Monday, August 18, 2014

Kindle Fire HDX Tablet + XBMC

My brother’s employer gave him a Kindle Fire HDX tablet to commemorate his however many long years’ service with them.  He says he wasn’t expecting anything, so he can hardly complain, but said to me “what the heck am I going to do with this thing?”

Well the Kindle tablets are really only made for one purpose: to buy things from Amazon.  It’s not like he hasn’t bought things from Amazon before, but he can’t really wrap his head around why anyone would spend good money on “virtual” items.  Suffice it to say Amazon is unlikely to get much, if any, revenue via this particular tablet.  So he handed it off to me and asked if I could “do something useful with it.”

Why YES, I think I can. ;-)

Back at the end of 2009 I collected junk computer parts from friends and family, and out of the pile of junk I put together one functional computer, installed Linux Mint, and then XBMC runs on top of that [ details ]  That’s my media center - sort of a homebrew Roku.  And it has served me well for countless hours of viewing and listening to music.  My entire CD collection was ripped to MP3 and OGG files on it.  Numerous DVDs and downloaded video files are on there, plus a bunch of XBMC “Add-ons” that access various streaming media sites.  There is a TV tuner in that tower, but it’s analog and basically pointless now.  I’d put it in there for some 3rd party DVR software I ultimately never ended up using - because just about anything I missed when it aired could be found online. In practice the Internet was my DVR.  There is also a DVD player in the tower, which did do DVD duty before an actual BluRay player took up residence under the TV.

Also, this old Linux box has a pretty underpowered video card in it.  It was fine when it was connected to the yellow RCA video jack on the back of the old CRT TV because that couldn’t show anything but SD quality video anyway.  But now that it’s connected to an HDTV its output looks as awfully low-res as it actually is.  The XBMC software is stuck on a specific alpha release “nightly build” of “Gotham” - the actual version of Linux Mint is no longer officially supported.  Thanks to some hardware issues, though, I can’t update the Linux OS on it and that means I can’t update the media center software either.  I’ve also had to hack the code on three different plugins already just to keep them running.  The Hulu plugin has been broken for a while for everyone, and the developers have doubts it will ever work again (thanks to some CDN/DRM stuff being done on Hulu’s end).

Suffice it to say this media center tower’s days are numbered.

But I’ve been wondering what to replace it with?  Buy a really long HDMI cable to reach from my desktop computer to the TV? OpenELEC on a Raspberry Pi?  Buy a used Apple TV to jailbreak and install XBMC?  Knuckle under and buy a Roku like everyone else?

However, as this Kindle Fire HDX has dropped in my lap I think I’ll use that!  I rather like the idea of having a media center I can hold in my hand that is also a touch "remote" control for it.

So here’s been the change log so far:

1. Installed the 2.14 Hulu Plus app for Android.  It was recently updated to allow watching almost all of the same FREE content on mobile devices as you can watch on their website from a desktop computer.  Unfortunately the Amazon App Store only has the older 1.3 version of the app.  So I had to pull it from an Android phone and side-load it to the tablet.  But it works great!

2. Installed the Crunchyroll Anime app.  Again, I had to pull it from a phone and side-load it to the tablet because the Amazon App Store only has the Crunchyroll Manga app.

3. Downloaded and installed (again via side-loading) the XBMC “Gotham” app for Android.  On this tablet the media center software is very smooth!

4. Loaded up XBMC with my favorite add-ons.

5. I’m moving all the media files off the old media center to my desktop computer - only because it’s on all the time anyway.  Then I’m just going to leave a UPnP server running in the background to share all those files over my LAN.  That way the Kindle tablet’s XBMC can play that stuff, but it doesn’t have to eat up the limited storage on the tablet itself.  At some point maybe I’ll replace this with a NAS, but not today.  Or I could just stash the old Linux tower somewhere and leave it on all the time, but that seems wasteful when I already HAVE a computer that’s on all the time.

