Introduction: Make Any Dumb TV a Smart TV

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Do you wish your standard television could connect to the internet? You would have the ability to stream Netflix, Hulu, or look up anything on Google when your cell phone is out of reach. All of your music and movie files could automatically be linked to your television. Buying a brand new smart TV is a very expensive change. What if you could turn your dumb TV into a smart TV for only about $35-$45?

Keep reading to find out how to use a Raspberry Pi to make any dumb TV a smart TV with some free software called Kodi (formerly XBMC). This post is meant for beginners with lots of details, pictures and non-technical language. This post has many steps, but many are optional add-ons.

Post Overview & Summary

Part 1 - Basic Setup

  • Download Kodi
  • Gather Hardware
  • Install Kodi

Part 2 - Optimize Kodi

  • Install an Add-on
  • Customize with a new skin
  • Use an Android phone instead of keyboard and mouse
  • Add movies, music and other files
  • Switch from Ethernet to WIFI

This article was originally posted at Tech 4 Noobs

Sorry for some of the poor images. I had a hard time getting them to look right. In person the screen looks bright and clear.

Step 1: Part 1: Download Kodi

What is Kodi? Kodi is a free Linux based operating system that is specifically made for organizing and presenting media in a simple to navigate format. It can be used on computers, but it really shines on a TV. It can easily organize and present music, videos, internet, and pictures. Kodi has a variety of free apps that can be downloaded (more on this below). One of the best parts about Kodi, though, is that the look can be completely customized with new skins.

  • Start by downloading Kodi for Raspberry Pi HERE for Windows on your desktop or laptop computer. Mac and Linux directions can be found HERE. I have already included the Windows Zip file.
  • Insert an SD card into your computer. This must be a class 10 card (a small number 10 will be printed on the card)
  • Download Kodi onto your SD card.

Step 2: Part 1: Gather the Hardware

The list of hardware needed for this project is pretty simple and straight forward. Some items can be found around the house and others can be purchased cheaply.

  1. Raspberry Pi B or B+
  2. TV with HDMI Outputs (other video cables can work but HDMI is what we used)
  3. Micro USB charger (a micro USB phone charger will work)
  4. HDMI cable
  5. Mouse and keyboard
  6. Ethernet cable and internet connection (WIFI will not work for initial setup)
  7. SD card class 10 (suggest at least 8GB)
  8. External Hard Drive (optional)
  9. Beer (optional or mandatory)

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Step 3: Part 1: Install Kodi

Once you have Kodi downloaded onto an SD card and have gathered all the materials listed above, you are ready to boot up and install Kodi to your TV. Keep in mind that the Raspberry Pi must be connected to the internet with an Ethernet cable. The total time for install may be 20-30 minutes, so be patient. We have included lots of pictures of the install process to show there are a bunch of different screens and it takes a while.

Plug all the components in and turn the TV on. You may see a bunch of rainbow colors and then a black screen with lots of code and words on it.

Step 4: Part 1: Install Kodi - Finishing Up

After that you will likely see a install progress bar that looks like these pictures. It will take awhile so you may want to go grab a drink.

Make any Dumb TV a Smart TVMake any Dumb TV a Smart TV

The screen may switch from a progress bar to a red R multiple times. The red R looks like this picture. This is normal. Be patient and let it continue.

Make any Dumb TV a Smart TV

Eventually you will see a screen that looks like this. Remain patient. You are almost there!

Make any Dumb TV a Smart TV

Finally after about 20-30 minutes Kodi will boot and ask you what language you would like. Choose the one that is right for you.

Make any Dumb TV a Smart TV

Congratulations! Kodi is now installed and you have turned your dumb TV into a smart TV. This completes the initial setup of Kodi. Keep reading to find out how to get the most out of your new TV.

Step 5: Part 2: Install an Add-on (Apps)

Now that Kodi is installed, what can be done with it? Out of the 'box' Kodi is pretty basic, but the good news is you can completely customize it. One of the first ways to add functionality to Kodi is with Add-ons. Think of these like apps in the Google Play store. There are some really good Add-ons for Kodi including Pandora and Grooveshark for music, Best of Youtube, Hulu and iTunes movie trailers for video, and a bunch of picture add-ons. These are just a few examples. There are many more so go check them out. Below is how to install an Add-on.

In this example we will add the Apple iTunes Trailers to our video Add-ons. Use the left and right arrow keys on your keyboard to navigate to the videos section. Highlight Add-ons. Press enter to select.

Make any Dumb TV a Smart TV

Since you have not yet installed an Add-on the only option will be to "Get More". Click this by hitting enter.

Make any Dumb TV a Smart TV

You will be taken to the Kodi 'store' where there are a bunch of different Add-ons to select from. We will pick Apple iTunes Trailers (use the arrow keys to navigate and enter to select).

Make any Dumb TV a Smart TV

Once selected a description page will pop up. Click install by hitting enter.

Make any Dumb TV a Smart TV

You can now watch Apple iTunes Trailers easily from your TV. To get to this Add-on from the home screen simply go to videos> Add-ons and the Apple iTunes Trailers will be in the list. We are going to watch the trailer for the new Entourage movie.

Make any Dumb TV a Smart TV

There are tons of other Add-ons to pick from. Let me know in the comments which ones you like best.

