How to turn a Raspberry Pi into an XBMC media center: build a fully functional HD entertainment hub for under £30
Learn how to turn a Raspberry Pi into a cheap, HD-ready media center for all your movies, music and TV.
A good thing about Raspberry Pi is that its diminutive size makes it an excellent choice for those who want to add a small, unobtrusive media center to their home cinema setup without breaking the bank. With nothing more than a £25 Raspberry Pi, a few cables and an open-source Linux distribution, you can network all your media together and display it on your big, shiny flatscreen. See also: cool projects you can use a Raspberry Pi for.
How to turn a Raspberry Pi into an XBMC media center - step 1: Installation
If you want to use your Raspberry Pi as a media centre, there are a number of purpose-built OS’ to help you get started. Our favourite is Raspbmc, a version of Kodi (formerly XBMC) optimized for the Pi, although Plex users might want to consider RasPlex, a similarly-designed offering from the makers of the media server software.
Luckily for those unfamiliar with MicroSD card flashing, disk images and Linux distros, Raspbmc is one of the default OS options pre-packaged with the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s NOOBS installer. Simply follow our beginner’s guide to setting up a Raspberry Pi, but when prompted to select a distro package to install, select Raspbmc from the list rather than Raspbian.
How to turn a Raspberry Pi into an XBMC media center - step 2: Setting up Wi-Fi
Once it’s installed and booted up, the first thing you’ll want to do is connect to your Wi-Fi network. Head over to the programs tab, and go into the ‘raspbmc settings’ menu. The network tab of this menu will allow you to edit your wireless configuration by entering your network name and password, after which you should be fully connected.
However, as the Pi doesn’t have onboard Wi-Fi, you’ll need a USB adapter/dongle. Linux, and the Raspberry Pi in particular, can be very fussy about which adapters it works with, so make sure to check out this list of compatible models and purchase a new one if necessary.
How to turn a Raspberry Pi into an XBMC media center - step 3: adding a remote control
The next task is adding a remote control to your Raspberry Pi – no one wants to have a keyboard and mouse cluttering up their entertainment center. The good news is that if your TV supports HDMI CEC, your standard TV remote will work just fine with your Pi, and allow you to browse through your content from the comfort of your couch.
You can also control it through the web interface, by going to Raspbmc’s system info menu, noting down the IP address of your Raspberry Pi and typing that address into your browser. Of course, it will have to be prefaced with ‘http://’, and both computers will have to be on the same network. Once done, the web UI will open up; select the ‘remote’ tab, and a control interface will appear that you can use to navigate to your hearts content.
If you own a smartphone or tablet, you can also use that to control your Pi. As an open-source project, there are numerous apps available for this function. All you need to do is download one, and link it to your Raspbmc by entering the MAC address and port details, which can be found in Raspbmc’s system menu.
How to turn a Raspberry Pi into an XBMC media center - step 4: Playing your files
Now that you’re all set up, you can get down to the fun part – watching all your movies and TV. Playing your files is a snap – simply plug in a flash drive or external hard disk with your media on it, and your Raspberry Pi will automatically recognize it.
From there, just navigate to the appropriate tab (music, movies or video), select your storage device, and your files should be there waiting to be played. If you own a NAS drive, Raspbmc is also capable of retrieving your files from there, but we find it’s much simpler to simply use a thumb drive.
How to turn a Raspberry Pi into an XBMC media center - step 5: Setting up AirPlay
If you’re an Apple fan with a lot of content from the iTunes store, you can also set up your Raspberry Pi as an AirPlay receiver. Simply go into the AirPlay tab in the services menu (found in the settings section) and tick ‘allow XBMC to receive AirPlay content’. That done, your Apple device will detect your Raspberry Pi as an Airplay Receiver, and you’ll be ready to stream all your iTunes content directly.
With all that done, you’re ready to start streaming all your content, instantly and in HD. Due to the open-source nature of Rasbmc, it’s constantly being updated, and there are numerous add-ons and options to let you tweak your experience to your hearts content, so you can have your entertainment exactly the way you want it. You’ll never go back to normal TV again.