6. The last, and most important piece of the puzzle, is the Miracast box.  The Kindle Fire HDX - unlike the earlier HD tablets - does not have an HDMI output port on it!  Instead it uses Miracast to mirror to another display.  Netgear makes such a box that is “Amazon Certified” to work with this specific tablet.  Once that’s in place behind the TV and plugged into one of the HDMI ports the “media center” will be this little tablet on the coffee table, which (since it mirrors the displays) will also effectively be the remote control.  Oh, and Miracast can mirror in full HD - assuming the content is in high-def.

Note: Belkin also makes a little “stick” you plug into the HDMI port, also powered by a USB port, that says it should work with this tablet too.  But it was unclear from Belkin’s documentation whether or not the HDMI port needed to support the CEC (Consumer Electronics Control) protocol.  The TV to which I’m connecting this stuff does not appear to have CEC capability.

If you read all that you may be wondering about YouTube content?  The Amazon tablets can’t actually run the YouTube app (at least not without problems - blame both Amazon and Google for “business decisions” that make it incompatible).  But that doesn’t really matter.  Amazon’s “Silk” browser plays YouTube videos from the YouTube website just like you see them on your desktop.  And I’ve confirmed that the Android version of the Chrome browser (which you have to side-load of course) does the same on a Kindle.  I may see if the Dolphin browser works on the Kindle too - I really like how much more configurable it is comparison to either Chrome or Silk.  Of course the XBMC install also has a fully working YouTube add-on.

I didn’t really care about any other Google services apps on this thing.  It’s going to be a media center, after all.  It doesn’t need Gmail on it, or Hangouts, or Google+, or Maps, etc.  I know there’s nothing anyone’s been able to do to get the Google Play store app to work on a Kindle, but side-loading isn’t too much of an inconvenience.

The existing media center tower also has some games on it [ details ].  Old PC games running in WINE (Windows) or DOS emulators, or emulated cartridge games from the Atari 2600 and C64 [ details ]. Games that rarely got played once the nostaligic novelty wore off.  However, if I wanted to I could get most of those working on the Kindle too.


If it ever felt starved for more content this tablet could also play host to apps for Netflix and HBO-Go and it came with Amazon Prime video and music apps on it.  Of course all of those have additional subscription costs, but NONE of them are even an option for the old Linux box.

Side note: XBMC will be changing its name to "Kodi" with the next release, apparently partly due to legal issues but also because it has little to do with the Xbox anymore.  Full story on their site.

UPDATE:




Ok, so now have the Netgear "Push 2 TV" PTV-3000 which was really the only option.  There are only two "Miracast" dongles certified by Amazon to work with the Kindle Fire HDX tablets and the Belkin does require a television with an HDMI port that supports CEC.  I verified with Vizio that my particular TV does not have CEC support (I suspected that was the case given there is no setting for it and it isn't mentioned in the manual).  That means the Netgear box was the only thing that could make this work.

Note that you absolutely NEED a laptop or computer with wi-fi capabilities to update the firmware.  You could probably also do it with some tablets or phones, but the key part is that you actually have to DOWNLOAD the firmware .sbin file, press the button on the side of the PTV for 7-10 seconds which turns on the wi-fi, then you have to join the Push2TV wi-fi network, open a browser to the device's settings webpage (kind of like when you access the settings for your router), browse to the downloaded firmware file (this is the part that would be tricky to do on most phones or tablets since they don't tend to have native file browsers), then apply the update.  The box automatically reboots after ANY settings change.

Here's my main problem with using the Kindle Fire HDX this way.  It has a 16:10 ratio screen! Amazon specifically chose that ratio because it is slightly more square, which is better for reading in portrait mode (without going full 4:3 ratio like the iPad) and only causes slight letter-boxing of 16:9 ratio content in landscape orientation.

The native resolution of the HDX 7 inch screen is 1900x1200 and the HDX 8.9 is 2560x1600.  I'm working with the latter and I suppose "yay it has a higher than HD screen" but that's not really an advantage here.