Step 6: Part 2: Customize With a New Skin

At first Kodi looks a bit dull. The blue background is not overly appealing and the navigation bar feels a bit dated. The good news is that the look of Kodi can be easily completely customized in under 5 minutes. This can be done by installing new skins to change the appearance. See below for directions on how to do this. From the home screen scroll with either the mouse or keyboard arrows to System and then pick Setting from the drop down. It should look like this picture:

Make any Dumb TV a Smart TV

Once in settings go to appearance and hit enter or click.

Make any Dumb TV a Smart TV

The first option will be skin. Hit enter or click on it then click skin again on the next screen. Make any Dumb TV a Smart TV

This will take you to where all of your downloaded skins are. We currently have three total, but if this is your first time on this screen it is likely that you only have the default Confluence theme. If you want to download additional themes, simply click on "Get More" and a list of downloadable themes will be presented. We downloaded two others that we like - AppTV (this will look very similar to Apple TV) and Nebula.

Make any Dumb TV a Smart TV

Note: Nebula is meant for customization. The background pictures can be changed, the title pictures (Movies, Music etc.) can be changed, and the color scheme can be changed. Overall, we like this theme but we did experience some lag.

Step 7: Part 2: Stop Using a Keyboard and Use an Android Phone

Some of you may be thinking, "Well, it is cool that there is an easy way to create my own smart TV, but now I have a keyboard and a mouse sitting in my living room, which is really a hassle." Not to worry! An Android phone or tablet can be used as the remote with the official Kodi App called Yatse. Below are the directions to setup Yatse with your Raspberry Pi running Kodi. Make sure your phone or table is connected to your home WIFI. Make sure your Raspberry Pi is also on. Download the Yatse App to an Andoid phone or tablet. Open the Yatse app. It should look like this. Click add host.

Make any Dumb TV a Smart TV Yatse Home

This will be the next screen you see. Click manage - it is small and near the top right-hand side. Make any Dumb TV a Smart TV Yatse Manage tab

This will be the next screen you see. Click the plus sign on the bottom left side. You will be taken to a screen that we could not get a screen shot of. Click on "XBMC/ Kodi". It is the top pick.

NOTE: Your Raspberry Pi must be on for this.

Make any Dumb TV a Smart TV Yatse add device

If everything was done correctly you will be taken to a screen that looks like this. Click the found host. Another screen will come up with IP and post information. Click add host at the bottom.

Make any Dumb TV a Smart TV Add XBMC Host

Step 8: Part 2: Adding Movies, Music and Other Files

If you have files that you want to share to Kodi the best and easiest option is to setup a Samba (a way to share from Windows to Linux) file share. This is very easy and there is nothing to download. We feel that this is the best way to share, because as you get new files (assuming most files go through a main home computer) and put them into the folder, they will be automatically be updated to Kodi on the TV. In our example we are going to share an entire hard drive with our Raspberry Pi Kodi media player. Start by right clicking on the hard drive you would like to share. Go to share with > advanced sharing. It should look like this picture. Right click hard drive > Share with > Advanced sharing

Make any Dumb TV a Smart TV File share

Click advanced sharing

Make any Dumb TV a Smart TV Advanced share

Click share this folder

Make any Dumb TV a Smart TV Share this folder

Add a share name by clicking add and then click apply

Make any Dumb TV a Smart TV Add share name

Go to your Raspberry Pi on your TV. Navigate to music (or videos depending on what you want to add) and add files.

Make any Dumb TV a Smart TV Add music

This screen will come up. Click on browse.

Make any Dumb TV a Smart TV

The next screen will look like this.

Make any Dumb TV a Smart TV

You will choose Windows Network (SMB). After you click on this, you may be asked to enter your user name and password, (the one on your Windows computer) and then you will be taken to your share folder. We suggest organizing by using large content folder names. For example it may be easiest to have a folder named "movies" with all of your movies in it. You can then share all of your movies at one time. Once you get to the folder you want to share, click OK on the right side. Then click add on the next screen. Then click ok at the bottom. This can be tricky. Comment below if you have any questions.

Step 9: Part 2: Use WIFI Instead of Ethernet

Using Ethernet is in many cases faster than WIFI but it can be highly limiting to where the Raspberry Pi can be placed. If the TV you want to use is in a different room from your router running a cable is not really practical and could be a tripping hazard. Not to fear! Using WIFI on Kodi is really easy. You will need a USB WIFI dongle though. Below are the steps to get the WIFI up and running.

Plug in the USB WIFI dongle to the Raspberry Pi.

Navigate to the Programs tab and click on Raspbmc settings. It will look like this picture.

Make any Dumb TV a Smart TV Kodi Programs Area

The first thing that comes up should be the network settings. One of the first options is to pick wired or wireless connection. Change this to wireless. Scroll down until you see SSID and Password. The SSID is the name of your router and the password is your WIFI network password. Enter these and then click ok.

Step 10: Downsides & Limitations

We really had fun getting this setup on our TV but there were some downsides.

  • Raspberry Pi can sometimes lag a little bit especially with a new skin installed. There are some skins that are light weight and can speed it up again. Another device that may work better is the Banana Pi.
  • The TV input needs to be switched back and forth for live TV. This could potentially be worked around with a USB TV tuner.
  • We still like Chromecast better than Kodi. Chromecast is easier to use and only costs $35. While Kodi has some great functionality, we still feel that a Chromecast is the best plug in device. There is also Apple TV, Amazon TV and Roku.
  • Yatse appears to only be available for Android devices. There are other phone remotes available on iOS.
  • Sometimes the system will suddenly shut down and restart for no reason. We have not figured out a solution yet. Comment below if you can help!

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