Using A Raspberry PI to Watch TV programs

I got a chance to participate in a Viacom Hackathon using Raspberry PI kits and was able to successfully make use of Raspberry PI to watch TV programs. This blog is to list out the steps I followed to achieve this. I am making sure to be as detailed as possible so that with just this blog you should be able to make a Raspberry PI play TV programs as I did.


I used OpenELEC ("Open Embedded Linux Entertainment Center") embedded operating system as OS to my Raspberry PI. The reason to pick OpenELEC is because it comes with complete media center software suite with a pre-configured version of Kodi® (formerly known as XBMC™), third-party add-ons and PVR plugins. Kodi is media centre software for playing videos, music, pictures, games, and more. We will be using this to install some TV channel Add-ons to play their programs.

Stuff needed

  1. Raspberry PI B+ or kit (I used the one in this link)
  2. Micro SD card min 4GB (Included in the kit)
  3. HDMI cable
  4. USB/wireless keyboard
  5. USB flash drive (minimum 4GB)
  6. Wireless USB Adapter - Optional (Included in the kit)
  7. LED/LCD monitor that can accept HDMI as input
Stuff I used

Setting up Raspberry PI

This needs the following steps

  • Downloading OpenELEC software
  • Formatting Flash and USB drives
  • Booting Raspberry PI
Downloading OpenELEC software

I downloaded OpenELEC pre-configured build from blog site and it can be dowloaded by clicking here. Also here is a link for the original blog which I referred to complete this task

This build is optimized for Raspberry PI b+.

Formatting SD card and USB drives

Both SD card and USB drives needs to be formatted with specific labels to allow Raspberry PI to boot properly. I used SDFormatter tool to format both my drives. While formatting make sure to provide following labels.

         SD card label: SYSTEM
         USB drive label: STORAGE

This label makes SD card as a bootable disk and USB drive as storage disk.

Booting Raspberry PI

Now we have software and necessary hardware in hand. Next is to install them and Boot Raspberry PI. First connect your SD card using SD card adapter (provided in the kit) to your MAC or Windows PC and copy the downloaded OpenELEC OS into it.

Attach micro SD card at the back of your Raspberry PI kit.
Attach USB flash drive to one of the USB slot in Raspberry PI kit.
Connect power adapter to Raspberry PI kit.
Connect one end HDMI cable to Raspberry PI kit and another end to the monitor.

We are now ready to boot up Raspberry PI kit. Power up Raspberry PI and you should see OpenELEC booting. You will be seeing a screen as shown below.

Booted Screen

Configuring to play programs

  • Connecting key board
  • Connecting to Internet (LAN or WiFi)
  • Setting up Add-ons
Connecting Key board

You can use USB keyboard or Wireless keyboard. I tried both and both works seamlessly. Connect keyboard USB cable or wireless USB to one of Raspberry PI USB slot. This will enable your keyboard as active input device. When I used wireless USB both my keyboard and mouse became active input device.

Connecting to Internet

Connecting to Internet is simple if it is LAN. Raspberry PI has a Ethernet port and once LAN cable is connected your Raspberry PI gets connected to Internet.

To connect to WiFi you need a wireless USB Adapter (For PI3 it is built in) if you bought the kit it is already available in it. Connect it to one of the USB slot in Raspberry PI. To connect to a WiFi you need to do some setup in "OpenELEC" settings. Below are the steps to connect to a WiFi

  1. Go to System tab

    System Tab
  2. Select "OpenELEC" option

    OpenELEC option
  3. Select "Network" tab and select "Wireless Networks" as Active.

    Network Tab
  4. Select "Connections" tab. This will list all available WiFi connections. Select the appropriate one and connect to it. Once connected "State" in WiFi should be "ready"

    Network Tab

    Setting up Add-ons

We need to install Add-ons from respective channels to watch their programs. I am going to list out steps to install "ESPN" and "Fox News" channel here which will be the same for all channels.

  1. Install a PVR Client

    PVR client is mandatory to watch either recorded programs from channel or to watch live TV channels. This can be installed by going into "Systems > Add-ons > Enabled Add-ons > PVR clients". I installed "ARGUS TV client"

    Note: To avoid PVR client connection lost warning message at bottom, turn off the setting "Do not show 'connection lost' warnings" at "System > Live TV > General"
    Install PVR client

  2. Install Channel Add-ons

    Add-ons are provided respective channels to view their programs or live shows. We are going to see how to install Add-ons for ESPN3.

    Go to "Videos > Add-ons > Get more.. > ESPN 3" and select it. It will pop-up "Add-on Information" window, select "Install" option which will start to install the Add-on. Once you have installed you can see that being listed as installed Add-ons as shown below
    Install Channel Add-ons To watch the channel come back to Add-ons list page and select ESPN3 to list out all the options Add-ons provided. Here we can see multiple options and selecting live will list the live events that is being telecasted in ESPN channel. Selecting any one you can watch the live event as shown below

    Watch Channel

Final Setup Picture

Final Image 1

Final Image 2

Upcoming Projects

  • Recording Programs into USB drive
  • Watching live TV channels using Raspberry Pi

Saravanan Kathiresan

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