If you’re looking for an inexpensive, yet fully-functional way to stream digital media, you may want to consider using LibreELEC to create a Home Theater PC (HTPC). LibreELEC is a minimal, Linux-based operating system that’s built specifically for use with the Raspberry Pi and other “single-board” HTPC systems.
In this guide, we’ll:
- Introduce you to the LibreELEC software
- Show you how to install LibreELEC on your streaming device
- Go over the benefits of using LibreELEC
- Discuss alternative software (OpenELEC, OSMC)
Let’s get started now, beginning with the basics about LibreELEC.
What is LibreELEC?
LibreELEC (short for “Libre Embedded Linux Entertainment Center”) is a fork of the popular “OpenELEC” open-source operating system. LibreELEC was first started in late 2016, when creative differences among OpenELEC developers caused them to split into two separate entities.
Just like OpenELEC, LibreELEC is a lightweight Linux-based OS that’s built around the Kodi media player. It comes with Kodi pre-installed and is built to run Kodi smoothly and efficiently.
LibreELEC is optimized to be run on all flash-based hard drives. Examples of flash-based hard drives include USB flash drives, SSDs and SD cards.
With LibreELEC, it’s easier than ever to set up a Kodi installation on your Raspberry Pi or on any other streaming device.
What Will I Need to Install LibreELEC?
Here are the materials you’ll need to install LibreELEC on your streaming device.
- A compatible single-board PC. Options include the Raspberry Pi 1, 2, 3, or 0 and Odroid C2. Android boxes from WeTek (Core, Hub, Play, and Play 2) can also support a LibreELEC installation.
- A Linux, Mac, or Windows-based PC for flash imaging and installation.
- A high-speed SD card (recommended) or a flash drive (optional for Raspberry Pi installs).
- An SD card reader (if using a computer without a built-in SD card reader).
That’s it! Now, let’s move on to the installation instructions.
How to Install LibreELEC on Your Streaming Device
Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of the installation process.
Step 1. Downloading the LibreELEC USB-SD creator
- Go to the LibreELEC downloads page and select the appropriate operating system, as seen in the below screenshot.
- Download the utility and locate it in your Downloads folder. If you’re on a Windows computer, simply double-click the .exe. The filename will be LibreELEC.USB-SD.Creator.Win32, or something similar. For Mac users, the download will be named LibreELEC.USB-SD.Creator.MacOS.DMG. Double-click the .dmg file, and drag it to the Applications folder to install it.
- Open the LibreELEC USB-SD creator. You’ll see the interface shown below.
Next, let’s discuss how to create the proper LibreELEC image and burn it to your flash media of choice.
Step 2. Creating a LibreELEC image
- Select the version of LibreELEC you’ll be installing. I’m using a Raspberry Pi 3, so I have selected the option labeled Raspberry Pi 2 and 3. The default download option will be the latest version of the LibreELEC software.
- Select Download. Then, follow the on-screen instructions to select the desired download location for your disk image.
NOTE: If desired, you can download an older version of the LibreELEC software. Simply tick the Show all box, located above the LibreELEC version selector.
- Your disk image file will begin downloading to your preferred location, as shown in the below screenshot.
- When the download has completed, the disk image will be automatically selected. If you deselect your disk image by mistake, choose Select file and navigate to the location of your disk image. In my case, this is /Users/eric/Downloads/LibreELEC-RPi-2.arm-8.1.1.img.gz. However, the location of your disk image may differ depending on your operating system and your selected download location.
- Next, select your preferred USB stick or SD card. Each connected flash storage device should show up in the provided drop-down menu. If your device is not shown, press the blue “refresh” button to the left of the menu, as shown below:
I’m using an SD card named ERIC’S SD, which is visible in the drop-down menu. Ensure you have the right drive selected.
NOTE: We recommend using an SD card over a USB drive, if possible. For Odroid and WeTek devices, you’ll have to use an SD card, as these devices do not support USB booting. Raspberry Pi devices are able to use USB drives, but are natively designed to work more effectively with SD cards.
- Select Write to begin the process of writing your disk image. The LibreELEC utility will erase your selected disk drive and install a fully-mountable, functional version of the LibreELEC OS.
NOTE: This will erase ALL DATA PRESENT on your flash drive, SSD or SD Card. We recommend using only a blank piece of flash media, or backing up all required files before writing your disk image.
- The writing process may take several minutes, depending on the speed of your computer and your selected flash device. After it’s complete, eject your flash device from your computer.
Step 3. Installing LibreELEC on your streaming device
Installation steps vary depending on the streaming device.
Installing LibreELEC on Raspberry Pi
Installation for LibreELEC on Raspberry Pi is quite simple. Here’s what you’ll need to do.
- Insert your SD card into your Raspberry Pi.
