Turn a Raspberry Pi into a media centre

With its easy upkeep, low maintenance costs but sizeable computing power, the Raspberry Pi is perfect for playing media or streaming. There are also a number of helpful software additions out there that can easily turn your single-board computer into a full-blown media centre. The one I am going to use in this blog post is LibreELEC.

Now that LibreELEC (Matrix) 10.0 BETA1 has been released with a new version of Kodi (v19.0), it is a good time to overhaul your existing media centre or – even better – set a new one up.

Before getting started, please note that this release is not yet available for all hardware and still very new, which is also why a clean install is always preferred over an upgrade.

For Raspberry Pi 4, LibreELEC currently only offer a stable alpha release which might have issues. If you prefer a safer option, use their latest LibreELEC (Leia) 9.2.6 release.

What you need

  • Raspberry Pi 4 connected to a screen and keyboard
  • Micro SD card
  • Power supply

Create a bootable SD card

Download the latest image for the Raspberry Pi 4 (or any other compatible version) from their download page.

We will use Etcher to create the bootable SD card, because it is available for the platforms Linux, Windows and MacOS. Download the software from the website and start it.

On the main screen, click the “Flash from file” button and choose the LibreELEC image you just downloaded previously. Then “Select target” and make sure you pick the correct SD card. Please note that all data on it will be erased in the process, so this step is irreversible.

Finally, click “Flash” and the bootable disk will be created – it should only take a few minutes.

Setup LibreELEC on the Raspberry Pi

Once the SD card has been created, you can insert it back into your Raspberry Pi. Boot it up and it will start straight into the Kodi Splash Screen, showing Matrix-style code trails.

The first boot of LibreELEC automatically opens the Install wizard, which you can use to configure language, hostname, network settings and sharing and remote access.

Make sure to enable SSH and Samba if you want to be able to access your media centre remotely over the network. It is also highly recommended to change the standard password, which by default is libreelec for the user root.

Add content from a media source

If you have all your movies, TV shows and music on an external hard drive, it’s easiest if you configure Kodi to look for these items and automatically update its database when new content is added. You can do this by setting the content on a certain drive.

Select Settings > Media > Library > Videos

You will be shown a selection of sources. Pick the harddrive and open it. You can now set the content for selected folders by clicking on the folder and typing “c“, which opens up a context menu.

Go to “Set content” and “This directory contains“. Then pick the appropriate format (e.g. Movies, Music videos, TV shows) and Kodi will now go ahead and scan the content of the drive into its library. This process can take quite a while, depending on the extent of files to register.

Back in the Library menu, chose the option “Update library on startup” to ensure your content stays up to date.

Changing the interface

By default, Kodi comes with a lot of menus and you probably want to remove some of them.

For this select Settings > Interface > Skin. Make sure you click on “Advanced” at the lower left side of the screen so that all options are available to you.

Then in skin, click on “Configure skin“, which will give you an option to remove certain menus you do not want to see.

Useful add-ons

The world of Kodi is spacious with a highly active community of contributors. There are tons of apps provided by official sources and the community, which you can install to help navigate the interface, customise the design and provide additional content and features.

Have a look through the Kodi repository to get started with the official add-ons. A few Third-party add-ons I can recommend are listed below.

Netflix: if you have a Netflix subscription you can stream videos on Kodi. This plugin is not officially supported but works well and also has a version available for Kodi v19.0. Find the code and up-to-date instructions on how to install on github.

Spotify. If you have a Spotify subscription you can access its music on Kodi via a Third Party app. The code and instructions are on github.

BBC iPlayer. This official BBC iPlayer app can be found in the Kodi Addons Repository and provides access to all the content on iPlayer. Access is only possible from IPs in the UK.

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