OpenELEC aims to make home theatre PCs as DVD player-like as possible, using a lightweight, instant-on version of XBMC that updates itself for a maintenance-free media centre.
We talk a lot about XBMC around here, because it makes a great home theatre PC — but it can often take a lot of work to set up. Even if you use XBMC Live — the easy-install distribution we used for our silent, standalone XBMC machine — you're essentially installing Ubuntu Linux on your PC with XBMC on top of it, which brings in a lot of software you don't necessarily need. Plus, it can take a bit of work to update the box and fiddle with its configuration. If all you want is a simple media centre, OpenELEC makes XBMC's installation and maintenance a snap so you can just get to the good stuff: watching your movies.
The two main advantages of OpenELEC to XMBC are super fast boot times, and the ability to update and configure XBMC right from XBMC itself — you shouldn't need to deal with the terminal or any other Linux nonsense during the process. Here's how it works:
- Download OpenELEC from its web site. There are a few different versions, but it's pretty easy to see which one is right for you. They even have a version for the Apple TV, our favourite XBMC box.
- Unzip the archive you downloaded and double click the
create_installstick.batfile. Insert a flash drive and choose it from the menu that pops up. The script will erase your flash drive and put the OpenELEC installer on it. Linux users check out this guide to create your flash drive. There don't seem to be any Mac instructions, so Mac users should borrow a Windows PC from a friend for 30 seconds if possible.
- Put the new flash drive installer into your home theatre PC and start it up. You may need to enter the BIOS setup to make sure your computer is set to boot from USB (usually you do this by pressing Delete, or some other key as your computer boots — your screen should say which key when you boot). You should then see the installer, pictured above.
- The installer is incredibly simple. Just choose the Quick or Custom install, and choose the hard drive on which you want to install OpenELEC (this will erase everything on that drive). When it's done, just reboot your machine and remove your flash drive. It should boot right into XBMC.
From there, setting up XBMC is easy. OpenELEC has some configuration guides if your remote, sound or display don't work out of the box, and building your library is as easy as hitting "Add Source" from the Videos or Music menu. You can even install extra add-ons right from XBMC. If you want to turn on automatic updating, just head to Programs > OpenELEC Settings, and change the "Updates" setting to "Automatic". Whenever a new update is available, it'll automatically download and prompt you to reboot. And, best of all, rebooting should take no time at all, since OpenELEC is designed to boot insanely fast — sometimes as quickly as 10 seconds.
Check out OpenELEC's web site below for more detailed installation and troubleshooting guides. OpenELEC is a free download.