- Press the power button. Your Raspberry Pi should automatically read the OS and begin installing LibreELEC. Installation and initial booting may take up to 5 minutes.
- Run LibreELEC. Follow the onscreen prompts to complete installation.
That’s it! You now have a fully functional Kodi installation on your Raspberry Pi!
Installing LibreELEC on Odroid C2
Here’s everything you need to do to install LibreELEC
- Insert your SD card into the Odroid device.
- Plug in your HDMI/WiFi module before plugging in the power cord.
- Boot up the Odroid C2. The device will start, and show the LibreELEC logo for a few minutes while installation occurs.
- The Odroid C2 will boot into Kodi automatically after installation completes. Follow the on-screen prompts to complete installation.
It’s as easy as that. Enjoy your new Kodi installation!
Installing LibreELEC on WeTek Android boxes
WeTek Android Boxes can dual-boot LibreELEC and the default WeTek operating system. If you have an older WeTek Play device, you may need to run the WeUpdate application to enable dual booting. Here’s how to install LibreELEC on WeTek Android boxes.
- Power off the WeTek device. Insert your bootable SD card into the appropriate slot on your WeTek device.
- Press and hold the “reset” button (located in a toothpick-sized hole on the side panel of the device).
- Power the device on and continue holding the “reset” button for 7-8 seconds. At this point, LibreELEC installation will start.
After LibreELEC has been installed you can boot directly into LibreELEC by pressing the power button on your remote twice. That’s it – you’re good to go!
Step 4. Using LibreELEC and installing Kodi add-ons
While the Kodi installation included with LibreELEC is not exactly the same as the desktop version, it works very similarly.
Here’s a screenshot of the main LibreELEC menu.
You can install third-party add-ons and official Kodi add-ons just like you would on the desktop Kodi application, so your choices are nearly limitless.
Why Use LibreELEC? The Pros and Cons
LibreELEC has many good features but it’s not as a flexible as an ordinary operating system.
- Extremely easy to use – As you can see from our installation and setup guide, it’s incredibly easy to get started using LibreELEC. Unlike some Linux-based distributions, it’s pretty much impossible to install LibreELEC incorrectly. Because minimal configuration and setup are required to get started, just about anyone can use LibreELEC.
- Kodi comes pre-installed – LibreELEC comes with a specialized, updated version of Kodi pre-installed.
- Incredibly fast and lightweight – The LibreELEC OS is as barebones as possible. Essentially every function that’s not necessary for running Kodi has been trimmed away.
- Can’t (easily) be used for anything but Kodi – The lightweight design of LibreELEC is a bit of a double-edged sword. Because LibreELEC contains nothing but what’s required for running Kodi, it’s extremely limited in terms of customization. If you just need a Kodi HTPC and nothing else, you probably won’t care. But if you want to do more than play videos, you may not like LibreELEC.
Alternatives to LibreELEC
There are two main alternatives to LibreELEC: OpenELEC and OSMC.
OpenELEC is the original project that LibreELEC was “forked” off from. Just like LibreELEC, OpenELEC is an extremely lightweight Linux distribution designed to run Kodi quickly and efficiently.
Before LibreELEC was released, OpenELEC was the “gold standard” for single-board HTPCs. Today, however, LibreELEC is much more popular than the original OpenELEC OS.
The primary reason for this is simple – OpenELEC does not have as many active developers, and the community is shrinking because of that.
This means that updates are few and far between. LibreELEC developers typically put out updates right after major Kodi releases come out.
For example, LibreELEC was constantly being updated with Alpha and Beta versions of Kodi 17 Krypton during development, and they also released a full version of LibreElec that supported Kodi 17 Krypton less than two weeks after it was officially released.
In contrast, it took OpenElec until April 30 to release a full version that supported Kodi 17 Krypton. However, even though the OpenELEC team takes longer to push out updates, OpenELEC still works just fine. OpenELEC’s features are nearly identical to LibreELEC’s and both operating systems are equally easy to use.
Another key benefit that LibreELEC has is that LibreELEC has its own installer. You have to download the OpenELEC image yourself an use a 3rd party tool to install it.
If you’re looking for a lightweight OS that’s Kodi focused but provides you with more customizability and functionality, you may be interested in OSMC: The Open Source Media Center.
OSMC is a Debian-based Linux distro that is built to work with Kodi. Like LibreELEC and OpenELEC, OSMC boots directly into Kodi. However, OSMC has more Linux features compared to LibreElec and OpenElec. With OSMC, you can easily set up a Plex server, a web server, and more. If you’re interested in a more fully-featured HTPC, OSMC is a great choice.
Unfortunately, OSMC only works with Raspberry Pi devices. If you’re using a WeTek box or an Odroid C2, you won’t be able to use OSMC. Still, OSMC is a good alternative to LibreElec for cord-cutters who are familiar with Linux and are interested in customizing their HTPC.