A Raspberry Pi, if you haven’t heard of it already, is a single board computer about the size of a credit card.  It’s made the news as one of the must haves for gadget geeks and tech nerds everywhere.  Geek and nerd are pretty broad descriptors.  I’ve often wondered how many muggles read about the Pi and automatically assumed it would be a great item to get for their favorite geek/nerd.  A geek/nerd who unbeknownst to the gifter is not necessarily into hardware/programming/Linux.

So you’re some other type of geek/nerd who’s muggle friend/relative/significant other just handed a Pi, what should you do with this thing?  I have an answer for you, make it into a media center!

When I was originally preparing to write this piece I thought it was going to be about rasbmc.  What is rasbmc? Well…it *was* a version of the popular media center software XBMC ported to the Raspberry Pi by a rather impressive British kid (seriously, he originally spun up this project as a teenager).

I say was, because as soon as I started jotting this down 2 major things happened:
1. The XBMC project was renamed Kodi.
2. Sam shelved rasbmc in favor of a full-blown OS called OSMC (Open Source Media Center)

In response I shelved my piece and decided to try OSMC out in hopes that I’d want to write about that.  Fast forward a few months and I’m loving OSMC and you will too!  This is a cord cutter’s dream.  At the bottom I’ve included a generic parts list as well as some direct links to some components I recommend.

Installation and Setup:

OSMC has it’s own cross-platform installer that even allows you to pre-configure network settings.  You just pop the SD card into your computer, run the installer, safely remove the SD card, put it back in your Pi, power it up, and watch OSMC boot and install itself.

Once the install finishes you’ll need to decide how you want to control your new media center.  You have several options.  My preferred option is using my TV’s remote control via CEC.  CEC may  need to be enabled on your TV. Other options include a keyboard and mouse, Bluetooth remote (requires USB adapter), or iOS/Android app, or a combination of all of them.

I prefer CEC, it’s the most responsive and I’m lazy. The mobile apps are my second preference.  The mobile apps are fun if you’re a TV while on the phone/tablet/phablet person.  One feature I like, but you should be ware of, is that text messages will pop up in the bottom corner of the TV screen.  Another cool feature is if you get a call it will pause playback when you answer and resume when you hang up.

Once you have control it’s time to start customizing your settings.  First thing, timezone.  This for all intents and purposes this is a Linux box.  This means that the app timezone and the OS timezone operate independently.  By default both will be GMT 0.  After that most of the settings might not make a ton of sense until you’ve played around with it a bit.

Next, it’s time to grab add-ons. The coolest feature of Kodi/OSMC is the add-ons.  Add-ons tie lots of internet based content directly into your media center.  This is where the cord cutters dream comes in.  There are add-ons for various news channels, sports channels, the food channel, apps like YouTube, Pandora, the list goes on and forever expands.  I would say that the add-ons alone make Kodi/OSMC a functional media center, just getting this thing online gets you a ton of functionality.

After you’ve gotten your add-ons installed now it’s time to add your own media.  You have several options for this.  If you do as I suggest in the links and get the largest class 10 SD card available you can store your media locally.  You can also stream media over your network via SAMBA (SMB/CIFS/Windows File Sharing) or NFS.

Kodi rewards you for having your personal media organized.  Kodi employs scrapers that will grab friendly names, fan art, and cover art for your media.  It is best to organize your media into movies, tv, music, and pictures.  When you add your shares you can configure the libraries to adhere to your organisation/naming schemes.  For example, I prefer my TV content to be organized into <show name>/<season number>/<episodes>.  After you’ve added your media it will show up under headings as it has been classified.  The scrapers will also add other relevant tags like genre and year allowing you to choose your content in a verity of ways.

Once you’ve added all of your sources it’s time to sit back and enjoy.  Don’t forgot to check for new add-ons periodically, new content is always becoming available.

Feel free to comment below about your experience.  Has anyone been brave enough to add 3rd-party add-on repositories?

What you need:

  • The Pi itself.  I’m rocking the older Pi 1 model B without issue, but if I were starting fresh today I would go with the latest. (Pi 2 model B as of this writing)
  • A class 10 SD card at least 8 gig in size.  Class 10 is important, anything less won’t handle the disk I/O requirements.  Realistically I’d go big or go home so you have room for media on the device.
  • An HDMI cable.
  • (optional) USB wireless adapter If you plan on streaming media from another device on your network you’ll want at least 802.11n or you’ll have difficulty with HD streaming.
  • (optional) A case. There are official and third party cases.  A lot of people just run their Pis naked.
  • (optional, sort of)  A Micro-USB charger.  Some people power them off of their TVs.  Lots of people on the forums have blamed issues on bad power, the official power supply is recommended.
  • (optional, sort of) Codec licenses for MPEG-2 and VC1.

The Pi
SD Card
Power Supply
Codec Licenses

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