This article is a follow-up of my previous, quite successful article about building a versatile media center, based at first on the very popular Raspberry PI but later on, due to the lack of HEVC , H.265 and HDMI 2.2 compliant output, it was switched to Hardkernel's Odroid C2:
In that previous article, I've tried to cover all the steps required, starting from mechanical, electrical and at last the SW that is required to be able to use it at it's full potential.
As you know, changes in this world are very fast, and an information which is accurate and up-to-date can become obsolete very quickly. Software is mostly affected, but also the HW boards are developed very quickly.
With the release of the most powerful SBC as the time of writing, the Odroid N2 became highly popular among Kodi enthusiasts (Kodi = The best open source media center), especially as the CoreELEC team picked it up at a very early stage and offered support before the board was even released to the large public. As I wanted to be in touch with the ever-changing world, I quickly ordered it and was pleasantly surprised, that even if the existing CoreELEC image is still in "testing" phase, almost everything works out of the box.
What is different from the Odroid C2? Quite alot:
- it has 4k and HDR support, which the C2 was lacking
- USB 3.0 vs USB 2.0 ports. Due to this, it's more suitable to host several USB tv tuners, than the C2
- 4 GB RAM vs 2GB
- more powerful CPU (it is build based on the new Amlogic S922 CPU) vs the Amlogic S905, capable of running plugins that require inputstream and must use SW rendering (Netflix, for example) at full HD resolution, compared to 720p, which previous devices were cable of
- has low power modes
- has modern 4.xx kernel compared to the quite old 3.14.x which was one of the major drawbacks of the C2. Due to this, it's more compatible with modern hardware, like USB tuners, game controllers, etc.
Step 1: Mechanical and Electrical Setup
As you've seen in my previous article, in order to have a media center that really looks like a factory built one, I've used the enclosure of the old STB to host the components inside of it. However, over time I did many modifications to the setup and that enclosure became quite broken.
With this new board, I came to the conclusion that it's better to use a new enclosure.
As one image tells more than 1000 worlds, I've included some images that were taken while I've put together everything. The steps were the following:
- The bottom of the Odroid N2 features 4 holes. I've used some plastic placeholders with screws in the end to mount it to the bottom of the plastic enclosure. It was important to be as close as possible to the front panel, as it has an IR receiver that can be useful at some point, even if I'm using usb based qwerty remote (Airmouse type)
- Afterwards, I've drilled the holes to the bottom where the 4 tuners (2 sundtek DVB-S2 , 1 DVB-C/T2 from Dvbsky, T330) and one Xbox one tuner (also for DVB-C)
- The ethernet connector is a bit of an overkill, but I could find nothing else that was easily mountable (circular hole rather than rectangular one) :
- The HDMI cable was odered from aliexpress. Basically it can be of any type, as long as it has some sort of possibility to attach it to the rear panel of the enclosure:
- Power: Unlike the Raspberry Pi , or the Odroid C2, the Odroid N2 is supplied from 12V instead of 5V and has onboard voltage regulators to provide the 5V needed for the USB and other components. I did not find the maximum power it can handle, but I found no problems powering the 4 tuners and the VFD display module. On the 40 pin header, you have 5 pins for 5V output and also 3.3V, if needed.
- Power and Status LED: For the 12V and 5V power, I've used 2 LEDs (one was an UV LED, the other regular green one). Note that you will have to limit the current, otherwise you will damage the LED and/or the power supply. I've used 1.2K resistors in series, but based on what kind of illumination level you prefer, you might use a smaller one, but always calculate that the maximum current shall never exceed 20mA.
- VFD: I've re-used the same VFD display that the one used in my previous article. It had an i2c backpack, which is enclosed in that white box visible in one of the pictures. You can connect it to the i2c port of the Odroid N2, in the same was as it was connected to the C2 or the raspberry pi: 5V (pin 2 or 4), GND (pin 6), SDA (pin 3) and SCL (pin 5). See the GPIO header layout on Hardkernel's official webpage:
- For the VFD and the 2 status LEDs, I had to cut the front panel. The enclosure I choose permitted to have 2 front panels. I've used the original plastic one to hold all of the components, and in front of it I've used a glass, which I've cut it to have the same size as the plastic one at of the local shops that do such things.
Step 2: Software Setup
This part is a bit different than it was previously described in the article linked at the beginning of this instructable.
For the Raspberry PI we've used the OSMC image that featured a full linux OS that allowed us to install also the build environment to have the latest SW build from sources rather than using the one that came in repositories.
Unfortunately, at the time of writing this article, there is no such image for the Odroid C2 , nor the new N2 that has a full linux system and also Kodi optimized for it. Currently, the best support is done by CoreELEC team, which is actually a fork from LibreELEC. This image has only a read-only system and Kodi is installed onto a separate partition, called /storage.
Due to this, the system is more immune to power losses and is harder to break, but also has some limitations: one must stick to the binary SW built and provided via official or unofficial repositories.
But even so, one can find quite up-to-date versions of the SW pacakges that we need: tvheadend, oscam, lcdproc and various addons for movies, live tv and radio.
Firs step first, before even installing anything, an image must be burn to the SD card (or EMMC) and placed in the respecitve slot.
The test image for the N2 can be downloaded from here:
Don't get scared that it's a test image! It works wonderfully, and even if there are some minor issues, it is very suitable for daily usage. Burn the image with balena ethcer:
and if you did everything write, after placing the card into the slot, it should boot up nicely.
To install the SW services (tvheadend, oscam, lcdproc) use the CoreElec repository, Programs and Services folder.
To configure the rest of the system, please refer to the previous article where I've tried to cover in detail every aspect.
Step 3: Conclusion
The Odroid N2 is the best board that is available to buy at this point. The Vero 4k+ is a very good product, if you do not like to build yourself, then it's a better choice, even if it has and older CPU (the S905d). It can handle 4K and HDR as well, however it's not powerful enough to render in SW Netflix at 1080p.
If speed is an important factor to you, then the N2 is the better choice without any doubt.
Also, CoreELEC did a great job in supporting this board right from the beginning and I can only thank to the people involved in this.