The Netgear PTV box will only accept a maximum "full hd" (1920x1080) for mirroring.  So no matter what the Kindle HDX output over Miracast is going to be scaled down, even from the 7" tablet.  This is because your HDTV has a 16:9 screen ratio and the Kindle tablets can ONLY send a 16:10 picture.  Remember, this is display *mirroring* so it's going to work with the screen ratio of the sending device.  This isn't so much of a problem from a Windows laptop using Wi-Di to connect because you can change the screen resolution (and therefore aspect ratio), but you cannot do this on a Kindle or any other tablet.  What that means is the best match you can get will have black bars to the left and right of the mirrored display, opposite of "letter boxed" this is known as a "pillar box" like this:

(image from http://www.hdslr-cinema.com/tools/aspect.php)

I can usually live with a little bit of a letter-boxed picture, especially if the intent of it is to preserve the original aspect ratio of a movie.  I can even live with a 4:3 ratio pillar-box if the TV show was originally made for old "square" television screens.  But the pillar-box created by mirroring a 16:10 screen to a 16:9 screen sort of pisses me off.  Especially if you're watching something on the tablet that is in widescreen (16:9) because then the tablet letter-boxes it and then the mirroring pillar-boxes it - you end up with black bars all the way around the video!

Actually when you first connect the Kindle HDX tablet to the Netgear PTV you'll notice that even the mirrored screen has narrow black bars above and below (in addition to the side bars).  This is where you need to push the little button on the side of the PTV for 7-10 seconds again, connect to that set-up webpage with your laptop, and go to the "Settings" section.  There is an undocumented setting to "Resize" the screen on your TV with a drop-down of values from zero to 15.

Zero to 15 what?  I'm not sure.  It's pretty clear that the "Miracast" mirroring favors the screen HEIGHT over the width, and if I set it to "15" (any settings change causes the PTV box to reboot) then the top/bottom bars are gone from the mirrored HDX display.  At least it better uses more of the available screen real estate, but nothing is going to get rid of the pillar-boxing because of the aspect ratio difference.  :/

My TV, however, like most HDTVs does have a "Wide" setting that zooms or distorts the video.  Exactly how this gets implemented varies greatly from one TV to another but my options are:


  • Normal (displays the source in the ratio it was received)
  • Wide (what this does varies depending on the source)
  • Zoom (magnifies a 16:9 ratio portion of the middle of the image)
  • Stretch (distorts about 1/4 of each side of the image, stretching it to fill to the left/right of the screen)


The pillar-box graphic above is how it looks in "Normal" mode.  "Wide" slightly zooms in, cropping the very top and bottom off the picture.  In practice this is the best solution as it only takes off the status bar at the top of the tablet, and when watching 16:9 videos they are slightly letter-boxed on the Kindle HDX screen anyway, so the "Wide" setting just crops off that letter-boxing.  However, the aspect ratio difference still leaves a narrow pillar-boxing on the screen (but I think I can live with it).  If the source video is 4:3 ratio you use the "Normal" view so the very top and bottom of the picture don't get cropped off.

Side note: You'll notice I said that "Wide" button action varies depending on the source.  Well, anything coming in through the A/V RCA video jack on the back is simply stretched to fill the space both top/bottom and left/right.  If you connect a computer using the VGA port you don't have ANY of these zoom functions available.  If I connect my other Android tablet to the TV with the HDMI cable it's mirrored screen is stretched to fill the space just like anything over the A/V connector.  The "Stretch" setting is the most useless thing I've ever seen.  So even on this single television there is no real consistency with the zoom setting, therefore I won't hazard to guess how it might work on whatever TV you might have.

I also tried setting the screen "Resize" drop-down on the PTV to zero.  This gives you a pretty small picture in the middle of your TV screen, but if you are watching 16:9 widescreen video on it and use the "Zoom" setting the 16:9 picture will be magnified to fill the entire TV screen - though it will not be as sharp because it is being scaled up.  So hooray!  It gets rid of both the letter-boxing and the pillar-boxing - but it actually ends up cropping a bit off all sides.  If you were watching something 4:3, though, you'd have to use "Normal" view and it would be small in the middle of the screen.  Or you stay zoomed in and crop rather a lot of the top and bottom of the picture.

