How to Build Your Own Media Center with OpenELEC

Have you ever wanted to make your own home theater system? If so, this is the guide for you! In this article we’ll go over how to set up a home entertainment system powered by OpenELEC and Kodi. We’ll go over how to make the installation medium, what devices can run the software, how to install it and everything else there is to know!

Before setting up the software in the media center, you’ll need to choose a device. OpenELEC supports a multitude of devices. From regular desktops and laptops to the Raspberry Pi 2/3, etc. With a device chosen, think about how you’ll access the media on the OpenELEC system and get it ready to use.

Note: as OpenELEC is based on Kodi, there are many ways to load playable media (Samba network shares, external devices, etc.).

The OpenELEC installation disk requires a USB flash drive of at least 1 GB. This is the only way to install the software, as the developers do not currently distribute an ISO file. A raw IMG file needs to be created instead. Choose the link that corresponds with your device and download the raw disk image. With the image downloaded, open a terminal and use the command to extract the data from the archive.

On Linux/macOS

cd ~/Downloads
gunzip -d OpenELEC*.img.gz

On Windows

Download 7zip, install it, and then extract the archive.

With the raw .IMG file extracted, download the Etcher USB creation tool and follow the instructions on the page to install it and create the USB disk.

Note: for Raspberry Pi users, Etcher supports burning to SD cards as well.

The OpenELEC installation process is probably one of the easiest operating systems to install. To start, plug in the USB device and configure your device to boot from the USB drive. For some, this can be accomplished by pressing the DEL key or F2. However, as all BIOS are different, it is best to look into the manual and find out.

openelec-installer-selection

Once in the BIOS, configure it to load the USB stick directly. This will allow the computer to boot the drive, which will bring you to the Syslinux boot screen. Enter “installer” in the prompt, then press the Enter key.

openelec-installation-selection-menu

By default, the quick installation option is selected. Press Enter to start the install. This will move the installer onto the drive selection page. Select the hard drive where OpenELEC should be installed, then press the Enter key to start the installation process.

openelec-installation-in-progress

Once done, reboot the system and load OpenELEC.

openelec-wireless-network-setup

On first boot, the user must configure a few things. If your media center device has a wireless network card, OpenELEC will prompt the user to connect it to a wireless access point. Select a network from the list and enter the access code.

openelec-sharing-setup

On the next “Welcome to OpenELEC” screen, the user must configure various sharing settings (SSH and Samba). It is advised that you turn these settings on, as this will make it easier to remotely transfer media files as well as gain command-line access.

To add media to OpenElec (Kodi), first select the section that you want to add media to. Adding media for Photos, Music, etc., is the same process. In this guide we’ll focus on adding videos.

openelec-add-files-to-kodi

Click the “Video” option on the home screen to go to the videos area. Select the “Files” option. On the next page click “Add videos…” This will take the user to the Kodi add-media screen. From here it is possible to add new media sources (both internal and external).

openelec-add-media-source-kodi

OpenELEC automatically mounts external devices (like USB, DVD data discs, etc.), and it can be added by browsing for the folder’s mount point. Usually these devices are placed in “/run.” Alternatively, go back to the page where you clicked on “Add videos…” and click on the device there. Any external device, including DVDs/CDs, will show up there and can be accessed directly. This is a good option for those who don’t understand how to find mount points.

openelec-name-video-source-folder

Now that the device is selected within Kodi, the interface will ask the user to browse for the individual directory on the device with the media files using the media center’s file browser tool. Once the directory that holds the files is found, add it, give the directory a name and press the OK button to save it.

openelec-show-added-media-kodi

When a user browses “Videos,” they’ll see a clickable folder which brings up the media added from an external device. These folders can easily be played on the system.

When the user logs in they’ll see a “home screen.” This home screen has several sections the user is able to click on and go to: Pictures, Videos, Music, Programs, etc. When hovering over any of these sections, subsections appear. For example, when hovering over “Pictures,” the subsections “files” and “Add-ons” appear.

openelec-navigation-bar

If a user clicks on one of the subsections under a section, like “add-ons,”  the Kodi add-on chooser appears. This installer will allow users to either browse for new add-ons to install in relation to this subsection (like Picture-related add-ons, etc.) or to launch existing picture-related ones that are already on the system.

Additionally, clicking the files subsection of any section (e.g. Videos) takes the user directly to any available files in that section.

openelec-system-settings

Kodi has an extensive settings area. To get to the Settings, hover the mouse to the right, and the menu selector will scroll right and reveal “System.” Click on it to open the global system settings area.

Any setting can be modified and changed by the user, from installing add-ons from the Kodi-repository, to activating various services, to changing the theme, and even the weather. To exit the settings area and return to the home screen, press the “home” icon in the bottom-right corner.

With the OpenELEC installed and configured, you are now free to go and use your very own Linux-powered home-theater system. Out of all of the home-theater-based Linux distributions, this one is the most user-friendly. Do keep in mind that although this operating system is known as “OpenELEC,” it runs Kodi and is compatible with all of the different Kodi add-ons, tools, and programs.

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