Building a media centre with a Raspberry Pi and OpenELEC

My project for the Easter vacation has been to build a media player using a Raspberry Pi and Open ELEC. Setup was fairly straightforward, but I thought it was worth writing up anyway – especially as I’m probably going to make further changes to the setup as I find new features to add.


I went with the new Raspberry Pi III, which is plenty powerful enough for this project. I also used a 16Gb SD card (the largest unused one I currently have), and a case that looked like it would handle being jostled around in my bag. The device also requires power and HDMI cables (which I already had), and a keyboard/mouse/monitor/ethernet cable for setup.


OpenELEC is one of the installation options on the NOOBS image, so I simply downloaded that, copied it to the SD card, and installed it from there. It requires a network connection to install, but is a lot easier than having to copy the image using dd. I went with the default options in all cases, although it’s worth noting that if you enabled ssh access then it’s not possible to change the root password at all, so you’ll need to disable it after setup (not that setup, or anything else, requires shell access).

Once installation had finished the device booted into the default Kodi interface. A web-based remote could be accessed by browsing to the device’s IP address, and it could be accessed as network based storage from all of my computers. Then it was simply a case of dropping some media files (movies and music) into the respective folders and testing that content could be played. I copied across some MP3, MP4 and AVI files, all of which played fine.


The original plan for this project was that I’d end up with something that could play movies and music on my TV, and that could handle storing a small amount of content locally so that when I end up in a hotel room with a few hours to kill I have something interesting to watch. The solution I’ve built ticks all those boxes, but I was curious to explore what else OpenELEC could handle.

After exploring the interface and available software for a little while I found channels for scrobbles, BBC iPlayer and TED talks. All of these installed and worked fine. Adding iPlayer started me thinking about other free to view TV channels, and at this point I remembered that the last edition of Linux Format had an article on using a Pi Mini for a similar project, and that there were instructions for adding a whole host of other services. Their instructions for adding ITV player were as follows:

Navigate to System > File Manager. Select ‘Add Source’ followed by ‘’, enter and select ‘Done’ followed by ‘OK’. Hit Esc then choose System > Settings > Add-ons > Install from ZIP file. Select xfinity from the list of locations, select ‘’, hit Enter and wait for it to be installed. Now select ‘Install from repository’ followed by .XunityTalk Repository > Video add-ons, scroll down and select ITV. Choose Install and it should quickly download, install and enable itself.

This worked fine, and also gave me access to a lot of other channels that I could add.

There are a lot of things I’ve not explored on this device yet, but at the time of writing I’ve got BBC and ITV channels (live and catchup), TED talks, and a variety of locally stored media. Music I play scrobbles to, and I can drop new media onto the device from my computer. I figure that all I’ll need to travel with is a power cable, a HDMI cable and a small mouse (all of which I already have), and I should be sorted. I also tested a trick I’ve used before which involves sharing a wifi connection via ethernet on my laptop to get the two devices to talk to each other long enough to add/remove media, which might also prove useful.

Software I use

Software I use that I feel is somewhat noteworthy includes:

  • Evernote – I use this on every device I own, mostly to take notes in meetings and training sessions, and then to revise/reflect later. A lot of my notes are now photographs of whiteboards, which Evernote handles very well.
  • Atom – A text editor that handles Markdown well, and can preview and export to PDF. This pretty much handles all of my writing/blogging work within one application. I’m currently writing this post in Atom. I also use Pandoc to convert to PDF, HTML and/or .docx if required.
  • Trello – I’ve just started using this for my to do list, and it’s a good way to visualise the planning and execution of any task based work.
  • Keynote – For presentations. I wouldn’t say I’m a power user, but I can throw together a half decent presentation now.
  • Dropbox – Cloud storage and synching software to ensure I can access everything everywhere.
  • IFTTT and Buffer – To automate as much as possible. Between them they handle a lot of the seemingly clever things in my digital life, and explain why I seem to be able to post to social media sites at times when I appear to be elsewhere.
  • NVivo – As a lot of the data I work with is words rather than numbers this is proving somewhat invaluable. I use the Mac version, but should get round to exploring the Windows version soon as I understand it has some different features.
  • Virtualbox – Because no-one needs as many physical computers as I had before virtualisation was a thing.

I’m always happy to talk about any of this software and how I use it to be productive.

New Music : March 2016

I’ve been very busy with the day job this month, and therefore finding new music has taken a backseat. Most of these were things were chosen/recommended by people who are not me, but I still think it represents a great snapshot of music released in March 2016. The Iggy Pop record in particular is excellent, and I don’t think anyone was expecting him to ever make anything so good again. I’m also very pleased with my Rough Trade album of the month for March, which is the debut album by Unloved. It’s difficult to categorise, but well worth a listen.

Unloved – Guilty of Love
Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression
Primal Scream – Chaosmosis
Richmond Fontaine – You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing To Go Back To
The Range – Potential
Underworld – Barbara, Barbara, We Face An Uncertain Future
Max Richter – Sleep (Remixes)

I now own all but the last three on vinyl after a little splurge this week, and I don’t think I’ve listened to much else this month.

Command line software updates on OS X

A while ago I blogged about the script I use to update my Ubuntu machines. Today it’s the turn of Mac OS X.

echo "updateall v.1.0 for OS X. This software will upgrade all your Apple/Homebrew software."
#Run this as a normal user. Your admin password will be asked for if required.
#Update all Apple software (requires admin password at this point)
sudo softwareupdate -i -a
#Update all software installed via Homebrew (as a normal user)
brew update
echo "The script has now finished running."

This assumes you’re an admin user (and know your admin password), and that you already use Homebrew to manage command line packages. That’s certainly how my machines are set up, as I find it’s easier to have the same set of command line tools on all my machines regardless of OS. I also find this a quicker and more reliable way of updating multiple machines on patch release day, and it can also be run as a scheduled job through Apple Remote Desktop for the brave at heart.

This one needs saving as a file called updateall. You can then make it executable (sudo chmod -X updateall), copy it to /usr/local/bin, and then run it by typing updateall in a terminal window.