Many people appear to have bought the Raspberry Pi in order to use it as a cheap media player by installing distributions such as Raspbmc or OpenElec. The only problem is that this low cost board was primarily designed as an educational platform, so the Raspberry Pi foundation only paid for H.264 licensing, which means you could only playback H.264 videos, and all other video codecs could not be played (by hardware) making it a rather poor media player.
But things have improved, as the good people at the Raspberry Pi foundation have worked out a deal with the licensing organizations and now offer support for 2 new codecs:
Once those 2 codecs are enabled you should be able to play your DVD rips and most HD wmv files smoothly. The way it work is that you purchase the license keys via the 2 links above, which are linked to your board serial number:
cat /proc/cpuinfo | grep Serial
Once you’ve got your license(s) (within 72-hour by email), MPEG-2 and VC-1 hardware decoding should work out of the box, you should even be able to connect a USB DVD drive to play back your DVDs on your Pi.
After further discussion with the licensing guys, they discovered that H.264 encode was also covered by their current H.264 license, so they’ve enabled it in the current firmware, and this won’t cost a thing. Somebody will have to write an application to take advantage of the firmware, so it may take a little while, until most people can use this feature. I’m sure it will be ready pretty soon, as this is required for the upcoming camera module.
Finally, HDMI CEC has been enabled in the latest version of Raspbmc, Xbian and OpenElec. For those who don’t know, this standard allows to control your HDMI device with your TV remote control, so you’ll only need one remote for 2 or more devices. The video below showcases a Raspberry Pi running XBMC with CEC support enabled.