How to install LibreELEC on an Intel NUC and what are the optimal settings? I’ll walk you through!
Kodi is a popular open-source media center software that can run on Windows or Linux. However, if you have a PC in your livingroom it’s often a bit of a hassle running a full-blown Windows or Linux system. Especially if there are other less technically-inclined people using the device. I’ve gotten an angry phone call or two from my wife before when she couldn’t watch her favorite TV series due to automatic upgrade that broke something. With LibreELEC you don’t need to worry about that. It’s as easy to use a LibreELEC HTPC as it is to use a cable box. Best of all, you can get it up and running in just 15 minutes!
OpenELEC project was set up to address many of the issues that arise when bringing a PC into the living room. It’s a minimal Linux distribution that does one thing well: it runs Kodi. You don’t need to know almost anything about Linux to use it. It will keep itself automatically up-to-date (if you like it to) and everything can be controlled with a standard remote controller. Earlier this year some of the developers of OpenELEC felt that the project was not heading to a direction they felt it should be heading so they forked the project as LibreELEC. Now it seems that majority of the former OpenELEC developers have jumped onboard the LibreELEC train. Personally I made the switch and have been happy. Wife did not even notice. 😉
By the way, the procedure and settings below work equally well on a Compute Stick too!
What do I need?
In order to install LibreELEC you’ll need:
- NUC with the components installed (see here for my recommendations)
- USB stick for the installation (min. 1 Gb)
- PC running Windows, Linux or Mac OS X
- Keyboard for the installation
If you prefer to watch a video instead of reading, here you go!
Preparing the USB Stick
Allright, so in the first phase you’re going to download the LibreELEC USB-SD Creator app and prepare a USB stick that will contain the installer. You could use an SD card as instead of a USB stick if your NUC has an SD card reader.
The following steps you’ll need to do on another computer. Or if your NUC is already running an operating system and you intend to replace it with LibreELEC, of course you can do this on your NUC.
- Head to libreelec.tv downloads section and download the USB-SD Creator app for your computer. I was doing this using a Windows computer so I downloaded the Windows version. Note that all versions create exactly the same installation media on the USB stick so it does not matter if you do this phase on a Mac or a PC.
- Plug in the USB stick and start the USB-SD Creator app. You’re greeted with a screen like this.
- The version you have to select is: Generic AMD/Intel/NVIDIA (x86_64)
- If you want to install a beta or alpha version of the software, tick the Show all box. I recommend 7.90 or newer version. Hopefully the version 8.0.0 has been released by the time you are reading this!
- Click Download and choose a folder where to store the image for the software version you just chose.
- After the download has finished, choose your USB stick and hit Write. This will wipe out everything from your USB stick and replace it with a LibreELEC installation media so be careful out there. Of course after the installation you can take the USB stick into other use again, it’s only needed for transfering the software to the NUC.
- Wait until the image has been written and eject the USB media safely.
Ok, now you’ve prepared the USB stick for the installation, let’s go ahead and move LibreELEC from the USB stick to your NUC.
Installing LibreELEC on the NUC
Allright, time to install LibreELEC on the SSD or hard drive of your NUC. Technically you could install it on another USB stick or SD card as well. This could be a good option if you just want to try out LibreELEC.
- Plug in the recently created USB stick to your NUC. Make sure you also have a keyboard connected.
- Power on the NUC and keep pressing F10 repeatedly in order to bring up the boot menu (a single well-timed press is enough of course!).
- Choose the UEFI : USB option that corresponds to your USB stick.
- Wait a while for the LibreELEC installer to start. This should take 15-30 seconds.
- The main menu of the installer pops up. You use up, down, left and right arrow keys in the installer to move around and select an option by pressing enter. So press enter here to start the installation.
- Next you need to choose a drive where LibreELEC will be installed. I had both a 250-gigabyte hard disk and a 128-gigabyte NVME SSD drive in my system so I got two options. Typically you only have one option here.
- After confirming that you really want to install LibreELEC on the drive the operating system will be copied to your NUC. This takes probably less than one minute, but it depends on the speed of your USB stick and the target drive.
- When the installation is complete, remove the USB stick and restart the NUC.
Your NUC will now reboot into LibreELEC. You can reuse the USB stick for something else. Like cat videos or your spreadsheet archive.
Initial LibreELEC Setup
The first time you boot your NUC into LibreELEC you will need to go through some basic settings. Let’s see what are those.
- After the system has booted, you’re welcomed into LibreELEC with a screen like this. Press enter to proceed.
- Select a host name for your system or accept the default one.
- A list of wired and wireless network connections pops up. Choose the one you want to use.
- I like to have both SSH and Samba enabled, but if you don’t know what these are I suggest you keep only the Samba enabled.
- You’re done! Kodi will probably tell you now that your library is empty. Now you can start to configure media sources as a HTPC without content is a bit boring. However, I’d suggest that you still bear with me and change some of the Kodi settings to ensure that your HTPC is rendering the videos and sound in an optimal way.
Optimal Kodi Settings for an Intel NUC
The following steps will make sure that you have ideal settings for the video player in Kodi. This makes sure that the videos are played using the hardware acceleration whenever possible.
- Enter the settings by choosing that cogwheel icon on the bottom of the main menu.
- Select System Settings.
- Now go to the bottom of the menu where it says “Standard” and make sure to change that to “Expert“. This will show you all configuration options instead of the basic ones only. If you feel overwhelmed later on, you can change this back to “Standard”, but for this initial phase let’s be experts. Or at least pretend to be.
- I’ll mention only the most important settings. The others you can customize to your liking. Make sure you have the following set:
- Resolution: optimal resolution of your screen
- Refresh rate: preferably 50.00 or 60.00
- Use limited colour range (16-235): typically enabled if you connect to a real TV, disabled for a computer monitor
- Dithering: enabled
- Audio output device: the device you want to use for playing sounds, typically the HDMI interface with the name of your TV or amp should be here
- Number of channels: number of channels your output device supports. I’m connecting to a 7.1-channel amp, so I put 7.1 here even if I don’t really have 7+1 speakers. I prefer to pass everything to my amp and it can make the decision on what to do to the audio stream.
- Allow passthrough: Enabled if you’re connecting to an AV amplifier.
- Passthrough output device: If you enabled passthrough, select the ALSA/HDMI interface for your amp here.
- Dolby Digital (AC3) capable receiver: Set according to the capabilities of your amp. Typically enabled.
- DTS capable receiver: Set according to the capabilities of your amp. Typically enabled.
- Leave the System settings and select Player settings instead. Important settings here:
- Adjust display refresh rate: Always
- Sync playback to display: Disabled if you use passthrough audio, enabled otherwise
- Render method: Auto detect
- Enable HW scalers for scaling above: 20%
- Allow hardware acceleration – VDPAU: Disabled (not applicable for Intel hardware)
- Allow hardware acceleartion – VAAPI: Enabled
- Use XYZ VAAPI: All enabled
- Prefer VAAPI render method: Enabled
- There’s a host of other settings that you can still change. However, I’d recommend that at minimum you will go to Interface settings still and change your region and timezone settings. You can also set your keyboard layout in the LibreELEC settings.
That’s it! You have now turned your Intel NUC into a HTPC. I suggest that you play around and see what you can do. Kodi is extremely versatile and there are literally hundreds of plugins that you can use to customize the experience. A good starting point is the First time user page in the Kodi wiki.