Need a smart TV but don’t have the budget? While there’s a good chance that you already own hardware that can make your TV “smart”, one low-budget piece of kit can make all the difference.
Yes, it’s the Raspberry Pi. Although it has some limitations, the Pi can be used to make your TV smart.
5 Things a Smart TV Should Offer
Before getting down to the “how,” consider the “what.” If your Raspberry Pi can substitute the functionality of a smart TV — thereby making a so-called dumb TV into a smart TV — what should you expect from it?
- The ability to play media from a USB storage device or external HDD. This is possible via a USB port on smart TVs. On the Raspberry Pi, you should have a USB port spare to do the same.
- Video streaming from online sites like Netflix and YouTube. The Chromium browser for the Raspberry Pi is capable of playing the Netflix library, as long as you have a Netflix subscription.
- Remote control from a mobile device. If you’re using Kodi on your Raspberry Pi, for instance, this can be set up with a client app on your Android or iPhone to control the software remotely.
- News and weather. A smart TV should be able to pull news and weather data and present it to you when you switch on the television.
- PVR support. If you need to record a TV show, this should be possible via an external storage device. A Raspberry Pi can do this with a USB TV card.
While not all of these features are possible with all Raspberry Pi smart TV projects, they’re certainly available in the most popular option: Kodi.
1. Use Kodi to Build a Media Center
If you haven’t already seen Kodi on an Android device or an Amazon Fire Stick — or even your game console — then now is the time to try it out.
Several Kodi images are available for the Raspberry Pi, each offering largely the same experience:
How you install these depends on your experience level. LibreElec is available as an option in the NOOBS tool, for example, making it the simplest installation. Alternatively, you can download your preferred image and write it to your Pi’s microSD card.
It’s also worth mentioning that Kodi is installed as part of the RecalBox retro gaming center project. Oh, and you can also install Kodi manually:
sudo apt-get update sudo apt-get install kodi
Once installed, you’ll be able to access video and audio content from across the internet, using add-ons. These are apps that present content of your choice. For instance, Kodi features a YouTube add-on. Remember, however, that some add-ons are illegal. For the best results, stick to those available from the official Kodi add-on repository.
Kodi also offers weather reporting, so you can check whether you’re missing sunshine while browsing YouTube.
2. Stream Media Across Your Network With RasPlex
An alternative to Kodi, RasPlex enables you to stream media across your home network. This is done in a client-server relationship, using your Raspberry Pi as a client, and Plex as the server.
For the server, you’ll need a PC running Windows, Mac, Linux or FreeBSD. If you don’t have a PC or laptop, a NAS box (with an x86 or x64 type CPU rather than an ARM processor) will do. The lack of ARM support for the server is why you cannot run the Plex Media Server directly on the Raspberry Pi.
The RasPlex software is installed using its own custom microSD card writing software, which can be downloaded from the website.
Once everything is setup on your PC/NAS and your Raspberry Pi, you’ll be able to browse for and watch TV shows and movies on your TV. Pretty smart!
See our full guide to installing RasPlex on your Raspberry Pi for the full details.
3. Stream Media From Your Android Device
One popular low-cost approach to making your dumb TV smart is to use a Google Chromecast. But if you own a Raspberry Pi, you don’t even need to go this far!
Google Chromecast works in much the same way as Miracast and other wireless HDMI technologies. Simply, an app window or entire mobile desktop is streamed wirelessly to a TV. From here, apps can be run, games played in big screen mode, video streamed, etc.
Raspberry Pi users can use the MiracleCast on Raspberry Pi 3 project to get a similar result. Once set up, it’s possible to cast the display of your Android phone or tablet to your TV!
Or for a more straightforward implementation, take a look at the Raspicast app on Google Play.
4. Build a Total Smart TV With PiTV
So far we’ve skirted around the smart TV dynamic. If you’re looking for something that delivers a typical smart TV experience, complete with an interface display, weather, date, and time, then the PiTV is your solution.
Requiring a bunch of applications (Chromium, omxplayer, a YouTube downloader, and more), this project by Donald Derek is quite in-depth, and has been tested on models up to the Raspberry Pi 2. Node.js and Socket.io are employed for server-side scripting and ensuring you have a working remote control.
Running on Raspbian, in theory it should be possible to use with Kodi with this set up via the instructions at the start of this list. With such a slick user interface, the Raspberry PiTV project is one you’ll definitely want to take a look at.
What’s Your Favorite Raspberry Pi Smart TV Solution?
If you own a Raspberry Pi, it’s pretty likely that at some point you’ve used it as a smart TV. After all, the various Kodi ports are some of the most popular disk images beyond Raspbian. And if you’re using a Raspberry Pi 3, you’re going to enjoy one of the best Kodi experiences available.
And if that isn’t what you want, the PiTV project brings the complete smart TV experience to the Raspberry Pi. Easy to set up, we’re surprised it isn’t more popular!