So last week a friend asked if I’d be interested in looking at Mame on the Raspberry Pi. As I didn’t yet have one, he graciously lent me one as he is already busy making Pibows, a custom acrylic case for the Pi PCB, he simply doesn’t have the time to spare looking at getting Mame up and running.
Never one for turning down a challenge nor the opportunity to play around with a Raspberry Pi. I began digging around on the net, finding out as much as I could about running arcade games through Mame on the Raspberry Pi, not to mention how to set the darn thing up. I had read that the primary OS was Linux, a Debian distribution to be precise called Raspbian. Perhaps playing around with Lubuntu on the Nomad for all those months was going to pay off.
Things You Might Need
When I was handed the Raspberry Pi, it came in a tiny white box. Inside you got, the PCB in an antistatic bag and a piece of paper telling you that your device meets all the right EU regulations. To keep costs down, Pi’s are not sold with any accessories, the idea being you buy them separately. There’s also a good chance you own some of the parts already.
The Pi is powered via a standard 5 volt – 1Amp micro USB, which is used on many modern mobile phone chargers. As for video, you can choose to go old school analog and use the composite RCA port (phono), just like back in the day with the ZX Spectrum and C64.You will need a phono to phono cable or if you want to get techie, a male to male RCA cable for this. The picture isn’t amazing and on a CRT it’s headache inducing. An LCD does give better results, if a little blurry.
Alternatively you can use the more modern HDMI port, which will give a much better digital picture and is compatible with most modern flat panel televisions. If you own a flashy new telly, you might have a spare HDMI cable laying around. If not you will need to decide which method of display your going to use.
For storage you will need to buy a class 4, 4GB SD memory card or bigger. The Pi foundation advise against using none branded memory cards, such as the cheap one’s you find on ebay. The Pi needs a good quality card for the access speeds. Otherwise you might encounter problems running your OS. For Sound, any set of speakers should work fine with the Pi. Alternatively a 3.5mm audio jack to phono cable should allow you sound through you TV.
Not Feeling The HDMI Vibe
If like me, you don’t own anything with HDMI, you will be stuck with using composite. Unless you buy a HDMI to VGA converter, which will allow you to hook the Pi up to any PC VGA monitor. I found one on ebay for £8, it’s yet to arrive in the post but with some luck it will make the Pi more useful.
- Going Analog
First thing I have to say is don’t use the Pi on a CRT television for any length of time through composite. If you’re using the terminal your might be fine. However myself and a friend found booting into Raspbian to be almost unbearable. The picture was extremely flickery, like Amiga 1200 Pal Hires Laced flickery! Unless you like eye strain and headaches, I strong advise against using this setup for anything other then running commands via the terminal.
- Composite to Scart
You might find on ebay that some sellers are offering a scart cable for the Pi, this is simply a composite output to through the Televisions scart connector, it does not alter the picture from composite.
- Analog & LCD TV
This is possibly the only good way to use the composite display. LCDs don’t suffer with flicker like CRTs. While the image might be a little blurred, it’s a lot less harmful on your eye’s then the alternative. Luckily most LCD televisions come with composite for hooking up such things as consoles, video camera’s ect. BMV Recommends this method to those geeks on a budget, who cant afford a new TV or a HDMI to VGA adaptor.
While I’ve not used this means of display myself, I have seen one at the Pibow workshop and it looks great. Pretty much the same display as modern computer with a monitor. If you buy yourself a HDMI to VGA converter, the picture will be pretty much the same.
After getting the Pi, I looked at the various items I needed to buy. Cables, PSU and SD card. A quick search on ebay will throw back quite a few kits, which offer all of the accessories you need to get your Pi working in one job lot. I even found a composite to scart cable. After buying it, I have to say it’s not that amazing. In fact it didn’t seem as good as using scart on an Amiga. While some of these kits aren’t that good, if you have your wits about you, they can make setting the Pi up a lot easier then having to buy everything separate and saves on postage. The kit I bought came with a PSU rated at 5v 1000mah, scart cable, which connected to the Pi with a phone cable for picture and a headphone jack for sound. It also came with a class 4, 4gb memory card. Pre-installed with a copy of the soft-float Debian “Wheezy” OS. The scart cable was of a cheap construction and the metal shielding at one point came unstuck from the header of the cable. For £12 what can you expect? The PSU however is great and is not only useful for powering my Pi, but also my phone and HP Touchpad. Three uses in one! Not bad at all!
In part 3, I plan to cover setting up your pi, what to do if your getting a grey picture on your TV and how to stretch the picture on your screen to fit better.