Updated: May 23, 2015
One bright morning, XBMC suddenly decided to change name, and so it became Kodi, a brand new old project designed to bring you the ultimate home cinema media center experience, with Linux in the backend.
I am no stranger to XBMC, and I've tried using it many times before, in different shapes, forms and flavors, in an attempt to create what I perceive to be the best replacement to the classic TV/cable and nonsense combo. Sounds like a simple task, but a bunch of years later, I'm still searching. Maybe Kodi can save me. Version 14.2 Helix, tested. Come.
Before we begin, let me give you a brief overview of what I've done. Well, back in 2010-ish, I played with XBMC on a bunch of laptops, but then, I didn't have any fancy dedicated hardware or an HD (Smart) TV set. It was mostly games really.
Recently, I acquired an Internet-capable 1080p TV, and I started enjoying it, playing both offline and online content to great delight and with zero codec hiccups, smoothly and without any big problems. Then, I decided to gold full bold and beautiful and ever so adventurous, and I added Raspberry Pi into the equation. Get it? Pi? Equation. Ho ho ho. That was jolly funny.
On top of my little box, I installed RaspBMC first and then openELEC, both flavors of XBMC, and while the experience was decent, there were problems. Performance and network speed, on the hardware side, detection of added video and music titles on the software side. In the end, the setup wasn't good enough to warrant abandoning my classic scheme.
After that, I ventured Rikomagic wise, and I even tried Apple TV, as well as Chromecast. There's more coming, including Amazon Fire TV and Fire Stick, and a bunch more small and comfy and cheap appliances, which may or may not work.
Now, I am going to test Kodi on my G50 laptop, with a very good Wireless connection, and lots of processing power. Perhaps that can be the differentiating factor that I need to start enjoying this media center to the max. Let's see how it goes.
I got the program setup from PPA in a Vivid build, and then fired it up. Works fine, really. At a first glance, it looks just like XBMC, then not quite. What you'll spot immediately is the refinement, across the board. Tons of tiny things have been fixed, polished.
Add-ons run, all of them, smoothly, quickly. There's no junk content, and if you set about fiddling with different options and settings, they are bound to work. You don't need too much time familiarizing yourself with the basics, but you will need patience to sort out some of the advanced features. Moreover, knowing the keyboard shortcuts is always good, as the program is designed to be used with a remote controller. Mouse works, but it's a little clunky.
Video & music
Not bad. Overall, Kodi behaved. For movies, you get all sorts of scrapers that try to grab information from online portals like IMDB. This gives you rating, description, poster and whatnot, and helps enrich your viewing experience.
But it's not perfect. For instance, my own Seat car video, which I've recorded last year shows up as some cheesy 1970 film. In fact, this is so trippy it's funny. But it's the problem I've highlighted in the past. About 20% FP, and that's not acceptable.
Music also works fine, but I find the visualization distracting. Moreover, there's no stop or pause button, and at this point, knowing the shortcuts really helps. Online streaming and radio stations worked well, however, again, there's a catch. I tried adding all sorts of sources, and they aren't quite as good as you'd hope.
For instance, BBC restricts access through their mobile application only. Another program does IP thingie blacklisting, so I wasn't able to stream stuff from the UK. Sky had one of their tools replaced with another program. A bunch of other radio stations across Europe worked better, and in the end, I was able to get some funky 80s rock and pop playing merrily.
Skins & addons
This is another strong side of Kodi. You can change the look & feel of your program, and it makes a big difference. Some skins really work well, and help you get immersed in the overall experience. There are many useful addons, too. And for a change, they work.
Pictures & photos
Yes, you can use Kodi to browse your photo galleries and whatnot. I imagine many people will find use for this feature, although I'm not 100% sure how it fits into the whole media center thingie. But I guess it's part of the media, so. Anyhow, lovely, stylish. No false positives here.
This one works well, too. You can add multiple locations, or let the system detect your approximate location based on your IP address. I just wonder why I get the medieval era numbers there. Celsius, please. Wait, does it say, it's 55 but feels like 1324? Hihihi.
More nice piccies!
It gets better and better the more you explore the skin and art side:
Kodi is XBMC, don't get fooled. That said, 14.2 Helix is that much better and more refined as a product. It's all about attention to detail, little things, the small and irksome bugs, and most of them are gone, compared to my previous tests. Furthermore, running Kodi on a machine with enough processor and network juice definitely helps amp the positive feel.
However, is this the pinnacle of emotional enlightenment? I am not sure. Streaming is one thing, but how do you get all the stuff you need, freely, or at least cheaply, and legally, and without any hassle, and what do you do if you have to go offline. As a media center, Kodi is one of the finer programs out there, and it sure can go head to head with the big players. But the overall system is incomplete. And so far, nothing seems to work as well as the classic scheme. Buy your DVD, rip them, enjoy offline content. This is really still the most optimal thing, even though many people will prefer the convenience of having things instantly, online, even if they cost a lot more. Poor souls. Plus, Kodi did struggle with some of my videos.
In the end, I would like to use Kodi as my fun solution. It approaches the level where I could claim it's good and dandy. However, some things are still missing. Total integration with useful online streaming video services, none of which exists today. Don't say Netflix, because it's useless. Or globally available. I'm waiting for that day when someone finally offers non-restricted worldwide content for free, as part of the Kodi framework, running on top of a lovely and powerful mini-PC hardware. Not gonna happen, but I will keep searching. Kodi, 9/10. We're done.