Simple devices transform your dumb TV into a smart one

Simple devices transform your dumb TV into a smart one

How to: Using Raspberry Pi or Amazon's Firestick options can transform your older flatscreen into a more modern Smart TV with little cost and not too much fuss.

Kodi installed on Fire Stick on dumb TV. (Screen shot)

MONTGOMERY VILLAGE, Md., April 17, 2016 –  So you have your eye on a new smart TV, but the price hasn’t come down as much as you would like. You have a nice LCD TV, but it is not a smart TV. Read on if you want a cheaper option.

The plan involves purchasing an inexpensive gadget that will empower your LCD TV. Depending on how adventurous you are, I will offer two options. To use either of them, you’ll need a free HDMI port in your TV, a fairly fast Internet connection and a willingness to learn and do some new things.

The first option will require you to purchase a mini computer kit marketed as Raspberry Pi. This series of small, single-board computers was developed in the UK. You configure the device and attach it to the TV. This option is targeted at people who don’t have a streaming media subscription like Netflix, Amazon Prime or Hulu and don’t plan on getting one. This option works also for people who own a smart TV and want to have an additional free, easy-to-use streaming media source like Kodi.

The second option is somewhat simpler, but still requires some configuring that may be unfamiliar to you. This option is for those who already have a streaming media subscription or plan on getting one.

Option 1

  1. Go on line and purchase a Raspberry Pi 3, the newest model of this device as of this date. It has been improved with on-board WiFi, and will run $35 for the bare bones model without an operating system or a Pi box.
  2. Purchase a micro SD card with at least 8 Gb. This will run you around $10 with postage and handling.
  3. Purchase a HDMI cable, the shortest you can get, and a micro USB connector. You may already have one or both of these, if not they are available everywhere for less than $20 for both.
  4. Go to and click on Downloads. Download NOOBS and follow the instructions. I am paraphrasing the instructions below, but pay special attention to number 9. This is the same as XBMC or Kodi. Make sure you download the image version. It’s identified by the .img extension. Remember where it was downloaded so you don’t get lost.
  5. Now you need to “burn” the NOOBS image into the micro SD card. Windows 10 provides an app that does this. Click here for a recommended utility to do it.
  6. Insert the micro SD card in your Raspberry Pi 3 (Pi).
  7. Connect the Pi to the HDMI cable and the micro USB. Connect both to the TV. If your TV doesn’t have a USB port, you need to get a connector to your electrical service. Some TV USB ports may not have enough amperage to run your Pi so you need a connector.
  8. The Pi has also a connector to an Ethernet cable. If possible with your home configuration, run it with that connection as it is faster than WiFi.
  9. Instead of selecting Raspbian, as recommended in the NOOBS link above, during configuration, select OpenElec.
  10. Once OpenElec is installed, you need to configure it, too. The steps are the same as for Kodi or XMBC. Please refer to this article. You can always look up videos on YouTube on how to configure Kodi. It mostly requires using;
  11. The Pi has also a connector to AV video, but you also need speakers to get sound.
OpenElec/Kodi installed on a smart TV using Raspberry Pi
OpenElec/Kodi installed on a smart TV using Raspberry Pi

Please note that this option will cost you approximately $65 USD. But remember, you don’t have any streaming media subscription fees that could run you about $30 per month.

Option 2

  1. Purchase an Amazon Fire Stick. It will run you about $50 or slightly less. The Fire TV edition of this setup costs about $100-$139 USD depending on the model.
  2. Follow the instructions for installation and configuration. You will need an empty HDMI port and a USB port available on your TV. The kit comes with an AC to USB connector, but this will take a plug from the receptacle you are using.
  3. Sign in into your media subscription services.
  4. The next step is to install Kodi in your device. This requires a little configuration on your device, downloading a file manager (ES Explorer) and then Kodi itself. There are videos on the Internet on how to do this. Click here for one of them;
  5. Once you install Kodi, follow the instructions mentioned in Option 1, 10. above.

Option 2 is the costlier option, but it’s a lot simpler. Besides the purchase of the device in this option, you’ll also have the cost of the streaming media services, about $30 USD per month.

There is some information available on the Internet about installing Netflix to Kodi in this context. But the posted information as currently posted appears to be invalid. Netflix seems to have shunned Linux (which is what underpins this methodology) and available fixes appear to be temporary in nature and may prove unreliable or non-functional.

I have both the above options installed in different TVs and they work great. Now, let’s hope Kodi is not forced out of business by corporate media moguls.

Mario Salazar, the 21st Century Pacifist, is an avid videophile. He is in Twitter (@chibcharus), Google+, LinkedIn and Facebook (Mario Salazar).

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