Turn your old Android phone into a media center

If you have a non-smart TV with USB support and an Android phone, this will show you how to turn them into a poor man’s media center. It will include a torrent server with remote access and automatic torrent downloads, Samba and SSH.

In my case, I’m using a Samsung LE32E TV and an Alcatel OT-918 smartphone.

We’ll work only with the phone, so you won’t have to change anything on the TV.

First, you need to make sure your device is rooted. See this guide for rooting the Alcatel OT-918.

Next up, if you’re also using an older phone with a smaller internal memory, you need a partitioned SD card, with a larger ext2/3/4 partition and the rest as FAT32. I’m using a 32GB SD card with a 1GB ext2 partition and the rest as FAT32. I definitely recommend using a class 10 SD card.

This means your Android kernel needs to have support for ext partitions. See this kernel with ext support for Alcatel OT-918.

After you’ve partitioned your SD card, and made sure you have ext support in the kernel, use Link2SD or something similar to mount the ext partition.

Then connect your phone to your WiFi router and set a static IP for it. If you’re using Android 2.3, go to Settings > WiFi Settings > Advanced and press Use static IP. Set the IP to something like 192.168.1.XX.

Optware for Android

We’ll start installing software on the phone. You’ll need to use a Linux system for this. Using a Live CD should also work.

Optware is a lightweight package manager for Linux. We’ll install it on the phone and use it to get the rest of the packages we need.

Make sure you have adb installed. If you’re running Ubuntu you just need to install the android-tools-adb package.

Connect the device to your PC and, in a terminal, run:

sudo adb devices

Your device should show up in a list.

Download the Optware package manager install script.

If your Android device has a small internal memory, edit the optware-install-via-adb.sh script, and change the OPTWARE_DIR variable to point to an /opt folder on your mounted ext partition. The variable should look like OPTWARE_DIR=/data/sdext2/opt.

Otherwise, if your device has plenty of internal memory, you can just leave the script as it is.

Now run the script with:


This will install Optware for Android on your device.

We now have a proper package manager on the device, so we’ll open a shell and start installing packages.

Connect to the adb shell and start the Optware shell with:

adb shell

Now install everything related to Transmission (torrent server), FlexGet (automatic downloads), OpenSSH and Samba.

ipkg update
ipkg install nano
ipkg install transmission

ipkg install openssh
ipkg install perl
ipkg install samba36

ipkg install gcc
ipkg install python26
ipkg install py26-setuptools

easy_install transmissionrpc
easy_install flexget # in case of easy_install error, edit opt/lib/python2.6/distutils/distutils.cfg

easy_install periscope # for subtitles

easy_install pip # just to be able to remove packages

Now that we installed the packages, we’ll start configuring them.

Configure SSH

We’ll enable connecting by SSH using your public key. I’m assuming you already have your SSH keys set up on your system.

Edit the /opt/etc/openssh/sshd_config file, and set the RSAAuthentication and PubkeyAuthentication to:

RSAAuthentication yes
PubkeyAuthentication yes

You can edit the file with Nano, since we installed it before:

nano /opt/etc/openssh/sshd_config

Edit the /opt/home/root/.ssh/authorized_keys file, and paste the contents of your local public key file (./pub) in it.

Same as before, you can use Nano for this:

nano /opt/home/root/.ssh/authorized_keys

Now restart OpenSSH with:


Sometimes when restarting OpenSSH, it will complain about the host key. If it does, create it with:

ssh-keygen -t ecdsa -f /opt/etc/openssh/ssh_host_ecdsa_key -N ''

Exit the ADB shell, and you should now be able to get on the device using SSH:

ssh root@192.168.1.X

Now that we have SSH, you can also log-in onto your device using something like FileZilla for easier file access.

Configure Samba

I won’t go into much detail about the Samba config. Download my smb.conf file, and copy it into /opt/etc/samba.

Now restart Samba with


and it should be working.

There is an issue with Samba that is preventing you from deleting any files on the device. I haven’t managed to figure out what the cause is yet. It’s possible that the old version of Samba packaged for Optware has this bug.

On Ubuntu, mounting the Samba share with cifs fixes the issues with deleting files.

Add this to your /etc/fstab to mount the share with cifs:

//192.168.1.X/sdcard /media/MOUNT_POINT cifs users,username=root,password="",rw,nounix,iocharset=utf8,file_mode=0777,dir_mode=0777 0 0

Configure Transmission

Run the transmission-daemon first, then stop it, so it will create its config file.

killall transmission-daemon

You can edit the config file at opt/home/root/.config/transmission-daemon/settings.json, or just use my settings.json.

A good idea is to change the download-dir to point to the location you want it to download the torrents on the FAT32 SD card partition. Set the rpc-enabled property to true, to enable RPC and be able to connect to the web interface at http://192.168.1.XX:9091/ or use the Transmission Remote GUI.

These are both already done in my settings.json file.

Once you have the config set-up, start transmission with:


Configure FlexGet

FlexGet is a multipurpose download automation tool. We’ll use it to automate downloads.

To configure Flexget, edit the /opt/home/root/.flexget/config.yml file. You can check out the FlexGet Cookbook for config file examples.

See the Transmission config example, to connect FlexGet to it, and have it add torrents automatically.

If you need automatic subtitle downloads, we installed Periscope before, so just follow the FlexGet Periscope config.

Now copy the flexget.sh file to /opt/flexget.sh.

We’ll use this file to run the Flexget tasks. Flexget does have a daemon mode with a scheduler, but I noticed it’s a real memory hog, so I can’t use it.

Configure autorun and scheduling

Copy start.sh to /opt/start.sh. This script will run everything related to SSH, Samba and Transmission.

We need something that will run the script on startup and periodically run FlexGet. I’m using Script Manager, since it can do both.

You need to set up the two scripts in Script Manager. Set /opt/start.sh to run on Boot and /opt/flexget.sh to run as often as you need it to check for new content (every 1 day/1 hour/etc.).

Dual Mount

By default, when you connect the Phone to the TV with USB, all apps on the phone, including Transmission and FlexGet will not be able to access the SD card. To get around this, we have to use a dual mount app.

The app will mount the SD card on phone and the TV at the same time. This is usually not a good idea, since it will corrupt your SD card when doing simultaneous writes, but in this case the TV has read-only access, so it won’t happen.

I recommend using Dual Mount SD Widget since it’s the one that worked best for me.

You can also use something like Multi Mount SD-Card Lite or similar.

##Extra tips