on your Windows 10 PC so it can access the Raspberry Pi.

We’ve got more information on how Samba works on The MagPi’s website.

Get the game

On your Windows PC or Mac, open a web browser, and visit the Blade Buster website. This is a homebrew video game designed by High Level Challenge for old NES systems. The developer’s website is in Japanese — just click BLADE BUSTER Download to save the ROM file to your Downloads folder.

Open a File Explorer (or Finder) window and locate the BB_20120301.zip file in your Downloads folder. Don’t unzip the file.

Click on Network and you’ll see a RETROPIE share. Open it and locate the roms folder. Double-click roms and you’ll see folders for many classic systems. Drag and drop the BB_20120301.zip file and place it inside the nes folder.

Play the game

Press the Start button on your gamepad to bring up the Main Menu. Choose Quit and Restart EmulationStation. You’ll now see a Nintendo Entertainment System option with 1 Games Available below it. Click it and you’ll see BB_20120301 — this is Blade Buster. Press A to start the game. Have fun shooting aliens. Press Start and Analog (or whatever you’ve set as your hotkey) together when you’re finished; this will take you back to the game selection in EmulationStation.

If you’ve been setting up RetroPie on your monitor, now is the time to move it across to your main television. The RetroPie console will boot automatically and connect to the network, and then you can move ROM files over to it from your PC or Mac. At this point, you may notice black borders around the screen; if so, see the Fix the borders tip.

Enjoy your gaming system!

More top tips from Lucy

Change the resolution

Some games were designed for a much lower resolution, and scaling them up can look blocky on modern televisions. If you’d prefer to alter the resolution, choose ‘RetroPie setup’. Open raspi-config, Advanced Options, and Resolution. Here you’ll find a range of other resolution options to choose from.

Fix the borders

These are caused by overscan. Choose RetroPie from EmulationStation and raspi-config. Now select Advanced Options > Overscan and select No on the ‘Would you like to enable compensation for displays with overscan?’ window. Choose OK and then Finish. Choose Yes on the Reboot Now window. When the system has rebooted, you will see the borders are gone.

The MagPi magazine issue 81

This article is from the latest issue of The MagPi magazine, which is out today and can be purchased online, at the Raspberry Pi Store, or from many newsagents and bookshops, such as WHSmith and Barnes & Noble.

The MagPi magazine issue 81

You can also download issue 81 for free from The MagPi website, where you’ll also find information on subscription options, and the complete MagPi catalogue, including Essentials guides and books, all available to download for free.

the MagPi subscription

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