Kodi Boxes are a cheaper, easier alternative to out-of-the-box Home Media solutions, and offer a number of advantages over them. Today, we'll walk you through exactly how to build a Smart TV box using Kodi and a Raspberry Pi.

We all know the situation. You go over to your friend's place and he's showing off his flashy new Apple TV, or Nvidia Shield TV, and won't let you hear the end of how it's a "state of the art home media solution" which "wipes the floor" with your good ol' Chromecast. However, there is an alternative that's cheaper, more flexible, and definitely more fun. Today, we'll take you through the steps required to get your own Kodi box up and running.

What is Kodi?

Let's start with the basics. Kodi (formerly known as the XBMC) is an open-source media centre software. It allows you to stream media from the web and through streaming services such as YouTube or BBC iPlayer, as well as from local and network storage. It supports HD DVR, EMC and all the other features you expect from an STB or home media solution. However, as it's open source and pocuses on customisation, it has a degree of flexibility that you don't get with an Apple TV or other alternatives.

  • It supports skins to completely transform the UI
  • It supports add-ons and plugins to add additional functionality, or widgets to provide additional information.
  • It's cross-platform, so you're not stuck with the same SKU if a manufacturer refuses to update your device

What is a Kodi box?

A Kodi box is, simply put, a media system built with the purpose of running Kodi. Kodi can run as an application within an operating system – however, in recent years, it's become more common to build a Kodi box using low powered hardware and run it inside a Linux fork optimised for Kodi. These forks are often much lighter, boot directly into Kodi and are as fluid and intuitive as competing solutions, but at a lower cost.

I've heard that Kodi is ilegal. Is this piracy?

No. This is a common misconception. There are a number of plugins and add-ons available which enable users to access paid content for free. These are, obviously, illegal. A fairly recent trend that caused this misconception was the sale of Kodi boxes preloaded with plugins that enabled free access to paid content on Amazon and eBay, causing the association of Kodi with piracy. However, the Kodi platform and the use of a Kodi box is completely legal.

So, what do I need?

Building a Kodi box is neither difficult nor expensive as the platform is open-source, compatibility isn't a huge issue. With that said, choosing the right power supply and case are vital to ensuring that your Kodi box runs stable and reliably for the long run.

All things considered, here's the setup we would recommend:

Raspberry Pi 3 Model B

The Raspberry Pi 3 is a solid starting point for a Kodi Box. It packs more powerful hardware than its predecessors making it more than capable of handling media streaming without any hiccups. You can find one here.

Flirc Raspberry Pi Case

One of the fronts where the Apple TV shines and the competition lags behind is design. However, the Flirc Raspberry Pi case offers a compelling package that competes with the Apple TV in terms of looks, with a sleek, premium aluminium design. Furthermore, the included passive heat-sink helps dissipate heat, improving thermals and preventing any performance bottlenecks as well as opening the door to overclocking in the future. They even make a special Kodi edition if that's your cup of tea. You can find them on Amazon or via their website.

SanDisk Extreme 32GB microSD card

A microSD card is an essential as it will house your operating system, your Kodi installation and any local media you may wish to store. However, it isn't as simple as finding any old microSD you have lying around and shoving it into your Pi. The Pi only supports certain microSD cards. Furthermore, we'd recommend getting a wear-resistant microSD card for the sake of longevity. This Sandisk ExtremePro 32GB microSD card is the one we'd recommend, but you can change it to any other supported card depending on your storage needs.

A high-quality, supported power adaptor

The best home media setup on the planet is no good without a good power supply. A power adaptor is the beating heart of your system- a faulty one could leave you with little more than a fried circuit board under your living room TV, so don't skimp or cut corners here. This should suffice, but always be sure to do your research before buying one.

A remote

This one is down to preference. You can get by just fine with the Kodi remote mobile app if you wish, however, if you want to complete the living room experience, you may want a remote. While Kodi and many other Pi-based applications support HDMI CEC (which enables using your TV's remote for control of the Kodi box by transmitting information via HDMI), not all TVs support this technology. Fortunately, Flirc, the company who designed the excellent Raspberry Pi case linked above, also manufacture this useful contraption: the Flirc USB. It acts as a universal IR receiver which can map controls from any remote for media centre use after configuration in a Windows/macOS app.

All in all, the cost totals at only $77, considerably less than the extortionate $199 you'll be paying for the Apple TV.

Well, now that we've got all our hardware, let's get down to the fun stuff.

How to set up your Kodi box:

We'll start by assembling the Raspberry Pi inside the case, which is a fairly simple task.

  1. First, open the Flirc Raspberry Pi case and apply the thermal tape to the built-in heatsink. Then, insert the board inside the case.

  2. Insert the case cover back into place and tighten the screws.

  3. Insert the microSD card into the slot under the case.

  4. Insert the HDMI, Ethernet, and micro USB cables in place. Plug in the Flirc adapter, keyboard, or any other controllers.

Next, we're going to install our operating system. Our choice was the Debian-based OSMC, as it's lightweight and well optimised for Kodi while still leaving plenty of room for potential customisation in the future. It's not difficult to configure either, making it a solid choice for first-timers.

