Cut the Cable with Kodi

Playing Media with Kodi

Kodi is a free, open-source media player. You can stream content from the Internet, and play your DVDs and media files.

Kodi has been around for a while, but it was originally called XBMC or Xbox Media Center. You may see some references to XBMC, but Kodi is the current name.

You can run Kodi on several platforms. Of course, as free and open-source software, you most often find it on Linux.

OSMC or Open Source Media Center is the combination of Kodi running on Debian Linux.

I built an OSMC system on a Raspberry Pi. Physically small, low cost, and low power consumption. The single-board computer itself retails for US$ 30-35. You also need a microSD memory card, a smart phone charger, and an HDMI cable. The total cost is no more than one month’s entry-level cable bill.

The Hardware Platform

The Raspberry Pi 3 is based on a Broadcom BCM2387 SoC or System-on-Chip that includes the CPU, RAM, and GPU. The CPU is a 1.2 GHz 64-bit quad-core ARM Cortex-A53. There is 1 GB of RAM. The RAM is shared with the GPU, a Broadcom VideoCore IV.

Peripherals include a 10/100 Mbps Ethernet port, an 802.11 WLAN interface, and four USB 2.0 ports. You see the power connector in the near left corner of the card, and the HDMI connector next to it. There is also a composite audio/video output and 17 general-purpose input/output lines.

Raspberry Pi 3 with heat sinks

The SoC and the chip with the USB and Ethernet controllers can run a little hot. CanaKit bundles a Raspberry Pi 3 with two small heatsinks, a 2500 mA power supply, and a clear case.

No Need For A Remote

Amazon sells house-brand 25-foot HDMI cables for the cost of a 6-foot one at a “big box” store. That was enough to snake around the end of the room from the TV to close to the end of the couch. The Raspberry Pi sits there next to an Ethernet switch. A keyboard with a six-foot USB cable lets you sit on the couch and interact with the TV.

It had never occurred to me, but a DVD/Blu-ray player remote control is really pretty simple. All you really need for disc menus are four directional buttons, OK, Back (or Up), and Menu. Then Play, Pause, Stop, Fast Forward, Jump Forward, Fast Back, and Jump Back. The Kodi project has a page listing the keyboard controls.

Getting Started

I downloaded and installed an OSMC image, plugged in the HDMI, Ethernet, and keyboard, and powered it up. Wow, it boots up and is ready to go in just a few seconds!

It walks you through basic setup the first time. You can always go back through the Settings menu to change things.

Top level menu screen of Kodi free media player software
Top level menu screen of Kodi


This is the Kodi term for channel packages. OSMC comes with a large collection. You can search for more. As with anything downloaded and installed from the Internet, be careful.

Video menu on Kodi

Many are collections of playable programs, like the Smithsonian channel and the SyFy channel.

Scrolling through the Add-Ons menu on Kodi
Scrolling through the Add-Ons menu on Kodi

The New York flagship stations WABC, WCBS, and WNBC have their networks’ current shows. They typically have the 5 most recently aired episodes. Plus, some older programs. WNBC has the entire Miami Vice series on line!

111 playable titles for one category in one video add-on
113 playable episodes

Some are live streams, like NASA TV, RTK (Radio TV Kosovo), and some of the TV Viet Nam streams.

USTVNow is aimed at U.S. military personnel overseas, but with it anyone can watch the US networks ABC, CBS, CW, Fox, MyTV, NBC, and PBS. They are live streams of stations in central Pennsylvania. The PBS stream is the disappointing one, it’s a very low bandwidth version. It’s fuzzy, with noticeably limited frame rate at times.

Going Deeper

The Raspberry Pi has more than enough CPU power. Kodi uses just 20-25% of one CPU core plus about 20% of RAM for an HD stream. Network bandwidth is 3.0-4.5 Mbps for an HD stream, about half of that for the mid-1980s Miami Vice, less than that for other streams.

It can be interesting to explore what’s happening on the Kodi system. I have a page with Kodi details. You can use some of the commands you learn in the Linux server administration course to explore the operating system.

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