OK, here’s the funny fact. Monitors suck. They’re too small and those bigger but quality ones are way to expensive. It’s essential for modern, productive developer to work on multiple screen devices to avoid frustration of constant moving (ALT+TAB hell) windows of text editors/web browsers/documentation around up to the point where your time spent doing that can be actually spent smarter, working.
I decided to move all my web development to a different kind of local. To the Raspberry Pi. It’s small, cheap, versatile, features active development community and most importantly it works. Also, very helpful for presentations in conference rooms with large TV (my current company setup).
Chucking in Debian, assigning it it’s own IP, plugging a fast external drive to it (auto backed up to main PC nightly) and installing all possible tools I need and might have in the future, including web/database server and Git. Fully custom, neat workstation. Works magic for me.
An introduction to introduction:
A Brief Device Profile
The nifty credit card sized $25 -$35 microcomputer takes us back to the 1980s and the time of 8-bit computing. It’s a Linux based, cheap device that doesn’t come with a monitor. You have to plug it to your TV, fit in a keyboard and a mouse, connect it to a power source, add an operating device and storage and you have a computer.
The computer started out with the idea of getting kids interested in computer science. It doesn’t have a hard disk or SSD, but it uses an SD card to boot and offer some storage space. Since it hit the market in 2012, the computer has also become popular with programmers looking for a handy and cheap device to test their projects. 500,000 of the sets were sold by September, 2012.
In fact, there’s even a version of Minecraft for the Raspberry Pi. Imagine the geeky thrill of a long rail craft ride (or navigating the Nether hellfires) on your TV screen and you may want to know how to connect the device to your TV.
Connecting To The Television
The option of connecting your Raspberry Pi to the television makes it very flexible to use. Don’t be fooled by the size of the device. The microcomputer has three output ports for visual output: HDMI, RCA and VGA.
Here’s a look at how you can plug the microcomputer to the television through each of the three ports.
The great thing about the little device is that it comes with an HDMI port. Most people today own televisions that have an HDMI port. If yours has one, all you have to do is to connect your device to the HDMI port of your TV with a cheap cable that you can get for a few dollars. This means you can connect the device to your TV set in the living room.
If you have a flat screen TV in the bedroom, that too will have an HDMI connector, so you can comfortably play Minecraft while lying in bed! In fact, if you own the microcomputer, the pieces of equipment that are must-haves apart from a power supply are an SD card and an HDMI cable. With the cable, you can connect the device to just about any PC monitor and TV available today.
But what if you don’t have an HDMI port on your TV? There are other options for you.
2. HDMI To VGA Adapter
If the monitor you want to connect to doesn’t have an HDMI port, check to see if it has a VGA connector. This is the D shaped connector that old computers had. If the monitor has a VGA port, then all you have to do is get an HDMI to VGA adapter that is readily and cheaply available.
You’ll also need to make a small change to the config.txt file used by the Pi for booting if you’re using VGA. Here’s how to do that. Pull out the SD card from the device and plug it into the memory card reader slot of your desktop PC or laptop. Open the config.txt file in a text editor and look for the following lines:
Once you’ve found the two lines, uncomment them both. This allows the device to output VGA type visual output through an HDMI adapter. It also lowers the default screen resolution to 640 X 480 to suit VGA display.
You can set the device to output a resolution that is higher than 640 X 480 if you want. To do that, look for these two lines:
Again, delete the hash tags from both the lines. Additionally, in the first line, change '1’ to '2’ and in the second, set '4’ to '16’. When you’ve done that, save the file and safely remove the SD card and putting it back into your microcomputer. Power on and enjoy nostalgic VGA visuals.
Now, I know it’s a bit of an overkill, but I simply have to say this. Firing video to just one screen is not a limit :).
3. RCA Output
The last option that the device gives you to connect to a visual display unit is through an RCA connector. You’ll find the RCA connector right next to the audio port, on the side across the HDMI port. The RCA port is a standard port found on most TV sets made since the 80’s. However, the microcomputer is set to give preference to HDMI, so if an HDMI cable is also connected, it will automatically switch from RCA to HDMI output.
You can change the window display style of your new microcomputer as well, depending on the screen resolution of the monitor you’ve connected to. In fact, if the monitor is not of a high resolution, you may need to this. All you have to do in that case is go to the config.txt file as explained above, change the settings for overscan in the file and configure output to make it compatible with your monitor.
The Raspberry Pi is clearly a flexible device that users have found many other cool uses for. Want a digital picture frame but it’s too expensive? You can simply convert the device into a picture frame at half the price or also have it display weather reports and movies as well! Or use it to overclock your PC and create a synced MIDI and Christmas Lights affair. You can check out cool projects to create with the device here.
But simply looking for a way to connect to a monitor? You may already have that RCA cable lying around somewhere or an HDMI cable that could have you connected to a microcomputer media center in minutes. Also check out this great little (but detailed) unofficial tutorial to teach you the basics of what you can do with this surprisingly resourceful little device.