Playing Cat Videos for my Cat with a Raspberry Pi


I want my cat to not be bored while I’m away from my apartment for most of the day. She loves watching videos on my TV but I’m afraid one day she’ll go a step too far and damage it. I decided that I would go to Goodwill and find a cheap monitor/TV for her to use. But damned if I’ll put the video on every time she wants to play with it! I decided a Raspberry Pi Zero W would be sufficient for the job. Just load some videos on there and have them come on at specific times during the day.

What are you working on?


Installing Raspberry Pi OS

I decided to go with the Raspberry Pi Imager utility because it has a nice feature where if you open it and hit CTRL + SHIFT + X, you can reveal a secret menu that lets you do stuff like change the hostname, add SSH keys, and configure WiFi. I prefer this over having to do these things manually.

I went with the minimal 32-bit install of Raspberry Pi OS to keep things light on the poor Pi Zero…

Installing Required Packages

Because the minimal install is, well… minimal, you don’t get much by default with it. That’s good imo! Better for things to break and having to add more than to have a lot of bloat.

Taking Control of the Display

I could have just installed lightdm and used something like firefox or chrome to display the video from YouTube but that just doesn’t cut it for what I want. The Pi will be connected to the internet but I would prefer to keep its communication to a minimum and I definitely don’t want to stream videos all day, as that would take up wayyy to much bandwidth. I downloaded a random video of rats and birds running around from YouTube using youtube-dl and saved that to the Pi’s SD card. I then wrote some scripts to start a basic Xorg server (to allow for graphical windows to be rendered) and to play VLC on that server.

Wrapping it up with git and Ansible

After getting everything working by hand, I then wrapped everything up in a git repository and installed that repository on the pi using Ansible. It’s in a bit of a rough state, as I lost the time to work on it after I got it basically working, but if you’re interested in the code, its posted on GitHub here:


It was neat to see how slim I could get a Debian setup where I just wanted to play a video. At first I thought maybe something like Chromium playing a YouTube video would work well as well but I decided that might be too CPU intensive and didn’t want the Pi to have to maintain a constant network connection. In the future, I think something like a button on the Pi would be cool, as right now I’m limited to either SSHing in and playing the video by running the script or waiting for it to come on from the timer. In any case, I think Katie very much appreciates the company!