  1. Format your microSD card- this can be done from any Mac or Windows PC.

  2. Download the latest version of the OSMC installer from here.

  3. Launch the OSMC installer, select your language and "Raspberry Pi 3" as your device of choice.

  1. Click next and select the latest version of OSMC, and select your microSD card as the installation location.

  2. Configure your network settings, depending on whether you intend on using a wired or wireless network. While most routers use WPA2/PSK, it may be worth checking your router settings to prevent issues.

  3. Select the device path for installing OSMC and accept the license agreement

  4. Once the download has completed, select "Yes" when prompted to confirm installation.

  5. Once it has installed, insert your microSD card into your Raspberry Pi and boot it up.

  6. Once OSMC has installed all the required files, select your locale and time zone.

  7. Proceed through the device name and SSH sharing screens and theme, depending on your own preference.

Press exit and you're done! OSMC has been installed! Now that that's done, we're going to start adding content and media sources.

Local media

As most media is encoded in H.264, the only codec the Pi natively supports, you should be fine (mostly). However, if you need to play back other codecs such as MPEG-2 of VC1 you can purchase licenses here and here.

Media on a Kodi Box being accessed via a microSD card or USB follows this naming convention for metadata access.

Adding media to your microSD card requires root access- if that isn't your cup of tea then a USB drive will work just fine.

  1. Plug the drive into your Kodi Box, browse to Videos or Music and select the "Add…" option.

  2. Click "Browse" and select the top-level folder containing the type of media you're adding – TV, movies, or music.

  3. Select the USB Drive from root/media, and the "Set Content" dialogue box will pop up. Use the up and down arrow buttons to select the type of media you're cataloguing and verify the selected scraper is the one you want to use.

  4. Check the content scanning options (the defaults should be fine for most people) and click 'Settings' to review advanced options.

  5. Click "OK" twice and choose "Yes" when prompted to update the library.

Once that's complete, you'll find that a new entry, "Library", has been added to the media menu on the main screen. This gives you access to your content with filters such as genres, title, or year to help navigate larger collections.

Streaming Media

Streaming media largely depends on the provider you intend on using. For Catch-Up TV like BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, and UKTV Player, there are plugins available which can be installed easily. For iPlayer, simply:

  1. Open Videos then go to Add-ons.

  2. Select Get more..., then scroll through the list and find iPlayer WWW.

  3. Select this and choose Install to install iPlayer after which it will become an available add-on through the Add-ons screen.

For options such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Instant Video and HBO Go, on the other hand, the method varies slightly.

  1. Purchase and download PlayOn here, and install it on your Windows-based system.

  2. Open PlayOn Settings and enter the license information in the Registration tab to complete the registration process.

  3. On your Kodi box, open Videos -> Files, and select the "Add Videos" option. Select it, go to -> Browse -> UPnP Devices -> "PlayOn (your PC name)".

  4. From this list, select you want to add as a source (e.g. Netflix) and rename the media source as you wish.

Now, we're going to add Netflix to the home menu:

  1. Open the Settings screen on your Kodi box

  2. Go to "Appearance" -> "Skin – Settings" -> "Home – Customize Home Menu".

  3. Select "Add"-> "Choose shortcut" -> "Video Library" -> "Sources" -> "Netflix". Press OK to save your settings and you're done! You've successfully added Netflix to your Kodi box.

There is an alternate method involving configuring the PlayOn media browser with your Kodi box, but we'll cover that in a future guide.

Customisation

You didn't think we were just going to leave you with a boring stock Kodi setup, did you? No, what we're aiming for is something to really rub salt in the wounds of your Apple TV-touting friends. We're going to be installing the tvOs-X skin by iCanucks. It's the most beautiful, refined and complete Apple TV skin out there for Kodi.

Installing the skin is a fairly straightforward process:

  1. Download the skin and any necessary add-ons from here

  2. Copy the skin to the root directory of your MicroSD card.

  3. Navigate to System -> Add-Ons->Install from ZIP files.

  4. After doing this, select "Install from Repository" and select "repository.icanuck-3.2.0".

  5. Now, navigate to System->Add-Ons->Look and Feel and select the tvOS-X skin.

And voila! You've got your tvOS skin!

Ok, so why would I want this over an Apple TV?

For once, it plays better with NAS devices, so you can easily build your own network-based content library and use that with multiple devices, instead of making a ton of local clones. In addition to this, you can easily customize the operating system to your liking with new skins, apps, add-ons and much more. You can even change the OS entirely! The flexibility it brings in contrast to an Apple TV is truly amazing and is definitely reason enough to choose it over an Apple TV.

Also, did we mention that it's cheaper, both short-term and long-term? We probably did, but it's a good idea to mention it again. We talked about the short-term savings above, and unlike an Apple TV you can modify and change this hardware whenever you want and as Raspberry Pi SKU's are fairly useful you probably won't ever end up having to swap out everything.

What do you guys think? Would you buy this over an Apple TV? Do you already own one? Having trouble setting yours up? Let us know in the forums and we'll give you a hand!