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Friday
Nov042016

Podcast #764: Kodi

There has been an explosion of devices recently, or perhaps going back a couple years, that are based on the Kodi Media Center software or include Kodi as a standard app you can run along with other the other apps available on the device. A simple search at Amazon for ‘Kodi’ yields pages and pages of options for devices. Intrigued by this streaming platform that seems to have taken off like wildfire, we decided to pick up one of these little boxes and see what all the fuss is about.

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Kodi

There has been an explosion of devices recently, or perhaps going back a couple years, that are based on the Kodi Media Center software or include Kodi as a standard app you can run along with other the other apps available on the device. A simple search at Amazon for ‘Kodi’ yields pages and pages of options for devices. Intrigued by this streaming platform that seems to have taken off like wildfire, we decided to pick up one of these little boxes and see what all the fuss is about.


History

Kodi is the current name for a streaming software application formerly known as XBMC, short for Xbox Media Center. The initial release of XBMC dropped in 2004.  It grew out of an earlier project, called Xbox Media Player, into a full player and streaming platform, thus the name change. When XBMC dropped support for the Xbox as a platform, they had to change the name again; that’s when it became Kodi - in August of 2014. The current version of Kodi runs on Windows, Mac OSX, Linux, iOS and Android. Linux and Android support make it ideal for the inexpensive streaming boxes you find at Amazon.

Back in the day, you would get XBMC running on your original Xbox by jumping through a few hoops and taking advantage of a software flaw or vulnerability in the native Xbox software from Microsoft. It sounded more complicated than it was - including having to get your hands on one of the specific games that would exploit the vulnerability, like Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell, but if you had an old Xbox laying around, it was well worth it.  Lifehacker even published an article called Transform Your Classic Xbox into a Killer Media Center back in 2007 and walked you through all the steps. Now you just install it.


Use

Because Kodi is free and Open Source, you can create your own home media server using pretty much any hardware you’d like. Simply download, install and configure. Then add the add-ons and plug-ins you need to make it do what you want, and you’re off to the races. If you want to save a bit of time, or you don’t have an old computer sitting around to play with, you can buy a dedicated Kodi streaming box and skip some of the steps. We chose the RBSCH M96X Android 6.0 4K TV BOX with KODI 16.1 for $36.99.  Not because we knew anything about it, but just because we could get free Prime Same Day shipping.

The box arrived a few hours later and we were ready to go. It is pretty small, a bit smaller than an Apple TV, but in the same ballpark. It came with a power cord, an HDMI cable and a remote, but no batteries for the remote. We plugged it in and powered it on - it took a minute or so to boot up and we were ready to start playing. This model, being Android based, has a bunch of apps like the Chrome browser, Pandora and Facebook that you can use in addition to the Kodi app. The browser was very cumbersome to use with the included remote. But we bought it for Kodi, so we skipped all the other apps and loaded up the Kodi interface right away.

As a local media player, Kodi worked quite nicely.  You can play a wide variety of audio and video formats either from local drives (in our case attached via USB) or from somewhere else on your home network. For network streaming, you can use shared folders (SMB/SAMBA/CIFS), DLNA, DAAP for iTunes or stream from ReplayTV DVRs/PVRs. Kodi can also stream content from the Internet from sites like YouTube, Hulu, and Netflix, or music from apps like Pandora. Unlike some other media platforms, Kodi does not include a tuner for watching live TV, but you can get a PlayOn app to DVR content from your favorite streaming services like Netflix for viewing offline. Not super important in our case, but good if you think content may disappear from Netflix before you’ll be able to watch it.

But the not-so-guarded secret about Kodi, and where it gets into a bit of a gray area, are the apps that allow you to stream movies you would otherwise download via sharing applications like BitTorrent. You can use Kodi as a front end to get access to new release movies, including movies still in the theater, for free. In many cases they are terrible Cam videos you wouldn’t want to sit thru for two hours. Other times they are DVD rips or even Blu-ray rips. You have to make your own value judgement on the ethics here, but as we understand it, this is one of the main reasons people want to get their hands on a Kodi streaming box.

The user experience with the BitTorrent style videos was pretty bad. According to the Internet, it isn’t Kodi that has the issues, but each of the individual apps that allow access to the content. They have their own quality issues that leave the experience lacking. Often times we’d click on a menu item and nothing would happen, or we’d try to play a video and it would fail with some cryptic message about checking the logs to see what happened. When we did get a movie to play, even the ones that claimed to be DVD quality looked really rough. It would be hard to watch a full film like that.


