Raspberry Pi OSMC

Turn your sad old screen into a smart multimedia system on the cheap..!

This article explains how to reinvigorate a not-so-smart screen using a Raspberry Pi and some downloadable software, on a veritable shoestring. You will need a screen or TV with an HDMI input and a computer with an SDCard reader and a degree in computer science.

"The potential of the Raspberry Pi has got me so hyped, I've got a nerdy hard-on the size of Sydney Tower.."

- Andy, 2017

I've been lurking around Jaycar Electronics for some time now, perusing the arduino projects in the catalogue, but never quite getting around to taking a paddle in the lurid pool of home electronics projects. And now I know why - there is something even better..and it sounds like my mum's old tart! (better read that bit carefully).

So whilst rubbernecking the merchandise at one of the local markets in Launceston I came across a small box full of computer bits. Feeling in the mood for a new project I haggled the owner down to $25, willing to take a chance on a pile of crap but at least I'd get a new Tupperware sandwich box out of it. What I actually got was three Raspberry Pi units, a mini gigabit ethernet hub, a mini USB3 hub, a USB Bluetooth adapter, SDCards and all the power boxes. Not a bad haul for a Pleasant (Tamar) Valley Sunday..

Raspberry Pi B+

The Raspberry Pi is a fully functioning mini computer, about the size of a packet of Marlboro Reds. It was developed somewhat altruistically by a few of of my fellow countrymen in the UK, known as the Raspberry Pi Foundation - a charity aiming to promote the teaching of basic computer science in schools and in developing countries. As such, amazingly these things sell for only a few dollars. This one's the slightly later B+ with extra USB slots and a see-through case. Nice..

The units I ended up with are the original Version 1, Model B systems, which means they run a single core 32-bit ARM 700MHz CPU with 512MB onboard RAM, 2 x USB2 slots, 1 x 10/100 Ethernet, a full-sized HDMI output and 3.5mm audio jack. There are also serial slots for display (i.e. LED/LCD) and camera. The things are designed to boot from a full-sized SDCard and are powered by microUSB, so more fighting for the phone chargers.

Installation and Configuration

See Installing an operating system onto the Raspberry Pi. The OSMC SDCard image can be downloaded from https://osmc.tv/download

Using OSMC

Open Source Media Centre

There have been a number of 'Media Centre' operating systems or applications over the years. Windows XP Media Center Edition springs to mind..and then springs out again. OSMC is open source and can be installed on Windows, OS X and Linux systems as well as the custom image for the Raspberry Pi.

"The cursor jumped around like a nun in a cucumber patch.."

After booting to OSMC I found the initial config screen almost impossible to use with a mouse. The cursor jumped around like a nun in a cucumber patch. OSMC seems to be designed for use with a keyboard (or similar device) and I found the arrow keys worked better. Another gripe is that the highlighted options were hard to distinguish from the non-selected ones, at least on my screen, and a better contrast would help get the job done.

Otherwise the environment is immediately usable, strangely familiar and easy on the eye. Configuration options are buried within the menu system, so take the time to tinker with the interface. The easiest way to get going is to plug a USB drive full of music and videos into a spare USB slot on the Pi. OSMC should recognise the device, with audio (i.e. MP3 files) being available from the 'Music' Menu and multimedia (i.e. MP4 files) being available from the 'Video' menu. There is, as yet, no Pr0n menu..

So this is a great project for turning a knackered old non-smart TV into a useful, modern media centre with a bit of effort and very little cost. The sound quality is superb - especially if cranked through an external amp and video quality is definitely the dog's bollocks. Vive l'open source revolution!

Further Fiddling - Sound

The modern HDMI interface carries audio as well as the video signal. If the screen tells the system it has audio (i.e. built in speakers) then you will get sound from the TV speakers but not the Raspberry Pi's audio out jack. This was a hassle for me as my old LG TV (42LG30D) has speakers, but the audio out RCA plugs are on the back and the thing is hanging on the wall.

In OSMC select Settings | System | Audio | Audio output device [enter], the audio signal can be toggled to HDMI, analogue (audio out on the Pi) or both, thus allowing for connection to an external amp.

Further Fiddling - Network

The Raspberry Pi can be connected to a home LAN or other network via the ethernet port or wireless (will need USB wireless adapter on earlier models). Most home wireless hubs feature a DHCP Server which will also look after systems connected to it using network cabling. Giving OSMC online access opens up the scope for more functionality and updates.

Streaming media from other systems

OSMC does support connectivity to other media servers on the network using various protocols. My home system uses a FreeBSD Unix media server running Samba. From the main OSMC menu select My OSMC and select the shopping cart icon to install Samba (SMB) Server. The system will of course need to be connected to an internet-enabled network for this to happen.

Once installed, navigate to Videos | Files | Add Videos | Browse and later Music | Files | Add Music | Browse to browse the network for the SMB shares on other systems. You will need to have a basic understanding of UNC paths which means basically typing in //servername/sharename (change the names for your server).Give each share a name and the system will remember them. This part can be a bit laborious and clunky but once set, the share names will appear in the various menus.

Updating new tracks

Interestingly OSMC doesn't register new files uploaded to storage by default. Go to Settings | Media | Library -> Video Library and check 'Update library on startup' and also Music Library and check 'Update library on startup'.

And finally - Keyboard Shortcuts

If like me, you use a keyboard to control OSMC, then here are a few keyboard shortcuts..

  • Arrow keys to move, ENTER to select
  • Backspage to go back
  • +/- volume
  • S - Shutdown Menu
  • C - Slide-in Menu
  • Spacebar - pause
  • < and > - skip back/forwards
  • Tab - Bring up menu

AndyM | Updated Jan 2020