How to Build a Kodi Raspberry Pi Media Center

One of the best Raspberry Pi projects you can make is a Kodi-based media center.  With Kodi running on a Raspberry Pi, you’ll be able to stream content from various add-ons as well as enjoy local files such as movies, TV shows, music, and photos. This article will show how to build a Kodi Raspberry Pi media center, from selecting a Kodi OS (operating system) to downloading add-ons, importing local files,  and adding network shares.

Kodi, formerly known as Xbox Media Center (XBMC), is an open-source media player<a href=”#anchor1″>[1]</a>.  While XBMC originally ran only on the first-generation Xbox, it eventually evolved into Kodi Media Center, an app compatible with Linux, macOS, Windows, Android,  and more. The free media player is cross-platform and written in C++. Because of Kodi’s open-source nature, it’s been ported to several light weight OSes including LibreELEC, OpenELEC, and Xbian.  A Kodi-only operating system is simply a command-line only Linux distribution (distro) that features the Kodi app installed and boots into Kodi for a graphical user interface (GUI).

Kodi has several media player functionality, but generally split into two different sections: local file playback and streaming media. Like VLC’s VideoLan, Kodi can play virtually any media file.  A huge library of add-ons are available similar to apps available for Android and iOS devices or streaming set-top boxes like Rokus. For instance, you can download add-ons from Netflix, Plex, and Funimation for streaming content from those services. And with add-ons such as Retroplayer or the Internet Archive’s retro gaming library, you can even emulate ROMs on Kodi. 

Being lightweight and using very few system resources, Kodi is an excellent way of setting up a home theater PC.  By installing Kodi as an app, or with a dedicated Kodi OS, you can play pretty much any file from your media collection either from a directly-connected harddrive, flash drive, or network share.  There are also numerous Kodi add-ons available for streaming media. With its small form factor and low power draw, the Raspberry Pi runs Kodi like a champ. 

Almost any Raspberry Pi board will run Kodi perfectly, even the tiny, cheap Raspberry Pi Zero. Using a Pi Zero/Zero W, you can create a cheap, portable media center. What determines which Raspberry Pi you should run Kodi on is your needs. The Raspberry Pi 4 boasts 4K 60 FPS  support, so if you need 4K video output, use a Pi 4. Although Kodi will use system RAM for buffering files for a few seconds, it uses very little RAm for video caching. Often, it’s no more than 60MB of RAM. Therefore, even the 1GB Raspberry Pi 4 should work. The Raspberry Pi 3 B+ also works great for Kodi, although you’re limited to 1080p. For most users, the Raspberry Pi 4 is the best option. But the Pi 3 B+ remains a good choice if you only need 1080p and below. For a USB-powered streaming stick build, the Pi 0/0W works really well. 

The first step in putting together a Kodi HTPC using a Raspberry Pi is selecting a Kodi OS. First, decide whether you’d like to run Kodi as an app on a Linux or Android operating system. This allows you to run various programs and browse the internet,  or even use office productivity software.  You can also use a standalone Kodi OS which just runs Kodi, a good choice if you only need media center capabilities. Gamers may want to run a retro gaming distro such as RetroPie, Recalbox, or Batocera which include Kodi as an app.  We will go through five of the most popular Kodi distributions available for the Pi.

LibreELEC is the most popular Kodi distro.  LibreELEC ( short for Libre Embedded Linux Entertainment Center ) is a non-profit fork of OpenELEC as an open source software appliance, a Linux-based Just enough operating system for the Kodi media player<a href=”#anchor2″>[2]</a>.  LibreELEC is a Linux system designed specifically for the Kodi media center application, with nothing else to slow it down.  LibreELEC is easy to install, with versions for 32-bit and 64-bit PCs including the Raspberry Pi. It comes with a USB/SD card writing tool, so you don’t have to download a disc image which makes it simple to install.  LibreELEC’s biggest advantage and the reason it’s the most popular is that it supports not only Raspberry Pi but, a wide range of devices. It is one of the best Linux HTPC Distro available because of its extensive capabilities.

OSMC stands for Open Source Media Center. It is a free open-source media player.  OSMC is a Linux HTPC Distro for single-board PCs such as the Raspberry Pi. OSMC is a modified version of Kodi which provides an appliance-like experience similar to Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, and other similar devices.  OSMC also operates on Vero, which was designed by the OSMC team. It supports media playback from local storage, network-connected storage (NAS), and the Internet.  It is based on the Kodi open-source project. As a result, OSMC gives you access to the whole Kodi add-on library.  The OSMC has a different user interface than Kodi but has the same add-ons, codec support, and other features.

OpenELEC stands for Open Embedded Linux Entertainment Center<a href=”#anchor3″>[3]</a> and although it has been discontinued,  is still very popular.  It was originally created to run XBMC but it has been developed to run Kodi. It is the original LibreELEC but because of the slow development rate, it isn’t updated as frequently as other OSes or support as many devices.  The device compatibility of OpenELEC is great. Installers for the Raspberry Pi, Freescale iMX6 devices, and a few WeTek boxes are readily available.  Installing the downloaded file on a bare hard drive partition is all that is required. Your Linux machine will run Kodi once it’s finished.  OpenELEC has access to the whole Kodi add-on library and you can customize your Linux media center to your liking.  Kodi also supports live TV and DVR which can give you a complete media center experience.

