You need a media center solution, and you’ve heard about Kodi. Is it suitable, and can you install it on your Raspberry Pi? And once you’ve done that, how do you turn it into a world-beating home media center? We’ll show you how.
Hardware for Your Raspberry Pi Media Center
You won’t need much to get started with your Kodi + Raspberry Pi media center. But if you’d like to enhance the experience, there are a few things you can add to the basic setup.
You might already have a Raspberry Pi. Alternatively, you might be about to buy one. At a minimum, you’ll need:
- Raspberry Pi Model B+ or later.
- Optional USB Wi-Fi dongle for pre-Raspberry Pi 3 devices.
- HDMI cable.
- 2A USB power adaptor, or specific Raspberry Pi power supply.
- MicroSD card (8 GB or more recommended).
As long as you have a PC to download your preferred operating system and write to the microSD card, you should be ready to go.
How to Install Kodi on Your Raspberry Pi
Two options are available for installing Kodi on your Pi.
Standard Kodi Install
With your Raspberry Pi already set up, simply open a terminal window and enter:
sudo apt-get install kodi
Once this is done, you’ll need to make a config file edit to ensure that the media center software automatically loads whenever you boot your Raspberry Pi.
sudo nano /etc/default/kodi
Change the ENABLED setting to 1:
Press Ctrl + Z to exit, making sure you save the change.
Otherwise, you can run Kodi with a mouse click from the desktop, or with a single command in the terminal:
You’re good to go!
Install a Media Center Operating System
More preferable, however, might be the option to have a dedicated Raspberry Pi running an already-optimized version of Kodi. This way, it will automatically boot into the media center software without any fiddling around with text files.
You have two main options here: OpenElec and OSMC.
To use OpenElec, you can either download the operating system from openelec.tv or use the NOOBS software to select it from a list (see below). OSMC can also be installed via NOOBS, or you can download it from www.osmc.tv.
Manual installation will require you to first format your microSD card, then copy the unzipped download to the card using dedicated SD card writing software. We’ll assume you’re using Windows for this, so you’ll need to download SD Card Formatter from the SD Association, and Win32DiskImager from SourceForge.
With your SD card inserted into your PC’s card reader, run the SD Card Formatter, select the correct drive letter (confirm this in Windows Explorer) and select Option. Here, choose Full (Erase) and On, then OK. With this done, click Format.
Once the SD card is formatted, exit SD Card Formatter and load Win32DiskImager. Again, select the correct drive letter, then browse to the downloaded image file (from the OSMC website, or from the OpenElec website). Click Write to commence and wait until completion.
Your SD card can then be removed and inserted into your Raspberry Pi. Next time you boot, Kodi will be ready to use!
See our guides to installing an OS with NOOBS, or installing a Raspberry Pi operating system to a microSD card for more details on the process if you get stuck.
Having a USB keyboard to hand is always good idea, as you can just plug it in and navigate the Kodi user interface. Most of these Kodi keyboard shortcuts should work on the Raspberry Pi. If you’re using a Raspberry Pi 3 with built in Bluetooth, or have a compatible Bluetooth USB dongle for the device, a Bluetooth keyboard will also be useful.
You have another choice though: several mobile apps are available for iOS and Android, which can control your media center over the network. We’d recommend those produced by Kodi on either platform. On iOS look for Official Kodi Remote in the App Store, whereas on Android find Kore by the XBMC Foundation.
Once installed, these apps will auto-detect your Kodi installation, as long as they’re connected to the same home network as your Raspberry Pi.
You also have various options for additional hardware that you can add to your Raspberry Pi Kodi media center. These include adding a sound module, or even an IR receiver for use with a physical remote control.
Raspberry Pi Kodi Media Center to the Next Level
At this point, you’ve got everything you need to enjoy your Kodi media center. But you can take things further. With the right hardware and peripherals, you can make your compact Raspberry Pi media center the envy of your friends and family.
Use a Raspberry Pi 3
Perhaps the most obvious option is to use a Raspberry Pi 3 rather than a B+ or Raspberry Pi 2. There have been many iterations of the little computer since its 2012 launch, but in short, if you’re using the Pi 3 (or later), you will get superior performance from Kodi, OSMC, or OpenElec.
Use Ethernet, Not Wi-Fi
We’ve recommended using the Raspberry Pi 3, but this is really for performance reasons rather than anything else. As the Raspberry Pi 3 ships with a built-in wireless dongle (and Bluetooth too) you might be tempted to use this. If your Pi is situated close the router, and you have a strong signal, then this should be OK, but for the best results — particularly when streaming HD content — you should be relying on an Ethernet cable. This might mean employing powerline adaptors, but the important thing here is to get the best possible picture and sound quality, so use whatever works.
By default, you’ll get sound via HDMI, and if you have an AV receiver, it should be getting a surround sound digital signal through the HDMI where available in your media. If for some reason you’re stuck using the 3.5mm stereo socket, you may find the audio quality is unacceptable. To improve this, you’ll need some sort of external sound module. Various USB-compatible options are available but on the whole these are unreliable or inconsistent. Instead, you should look at the HAT-standard HiFiBerry range.
We mentioned above how a remote control mobile app can be with any Kodi device, but if you’re more inclined towards dedicated remote hardware, you’ll need an IR receiver on your Raspberry Pi.
Several of these are available, either USB or something that connects directly to the Raspberry Pi board. They all ship with a remote control included, enabling you to easily navigate your Kodi home theater. Note that for regular searches and adding third party repositories, however, you’ll need something with a keyboard or at least a keypad.
Only Install the Add-Ons You Need
Finally, you need to be aware of the add-ons that are available for Kodi, and which ones you’ll use. With such a vast selection of add-ons to choose from (official and third-party) you should stick to a narrow collection of options. The more add-ons you choose from, the more will need updating, and this will slow down your Kodi experience.
While there isn’t currently a functional Amazon Instant Video/Prime add-on, you should be able to find options for other popular services like Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, Spotify, and even BBC iPlayer (though you’ll a VPN for that outside of the U.K.). Niche add-ons can be found too: TED Talks, YouTube channels, podcasts and far more can be found in the add-on repository. It’s best to research what you want first, lest you end up spending too much time browsing the endless lists.
Build Your Own Raspberry Pi Home Media Center Today
We won’t pretend that putting this together is easy, but it is certainly straightforward and achievable within an hour. Once Kodi is setup in your living room or bedroom, you’ll be able to enjoy the vast selection of add-ons provided for your entertainment, and with a few hardware enhancements, your little Raspberry Pi will be able to produce results comparable to media center hardware costing ten times the price!
Do you use a Raspberry Pi to run Kodi? What do you think of it? What do you see as its strengths and weaknesses? Tell us in the comments.