VNC, SSH and HDMI: Three Options for Viewing Your Raspberry Pi
The Raspberry Pi is a remarkable little computer, but it can be time consuming to set it up and connect it to your monitor. Fortunately, there are three time-saving methods that you can use to set the Raspberry Pi up and either leave it switched on or boot it up and not have to mess around with HDMI or ethernet cables.
The Three Stages Of Raspberry Pi Access
When I first received my Raspberry Pi, I began by sharing the HDMI cable from my cable box in order to display the command line, desktop or whatever project I was running at the time (I think it was a media centre) on our HDTV.
Since then, I’ve purchased a new desktop display with a HDMI cable, enabling me to keep the Raspberry Pi close by if necessary. However, if I prefer to have the computer hooked up in our living room, it is just as easy to access it as if it was sitting on my desk.
Below, I’ll explain how to use a HDMI splitter to output your Raspberry Pi’s display to the same monitor you use for your desktop computer. You’ll also learn how to connect to the Pi using SSH for remote command line access across your home network (or beyond) as well as using VNC to enable desktop access.
The Hardware Option: A HDMI Splitter
As explained above, I tried a HDMI splitter and this is a great option if you prefer to have your Raspberry Pi close by and you’ve just flashed the SD card for the first time or haven’t got around to setting up SSH or VNC.
The splitter I purchased for less than $10 has a single button to select any of three channels, into which I have connected my main computer’s and my Raspberry Pi’s HDMI cables.
Switching between the two devices is very easy – a couple of presses of the button and a new desktop is displayed – and most importantly it is much quicker than trying to connect a HDMI cable blind, which can often be a problem.
Using SSH To Communicate With Your Raspberry Pi
If you would rather keep your Raspberry Pi in another part of the house or simply not bother connecting the HDMI cable, then you can establish an SSH connection to the device through a free utility such as PuTTY.
We’ve previously provided full details on how to set up SSH access to your Raspberry Pi when using the Raspbian distro, and the general approach is the same regardless of which operating system you are running on your Pi (several are available ). As long as you have enabled SSH access on the device then you should be able to connect via a terminal on your Windows, Mac or Linux PC.
The advantages of this are obvious. Messing around with HDMI cables (which I personally find difficult, particularly when I’m connecting them “blind” to the back of a monitor) is instantly made a thing of the past. As long as you have a wireless or cabled network connection, you can connect using SSH across your home network, and configure and use the command line.
Indeed, the only reason you may need to go near the Pi is to power it up or connect some USB storage.
Establish A VNC Connection For Desktop Access
SSH connections are great for configuring and installing software, but if you need to access the Raspberry Pi desktop interface, you’re stuck.
Should you revert to a HDMI connection, or is there another way?
Well, yes there is, namely VNC. Setting up a connection using the Virtual Network Computing system enables you to interact with the GUI of your chosen Raspberry Pi distribution, which is displayed in a window on your desktop PC.
How you set up your VNC software depends on your Raspberry Pi distribution and your desktop software. I’ve been using the TightVNC suite of tools (available from www.tightvnc.com), with TightVNCServer on my Pi (installed using sudo apt-get install tightvncserver – note that some configuration is required if you want the software to initialise whenever you boot your Raspberry Pi) and TightVNC Viewer on my Windows 8 computer, to great effect.
If you’re regularly connecting a HDMI cable to your Raspberry Pi, please stop at once and take advantage of at least one of these suggestions. At the very least, it will stop you from scrabbling around at the back of your TV or monitor, an action which – if unsuccessful – might equate to literally hours of your life.
The HDMI splitter is a great alternative to this, but as useful as it is, the dual approach of SSH and VNC connections makes allocating your Pi its own display a thing of the past. You can easily remotely control the Raspberry Pi completely from your own desktop – it seems mad not to.