Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Raspberry Pi as a Media Center

One of the biggest attractions of the Raspberry Pi is its utility as a media center platform. Recall that the combination of the Broadcom VideoCore IV GPU and the HDMI output means that you have the capability of sending 1080p High Definition to your monitor or HD television.

As it always happens in open source development, several software options exist for building a Raspberry PI media center. Some of the most popular choices include


Note that because I wanted the highest-quality screenshots for this post, the XBMC interface images I give you in this post are from the Windows version rather than from Raspbmc. The good news is that Kodi/XBMC 12.2 “Frodo” looks and behaves exactly the same regardless of its host hardware—hence the great beauty of platform-independent, open source software.

A bit of History

The name XBMC originally stood for Xbox Media Center because the software was intended to run only on modified (“modded”) Xbox consoles. These days, of course, XBMC runs on almost every desktop or mobile platform, and to that end, uses the backronym “XBMC Media Center.”

Note: XBMC and Raspbian

For those who are more experimentally minded, you can actually install XBMC directly on top of Raspbian. Check out the Raspbian XBMC project page ( for more details.

I like to describe XBMC as a Swiss Army knife media application that can play just about any media file you can throw at it. Here is a run-down of some of the best features of XBMC:

Plugins: You can easily extend XBMC functionality by installing add-ons that (for instance) display local weather, pull Internet Movie Database (IMDB) metadata for your currently loaded media, and so forth.

Media Scrapers: XBMC can scan any media you load and automatically detect everything there is to know about the item. For instance, the scraper can detect an MP3 audio file’s album track listing, song lyrics, and so on.

Apps: You can launch applications that enable XBMC to tie into streaming media services such as Netflix.

Codec Richness: Compressor–Decompressors (Codecs) allow media player software to recognize, decode, and play various media. Not only does XBMC ship with a ton of media codecs, you can manually install additional codecs to ensure that your custom media is playable from within XBMC.

For a more comprehensive listing of XBMC features, read the associated Wikipedia article at

How to Setup Raspberry Pi as a Media Center
(For Windows user)

1. Download the Windows Raspbmc Installer from the Raspbmc website ( and extract the .ZIP file contents to a local directory on your Windows system.

2. Open Setup.exe, which starts the Raspbmc Installer and flash your SD card under Windows by using the Raspbmc Installer application.

3. Follow the on-screen instruction to start flashing your SD card, remember, and you don’t want to pick the wrong drive. (You also need to select the I accept the license agreement option before clicking Install to your SD card.)

4. When the installation process completes, you will see a Congratulations! message informing you to boot your Raspberry Pi from the newly flashed SD card. Note also that you need to plug in the Ethernet cable into your Model B board, have your home network configured for automatic (DHCP-based) IP address assignment (if it’s not already), and have your keyboard, mouse, and HDMI monitor all plugged in and ready to go.

Configuring Raspbmc

Flashing your SD card by using the Raspbmc installer does not actually fully set up your environment; instead, the installer formats your SD card, create one big partition and installs the barest layer of Raspbian on the card.

Upon first bootup the Raspbmc installer takes over the system, downloading and applying Raspbian to your Pi. You can see this in picture below.

Raspbmc automatically installs the latest version of the software during the Pi’s first startup.

After installation completes, you see the XBMC interface and are asked to choose a default language. You need to navigate to System, Settings, Appearance, International to verify and set your localization settings for: Region, Character Set, Timezone country and Timezone

You’ll find that XBMC navigation is pretty intuitive by using the keyboard and mouse. As shown in below, each configuration window can be closed individually by clicking the “X” in the upper-right corner of each window. Also, the navigation buttons in the lower-right of each screen take you back one screen or get you to the Home screen, respectively.

Getting Your Remote Control Working

What is a set-top box worth if you can’t control it with your favorite remote control? Nothing, in my estimation. Your first order of business is to study the list of Raspbmc-compliant remotes at the Raspbmc website (

Second, you need to decide whether you want to control your Raspbmc box via Internet Protocol (IP) or Infrared (IR). An example of an IP-powered remote control is an iOS or Android app that enables you to control your Raspbmc media center.

IR is a line-of-site remote control protocol that has been around seemingly forever; I’m sure that you use IR remotes to control your television sets right now.

If you decide to go the IP remote control route, then you should investigate mobile apps designed to control XBMC over your local IP network:

Official XBMC Remote (Android): HERE

Controlling Your Raspbmc Box From an iOS Device

1. In XBMC, navigate to System, Settings, Services, Remote Control and enable Allow programs on other systems to control XBMC.

2. On the same configuration page, navigate to Zeroconf and enable Announce these services to other systems via Zeroconf. For more information on Zeroconf, see the note “What is Zeroconf?”

3. One more setting group: On the Webserver page, ensure that Allow Control of XBMC via HTTP is enabled and optionally change the listener port (8080 is a good choice) and add a username and password (xbmc/xbmc is a common combination).

4. Verify your IP address by going back to the home page, navigating to System, System Info, and checking out the IP address field.

5. Download and install the Official XBMC Remote from the App Store.

6. Start the app and tap Add Host.

7. In the New XBMC Server dialog box, add as many details as you can regarding your Raspbmc (see screenshot below).

NOTE: The more information you can provide to the remote control app, the better the chance is that the app will discover your Raspbmc box on your network

8. Tap Save to save your configuration, and tap Find XBMC to locate your device on the network.

With a successful connection, you can fully control your Raspbmc box remotely as shown below.

Installing Add-On to your Kodi/XBMC

XBMC/Raspbmc add-ons are small apps that extend the functionality of your media player software. You’ll find an impressive variety of tools here, giving you the ability to interact with all sorts of cool media, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Apple iTunes podcasts
  • and CollegeHumor prank videos
  • Weather and webcams from all around the world
  • News headlines from all around the world
  • Streaming video from a variety of online sources
To install an add-on, navigate to the home page in Raspbmc and hover your mouse over Pictures, Videos, TV Shows, or Music. One of the submenu options is Add-ons; click that.

In the resulting Add-ons window that appears, click Get More.... As shown below, you’ll be presented with an alphabetical assortment of add-on apps that are related to your selected media type.

Add-ons can greatly expand the functionality of your XBMC-based media player system.

Once you’ve found an add-on that you like, double-click it in the list and then click Install.

To use your new add-on, return to the Add-ons window we saw earlier. Instead of being empty, you should see your new app on the list; double-click it to get started!


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