I’ve been playing around with something called OpenELEC. It’s an open source media center solution based on Linux similar to Myth TV. The ELEC part of the name stands for Embedded Linux Entertainment Center, appropriately so. This is the framework container that provides the OS in which the actual media center software runs.
The media software that provides the user interface and media handling ability is called kodi. Kodi started out as a project to provide a media center environment to the XBox. Originally in 2002 when it was first developed, it was called XBox Media Player. In 2004, the development team decided to rename it to XBox Media Center. Then in 2008 it was renamed to just XBMC as it had moved on from it’s roots in the Xbox. Shortly after being renamed XBMC, support for the XBox was dropped. In 2014, XBMC was renamed to Kodi and they had their first release called Helix. I won’t bore you too much more on the details or history of this media center software, you can fire up your google-fu and do just as good a job as I can.
So I used to have (still do actually) a Western Digital Live TV media player. It was highly recommended from my good friend Dusty Hudson who works for Dolby Laboratories out in sunny California. I was looking for a set top box to bring together all of the assorted media I had stored on my file server and be able to access it via the TV interface without having to have a loud bulky computer sitting in the living room like an eyesore. I used to rock Windows 7 Media Center and that worked pretty well overall. Still had to have the big ugly and noisy desktop computer sitting in the living room though. This solution was rather low on the WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) scale but it worked ok. Once I stared to get a ton of movies though, the interface just started to choke and became pretty much unuseable. Back to the WDTV that replaced MCE, it seemed to work pretty well- better than Media Center in a lot of ways. I picked one up refurbished for $60 and had it for about a year. It started to flake out on me though- it would freeze up during playback or sometimes I had to power cycle it to get it to turn on. After dealing with this for months I started to look around for alternatives.
Fast forward to today. I’ve been playing around with Raspberry Pi’s (Pi 2 and B+) lately. Then I stumbled across this page on OpenELEC. I don’t recall exactly how I found it, but it seemed very intriguing given that there’s a build that runs on the Raspberry Pi. At first I thought this would be a non-starter given the relatively limited processing power of the 900MHz quad core ARM Cortex-A7 CPU and 1gb of memory. Come to find out that the Pi 2 has built in hardware video decoding for the following codecs:
- H.264 (up to High Profile) encoded videos are supported up to 1080P using hardware video decoding. Note: Hi10P will not work.
- MPEG-4 encoded videos are supported up to 1080P using hardware video decoding. This includes XviD and recent versions on DivX (but not the older 3.xx DivX).
- The Raspberry Pi Foundation offers additional video codec licenses for a few dollars. At the moment you can purchase MPEG-2 and VC1, both with support up to 1080P. Read below on how to enable these.
- MJPEG, VP6, VP8 and OGG Theora are supported as GPU accelerated software decoders. These are limited to DVD resolutions.
- Codecs without gpu support like DivX 3, msmpeg and sorenson spark will be decoded by dvdplayer on the ARM. Should work for SD resolutions.
- DVD ISOs with menus should work fine (using dvdplayer).
- Software DTS audio decode works well in recent builds. TrueHD audio is CPU intensive and may require overclocking.
Quite the little powerhouse for less than $30! So I loaded OpenELEC on my MicroSD card, threw it in and booted it. BAM!! right out of the box, everything booted up fine, no errors, no video or audio issues, networking, all good! A far stretch from my experiences with Myth TV years ago. I’ve only been running it a few days but so far there are a LOT of features and they’re extremely customizable. There are builds for windows as well if you want to try it out without actually installing it on a Pi. I give it a big thumbs up so far!