Convert a PC to a HTPC with Debian and Kodi

I recently converted an old workstation to run as a home-theatre PC (HTPC). I’ve noted down the setup here for others who are making an installation like this. Some steps depend on using a radeon chipset, and will need to be adjusted for your computer.

Hardware

First up, Desktop ‘towers’ are not a good form-factor for sitting in TV cabinets. If your PC is this sort of size, then source a small form-factor case and power supply, and load the computer’s components into it:

2016-02-htpc

I also used a Logitech k400r keyboard and mouse for wireless input.

Install Debian and apps

Write the latest copy of Debian Stable to a CD or flash drive (this is version 8.3 at time of writing), and install it on the computer. Check “Debian Desktop environment” / GNOME during setup.

After installation, open a terminal, and type “su” to get root privileges.

su

Edit the software sources to include ‘contrib’ and ‘non-free’, as well as ‘jessie-backports’.

nano /etc/apt/sources.list
deb http://ftp.us.debian.org/debian/ jessie main contrib non-free
deb-src http://ftp.us.debian.org/debian/ jessie main contrib non-free

deb http://security.debian.org/ jessie/updates main contrib non-free
deb-src http://security.debian.org/ jessie/updates main contrib non-free

# jessie-updates, previously known as 'volatile'
deb http://ftp.us.debian.org/debian/ jessie-updates main contrib non-free
deb-src http://ftp.us.debian.org/debian/ jessie-updates main contrib non-free

# jessie-backports
deb http://ftp.us.debian.org/debian/ jessie-backports main contrib non-free
deb-src http://ftp.us.debian.org/debian/ jessie-backports main contrib non-free

Update sources and install Kodi:

apt-get install --install-suggests kodi

Also install the firmware packages that you may need.

apt-get install firmware-linux-free firmware-amd-graphics

Tweaks

Sudo

sudo allows you to run commands as root from your regular user account. Install the package and add yourself to the sudo group:

apt-get install sudo
usermod -a -G sudo mike

To apply the change, log out and back in again. The rest of this guide assumes you are logged in as yourself, and will use sudo where necessary.

Auto-start Kodi

Open the tweak tool, and locate the list of startup programs.

gnome-tweak-tool

Add Kodi to the list, log out, log in, and Kodi will launch automatically.

Auto-login

For a PC attached to a TV, user permissions are not so importnat, so set the user to log in automatically.

sudo nano /etc/gdm3/daemon.conf

Un-comment this block and enter your username:


# Enabling automatic login
#  AutomaticLoginEnable = true
#  AutomaticLogin = user1

Plymouth start-up screen

Install plymouth and configure grub to change the Debian boot sequence (a menu with timeout, followed by lots of text) into a graphical splash screen. This takes a bit of configuration.

sudo apt-get install plymouth

Set it up according to these instructions:

sudo nano /etc/initramfs-tools/modules

Set drm correctly for your chipset:

# KMS
drm
radeon modeset=1

Configure grub:

sudo nano /etc/default/grub
...
GRUB_TIMEOUT=0
...
GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT="quiet splash"
...
GRUB_GFXMODE=1920x1080
...

Update grub, set the theme in Plymouth:

sudo update-grub2
sudo /usr/sbin/plymouth-set-default-theme --list
sudo /usr/sbin/plymouth-set-default-theme joy

Run update-initramfs to apply the changes

sudo update-initramfs -u

Samba

Samba will let you share folders over your network. A basic folder with guest read/write is simple to set up:

sudo apt-get install nautilus-share samba libpam-smbpass winbind
sudo usermod -a -G sambashare mike

Log out, and back in to apply the group change, and then share the Public folder over the network by right-clicking on it and opening the “Sharing Options”:

2016-02-samba-share

Gnome will warn that the folder as shared if you open it:

2016-02-samba-shared

Test the setup by typing smb://localhost into the address bar:

2016-02-samba-test

Overscan correction

In my case, I was able to set the TV to treat the input as a “PC” input. If that doesn’t work for you, then use xrandr in a login script:

Find the name of your input:

xrandr --query

Set underscan (get the horizontal and vertical values by trial and error):

xrandr --output HDMI-0 --set underscan on
xrandr --output HDMI-0 --set "underscan hborder" 32 --set "underscan vborder" 16

Kodi plugins

Add these as needed. The Australian catchup TV plugins repository from GitHub worked well.

Kodi RSS

The RSS feed shows Kodi updates by default, and is part of your user profile.

2016-02-feed-file

Edit the configuration file, and adjust the paths to your news sources of choice.

2016-02-feed

Boot speed

Readahead is the tool of choice for boot speed optimisation. Install it, and reboot.

sudo apt-get install readahead
sudo touch  /.readahead_collect
sudo reboot

Desktop Apps

If you quit Kodi, you are dropped back to the GNOME desktop. These apps are simply to improve the desktop user experience.

Google Chrome

Download the .deb file for Chrome from Google, install with dpkg, and then clean up dependencies:

dpkg -i google-chrome-stable_current_amd64.deb 
apt-get -f install

Firefox

Download and extract the Firefox for Linux tarball from Mozilla.

Move it to /usr/share, and change the owner to match other applications there.

mv firefox /usr/share/
cd /usr/share/
ls -Ahl
chown root:root firefox
chown -R root:root firefox

Find the main menu editor, and add Firefox to the menu.

2016-02-menu

Name
Firefox Web Browser
Command
/usr/share/firefox/firefox-bin
Icon
/usr/share/firefox/browser/icons/mozicon128.png

2016-02-firefox-icon

2016-02-firefox-menu

Test the new icon by searching:

2016-02-ff

Auto-clear browser profiles

Because you don’t need a password to log in to the user account, you can add this as a bit of insurance so that your box wont remember any passwords or sessions.

crontab -e

This job removes the Firefox and Chrome user profiles each boot.

@reboot rm --preserve-root -Rf --~/.config/google-chrome ~/.cache/google-chrome ~/.mozilla/firefox ~/.cache/mozilla/firefox

VLC

For file format support, best to have another media player:

sudo apt-get install vlc

Result

You should now have a PC which boots into Kodi for media and TV, and lets you quit into a desktop to browse the web or run regular desktop apps.

2016-02-kodi

2016-02-gnome

On the 1GB RAM / dual core workstation, it still took around 45 seconds from the BIOS handing over control to Kodi being ready.

Update 2017-12-29: Re-installing this setup on an SSD shortened this time to 21 seconds. This includes boot, login, and an application start.

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