Recalbox is a project that aims to lower the emulation scene’s entry barrier, with features that promote ease-of-use as well as having a simple out-of-box experience<a href=”#anchor4″>[4]</a>. .  Recalbox provides a different approach to movies, TV, and music than other Kodi Linux Distro in this list.  It’s a hybrid of Kodi with the EmulationStation frontend. Recalbox is a Linux Distro for recreating vintage video games on the Raspberry Pi, not a home theater operating system. Recalbox  includes Kodi as an app. You may use the EmulationStation front-end to launch Kodi, or you can boot directly into Kodi.  Recalbox is a great, all-in-one solution for gaming, video, and music because it incorporates both Kodi and EmulationStation. It combines Kodi with vintage gaming on the same platform. You can even connect a vintage game controller to give it a more authentic experience.  It’s a Linux-based operating system that can be installed on 32-bit and 64-bit systems and was originally designed for Raspberry Pi.

RetroPie, like Recalbox, is a gaming-focused Raspberry Pi Linux media center Distro.  It builds upon Raspbian, EmulationStation, RetroArch and many other projects to enable you to play your favorite Arcade, home-console, and classic PC games with the minimum set-up<a href=”#anchor5″>[5]</a>.  RetroPie features Kodi for local file playing, network streaming, and Kodi add-ons, as well as EmulationStation.  Retropie features a user-friendly interface and can run both on top of an existing operating system and boot as an operating system from a speсial premade SD card image.  The main feature of Retropie is that it includes almost all the previous experience of console gaming emulation. It consists of the EmulationStation’s interface with themes for emulators, Kodi media-player, RetroArch (frontend for the Libretro API which helps many of emulators work) and more than 50 systems pre-installed by default.

Recalbox is still one of the most user-friendly Linux HTPC Distro.

It’s easier to get started with than RetroPie because its installation is as simple as dragging and dropping files. Recalbox, on the other hand, is less adjustable.

RetroPie has a plethora of shaders and choices to customize your gaming experience.

RetroPie also has a wider range of gaming system compatibility.

The support team is also much better.

In this tutorial,  we will be installing LibreELEC. LibreELEC has 4K 60 FPS output. First,  we have to make sure which Raspberry Pi you want to use LibreELEC on.  LibreELEC has support for all currently released versions of the Raspberry Pi, from the Pi Zero to the Pi 4.  There are three versions of the LibreELEC distribution available for the Raspberry Pi.  Each version of the operating system targets a particular set of hardware   Head over to the <a href=”” target=”_blank”>official LibreELEC website</a>. Download the latest release of LibreELEC for the Raspberry Pi you have. You can use the LibreELEC bootable drive creator, or use a standalone image download.  If you choose the LibreELEC USB-SD creator, pick the option for the host OS you’re using. If you’re browsing on a Windows machine, select Download for Windows. For Linux, pick the 32-bit or 64-bit Linux USB-SD card creator utility, and for macOS choose download for macOS. With the appropriate utility downloaded, run it and in the first drop-down, pick your Pi version, for instance, Raspberry Pi 2 and 3 or Pi 4.

When the LibreElec image file has been successfully flashed on the storage device, we will insert that storage device in the Raspberry Pi SD card slot.  On the first boot, it may take some time so be patient and a window with a “LibreElec” logo will appear.  When the home page of Kodi is displayed, a prompt of “Welcome to LibreElec” will open, you can choose the language by clicking on the “Next” button.  The next menu will display the “Hostname”,  which is the name of the device, if you want to change it to another name, change it, else click on the “Next” button.  If you aren’t already connected to the network by ethernet cable,  you will see the networking setting where you can choose your wifi network.  Now LibreELEC is set up.

After installing Kodi, you’ll want to perform a bit of basic set up which includes installing add-ons. It’s a good idea to allow for installation of Kodi add-ons from unknown sources, or apps not in the Kodi repositories. Navigate to Settings > System Settings and toggle Unknown Sources to on. You’ll see a warning, read it and click Ok.  Now, head back Add-ons > Download and select your add-on type such as Video Add-ons or Music Add-ons.  There are tons of legal Kodi add-ons available for your entertainment needs. 

Aside from streaming media, you can also add local media sources such as network drives or files from connected harddrives. For videos, head to Videos > Files > Add Videos > Browse and find a folder of videos on a connected harddrive or flash drive. Then, hit Ok. After that, use the default name or rename that video source.  Next, set the content type. This could be Movies, TV Shows, Music Videos, or None. Choose your scraper information, such as The Movie Database. There are tons of different settings you can pick, such as keeping the original title, enabling fan art, and enabling trailers via YouTube.  If you have a remote source such as a NAS, you might want to add your network share.  To enable playback on network shares,  go to Videos > Files > Add Videos > Browse > Add Network Location… and select your SMB server or remote NAS.  You will need to enter a server name, protocol, and the network address (IP address) or device name. 

<p id=”anchor1″>[1]<a href=”” target=”_blank”></a>    “Kodi (software)”</p>

<p id=”anchor2″>[2]<a href=”” target=”_blank”></a>    “LibreELEC”</p>

<p id=”anchor3″>[3]<a href=”” target=”_blank”></a>    “OpenELEC”</p>

<p id=”anchor4″>[4]<a href=”” target=”_blank”></a>    “Recalbox”</p>

<p id=”anchor5″>[5]<a href=”” target=”_blank”></a>    “RetroPie”</p>