I’ve been using a Raspberry Pi 2 and a Blu-Ray player to play movies and music in my home cinema. Recently, I found that those devices can’t play everything. Specifically, they fail to play files that are encoded with HEVC (H.265) or videos in 4k resolution (UHD 2160p). So I decided to look for a new media player, one that could handle all kinds of files… and doesn’t cost more than 100 bucks.
This article consists of the following subsections:
- hardware selection
- software selection
Ok, let’s get started!
The best device on the market in the sub 100$ range is arguably the Odroid C2 from Hardkernel. Its specs are rather impressive for a 40$ device:
- Quad-core ARM Cortex-A53 CPU with a 64-bit ARMv8 architecture
- ARM Mali-450 GPU (video core)
- 2 GB DDR3 RAM
- 4x USB2.0 ports, 1x HDMI 2.0 (standard-sized)
- Gigabit Ethernet
- Infrared receiver
- Micro SD card slot and eMMC module socket
- Passive cooling (heatsink included)
- Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.6 cm
In short: It’s small, cheap, silent and powerful… awesome!
Opponents such as the Raspberry Pi 3 are rather disappointing in terms of specs and are therefore not usable as a 4k media player. They are simply lacking computing power, particularly hardware support for video decoding capabilities.
Here’s what you will need in terms of hardware:
- Odroid C2, starting from 40$ (approx. 50€ in Europe)
- micro SD memory card with at least 4 GB (~5€)
- micro USB power supply, or a 5V DC power adaptor with a round plug (0.8mm/2.5mm), must at least deliver 2A (approx. 5€)
- a computer with an SD card reader and a micro SD adapter
- optional: enclosure for the Odroid C2, almost all cases that fit the Raspberry Pi 2 will also work (starting from 3€)
Besides, you will – obviously – need an HDMI cable to connect the Odroid to your TV or AVR as well as an Ethernet cable for network connectivity (or a USB WiFi adapter).
Note: If you have a spare USB stick, you can also use that instead of a micro SD card.
Which operating system and media center software is suitable?
Kodi (formerly XBMC) is unarguably the most popular open source home theater software available. While there are other solutions, Kodi is simply the way to go nowadays (IMHO).
There are several operating systems that already include Kodi, for example OpenELEC or LibreELEC (a fork of the former). ELEC stands for Embedded Linux Entertainment Center. I decided to go for LibreELEC due to better support for the Odroid C2 at the time of writing.
Side note: Hardkernel itself also provides an operating system for the Odroid C2 (which I didn’t test). Besides, you could also install Android or a Linux distribution such as Ubuntu.
Basically, all you need to do is to install LibreELEC on the micro SD memory card. I am only going to explain how to that on a Windows machine. Instructions for Linux or MacOS can be found here.
The setup procedure is a piece of cake:
- Download LibreELEC 7 (Kodi Jarvis 16.1 or later), e.g. from this link (make sure to get the .img file). Alternatively, you can also download the file here.
- Download Rufus, the portable version will do.
- Insert the SD card and open Rufus. Select the device in the dropdown list. Then click the CD icon next to FreeDOS. In the new window, make sure the filter is set to ‘All files (*.*)’, then select the LibreELEC img file and click Start.
- Savely eject the micro SD card from your computer. Then insert it into the dedicated slot on the bottom side of the Odroid.
- Connect the Odroid to your TV with the HDMI cable, plug in the Ethernet cable and power the device.
Now the Odroid comes with an infrared receiver. However, it can only be used with a compatible remote control. If you don’t have that or don’t want to buy it, then you have 3 options:
- Use a universal programmable remote control (such as a Logitech Harmony, you can use the configuration of ‘Hardkernel Odroid C1’)
- configure Kodi to support any of your remote controls (see for instance here)
- or use a USB keyboard or mouse.
For users with an AV receiver: To make sure to get the best listening experience with your media player, I strongly recommend to make some adjustments in the Kodi settings. Therefore, open the menu ‘Settings’ and go to System > Audio output and ‘enable passthrough’. Right below this entry, enable all options that end with ‘… compatible receiver’. This will make sure that all audio data is passed to the receiver undecoded, meaning the audio quality will be uncompromized by any downsampling or mixing that Kodi may apply otherwise.
In my tests, I didn’t encounter any problems, all files would play flawlessly. No further adjustments in the settings are necessary. Keep in mind though that LibreELEC for the Odroid C2 is still a work in progress, therefore some audio or video formats may not yet be supported. However, since the development is community-driven, you may expect updates on a regular basis.
To further improve the usability of your media player, I suggest to enable DLNA support. To do so, navigate to Settings > Services > UPnP/DLNA and enable ‘Allow remote control via UPnP’. Now you will be able to stream music and videos and control the Odroid with your smartphone using a UPnP/DLNA app such as BubbleUPnP.
That’s it! Enjoy your new media player! 🙂
Let me know if you have any questions or remarks.
[update] In the meantime there is an official release of LibreELEC for the Odroid C2.