Conclusion

Overall Kodi is a really nice streaming media player. The interface is solid - in fact Plex grew out of the XBMC/Kodi source. For content you have on your home network, the playback was great. Looked like any other player we’ve used. For streaming from commercial apps, no issues there either. For streaming bootleg movies, we found it to be very frustrating. If you really want to avoid the box office, or the $5-6 rental fee from Vudu or Amazon, and you can get past the ethics of it, it’s certainly an option. But you need patience and the ability to sit thru a feature length of poor quality streaming. But we were able to get a stream of Dr. Strange to work, so currently in theater titles are available. We only watched enough to see it work, but it did.

Note: Kodi doesn’t allow direct access to bootleg content. There are several add-ons that provide that. Kodi is an open platform, anyone is free to write any add-ons they choose. The existence of an add-on doesn’t imply that Kodi or the XBMC Foundation support, endorse or approve of the add-on.

 

 

 

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Reader Comments (4)

Hi Guys,

Love the show. Just a quick comment regarding Kodi. I think your show was on point, in that the term "kodi box" has come to mean a box that comes not only with Kodi pre-installed, but a custom version of Kodi pre-installed that has "those plug-ins" (the ones that give access to illegal content) pre-configured. They're cheap, glitchy, and basically a means to consume pirated content.

But I just wanted to play Devil's advocate and point out that the official Kodi team does not advocate in favor of those plug-ins, nor do they support those boxes that are advertising their use... if you go to the Kodi forums and try to post/ask/inquire about any of those plugins or boxes, your post will be deleted.

I run both Kodi and Plex on all three of my NVidia Shields. Their are pros-and-cons to each. Kodi is a better tool for accessing my whole-home-DVR via the PVR.WMC plug-in. Kodi runs live TV via the HDHomeRun View plug-in (Plex really struggles with Live TV), and the Kodi team generally pulls off high-techie stuff before Plex does (the Kodi fork SPMC was supporting bitstreaming of Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD-MA on NVidia Shield almost a full year before Plex was).

Just wanted to post and point out that their is a use-case for Kodi other than simply watching pirated content...

November 4, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTim

Hey Guys,
I came here to leave a similar as Tim before me. The comments on the show made it seem as if "Kodi" was an application meant only to consume illegal content, when in reality it's just the illegal plugins that are made to run on the Kodi platform that are the problem. Plex has similar plugins as well, just people don't sell Plex boxes with these plugins since the Plex team outright won't allow plugins that they don't approve.

In reality, Kodi at it's core is no different than Plex, in that you point to a folder of your media, scan, and it pulls in artwork, media info, etc. I prefer Kodi because I like to tinker, and Kodi lets me do a lot more in the way I present my media (Logo's for shows and movies, movie theme songs, media info pages with ratings from multiple sources, etc.) and really makes for a much nicer look than what Plex offers right now.

I agree with Tim that the term "Kodi box" has turned into "access movies and tv for free with Kodi" which is not what the Kodi team has intended at all, and no different from someone Jailbreaking their iOS device to do or access something illegally. This is something that the Kodi team is aware of, and have taken steps in the next release to better inform users of using unapproved plugins and the risk they bring.

November 5, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterZach

Just to be clear I don't use Kodi for illegal streaming I use it for my own content ripped from DVDs I own.
Kodi will play ISO's and DVD images with menu driven controls, PLEX does not ,and have said they will not support that feature in the future. I have kodi running on a Raspberry Pi 3 with 2 , 2TB hard drives . I can watch from all my devices at home ,I have no desire to access my content from outside my home ,which can be done with PLEX pass.

November 5, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

I have to agree with the other commenters and I will go even further: this so-called review is a serious misfire.

It shows the main flaw of your podcast: getting in over your head and doing "reviews" after very little research or preparation.

Ordering a cheapo Kodi box using same day shipping is proof of that.

I've used Kodi and found the interface slick, the selection of codecs top notch and the "plugins" varying wildly in quality.

Sure: you can see first run movies badly shot with a phone in Russia, but that's just one "perk" of a very cool piece of software.

(sure: don't endorse that practice, htguys. But then, why do a whole piece on that?)

I ran Kodi from a Remix mini Android computer and it was very stable and useful. My only problem (hardware problem) was not being able to bitstream dts and AC3.

So shape up, dudes: your podcast is slippin' !

November 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterFabDex

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