Connecting a media PC to your TV can help you watch and organise your favourite entertainment from the comfort of your living room.
Unless you plan on gaming or playing 4K content, a Raspberry Pi can the base of a cheap and powerful home theatre solution.
For the uninitiated, a Raspberry Pi is a mini-computer which can run a number of Linux operating systems and home theatre software.
Using an operating system called OSMC, I turned a Raspberry Pi 3 into a standalone home theatre PC capable of accessing and playing my music library, media off an external hard drive, and streaming online services – including YouTube and Twitch.
Turning a Raspberry Pi into a media device does not require much, although connecting devices such as a remote control and external drive greatly improve the experience.
Below is all the hardware you’ll need to set up a Raspberry Pi media PC:
- Raspberry Pi 3 Model B – R629
- Raspberry Pi power supply – R114
- Raspberry Pi 3 case – R130
- SD card 8GB or bigger – R99
- Remote Control/Smartphone
The basic hardware required for this setup is priced at R972, not including an external hard drive or remote control.
The Raspberry Pi 3 Model B is the best Pi model for building a media PC, as it is more powerful than previous versions and includes built-in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity.
The Pi 3 Model B is powered by a 5V microUSB power supply and features a quad-core 1.2GHz ARM processor and 1GB of LPDDR2 SDRAM.
The device has four USB 2.0 ports and boots off an SD card.
I wouldn’t recommended using an SD card smaller than 8GB, as the operating system with add-ons and media can take up a lot of space.
A number of remote controls are compatible with OSMC, but you can use your smartphone instead with the Kore app.
You will also need to connect a display and a keyboard to the device in order to perform the initial setup.
Purchasing a heat sink for the Pi will allow you to overclock the device and increase performance, though the OSMC install runs perfectly without extra cooling.
Connecting an external hard drive to the Raspberry Pi will allow you to play your saved media through OSMC without an Internet connection.
OSMC is a free Linux distribution which allows a number of devices to run the free media centre software Kodi.
Basic steps for installing OSMC on the Raspberry Pi 3 are:
- Copy a fresh install of NOOBS to an SD card.
- Insert SD card with NOOBS installed into a Raspberry Pi and boot.
- Connect to the Internet.
- Select OSMC from the list of available operating systems.
- Reboot the Pi after the software is installed.
Installing OSMC for the Pi 3 is relatively straightforward and first requires you to install NOOBS for Raspberry Pi onto a formatted SD card.
After inserting an SD card with NOOBS into the Pi and connecting the device to the Internet, you are greeted with a choice of operating systems to install.
Selecting OSMC will download the OS and install the software on your device.
OSMC’s initial setup is straightforward and presents the user with a clean interface, which separates media into categories.
By navigating to settings, you can set up the device for remote control over HTTP and local network – allowing you to use your smartphone as a remote control for your Pi media centre.
All that’s left to do now is connect your Raspberry Pi to your TV via the Pi’s HDMI port.
At this stage you can connect an external storage device to the Raspberry Pi and play saved media, but the true power of Kodi lies within its many add-ons.
There are many add-ons and extensions available for Kodi, from live weather updates to music and video streaming.
Many add-ons are created by third-party developers and Kodi is not responsible for the content or regulation of these.
Navigating to “Add-ons” under one of the main categories will allow you to browse official and unofficial add-ons for Kodi, or you can manually install add-ons from a repository if you search for specific add-ons online.
I installed YouTube and Twitch add-ons in addition to the NASA add-on, which allows you to view live streams from the International Space Station.
Installing an add-on which allowed me to access my Google Play Music account proved more challenging. After finding an experimental add-on for the service, though, I was able to access my account and Play Music library.
There are thousands of add-ons for Kodi which provide a variety of features, although not all are compatible with the Raspberry Pi.
Unfortunately, I could not find a way to install Netflix on my Raspberry Pi.
However, it is still possible to stream Netflix from another device to your Raspberry Pi using network media player add-ons.
Kodi is a powerful open-source platform with a lot of support from add-on developers, allowing you to choose from a vast amount of extensions and set up your device’s features according to your preferences.