If you are watching content in XBMC it has controls for full customization of the scaling and positioning of the picture, so you can tweak and optimize it to your liking.  However other video apps like Hulu+, Crunchyroll, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, etc., do not have these sorts of adjustments available.

The blurry image and overscan while zoomed were the reasons I ultimately didn't use the "zero" setting.  The underscan of the "15" setting, in conjunction with the "Wide" zoom setting still leaves a little pillar-boxing, but after a couple hours watching - especially in a dark room - I stopped noticing it.

Another thing to note about this display mirroring is that the screen on the tablet will be ON.  In a dark room watching the big screen you'll probably want to have the tablet in a cover, slipcase, drawer, or lay it screen down.  Also a good idea to reduce the screen brightness as much as possible - not only is it less of an impact on your eyes when you DO need to use the tablet as a remote control, if you are running on battery power dimming the brightness can extend the runtime.

UPDATE #2:
I was wondering if there might be an Android display changer app that could change the Miracast output resolution - something that would let me switch the output to 16:9.  Well the bad news is that the only such apps on the market all require you to have a rooted device.  I don't want to root this tablet if I can help it.

A secondary problem is that people have tried apps like that on the Kindle, and while they will alter the display on tablet's screen they don't do anything to the mirrored output.  Then I ran across this post over at XDA where someone with a previous generation Kindle tablet found that the Amazon Prime Video player WILL actually change the output aspect resolution (and ratio) when mirrored to your TV.  So I tried it with the HDX and can confirm that, yes, the Amazon Prime Video player (and ONLY that player) will switch to 1920x1080 - and the 16:9 aspect ratio - when you pop the video fullscreen (it is cropped on the tablet screen actually).  I also tried it with the default video player that it uses when you click on a YouTube video in the Silk browser.  Nope, sorry, that outputs in 16:10 ratio.  As will EVERY player other than Amazon's own video service.

This means that the tablet IS technically capable of changing the display resolution output over Miracast.  But Amazon chose not to give this to end users in the Display Settings, or access to any other apps when they are popped fullscreen.  I really hope a future Fire OS update adds that capability, but I'm not going to hold my breath.  Amazon has a vested interest in making the experience only work properly in their own app.

UPDATE #3:
The tablet had the "Fire OS 4.1.1" update pushed to it and it messed up the Display Mirroring something awful. It would be all pixelated with the sound and picture dropping out or freezing, it would take multiple attempts to get the tablet to connect to the Netgear box.  It didn't matter what video app you used, even scrolling or swiping in the OS would break up into blocks and pixels on the mirror device - while everything was smooth and nice on the tablet's screen itself.

Ultimately I ended up contacting Amazon customer service who routed me to Tech Support and they suggested doing a Factory Reset on it.  I was leery of doing that since there are numerous horror stories of bricking Kindle's that way, but I was reassured if it bricked they'd just ship a replacement so, fingers crossed, I reset it.  When everything came back up, lo and behold, the display mirroring was fixed.  Then I just needed to reinstall the apps downloaded from Amazon's App Store and re-do the side-loaded apps with a USB cable and my desktop computer.

So if you're setting up a Kindle tablet as your media center and a software update messes up display mirroring it appears that a Factory Reset does fix whatever causes the problem.

UPDATE #4:
No, a "Factory Reset" only temporarily fixed it.  After the tablet was rebooted the problems returned.  Then it announced there was yet another System Update available, so I thought "Ok, maybe this is the bug fix" and applied it.  It took me from Fire OS 4.1.1 to version...4.1.1?  WFT?  Afterwards it's still screwed up, just not quite as badly.

1. The tablet has to be literally laying next to the Netgear box to get a clear signal.  Even then, when you start pretty much any video app, it takes about 30 seconds of heavy pixelation and sound drop-outs before the picture stabilizes.  If it cuts to a new stream (for example in apps that run commercials) it will go through this choppy drop-out business with the new stream.  The video is playing smoothly the entire time on the tablet screen, however, so it is NOT a network issue with the wi-fi, it HAS to be a network issue with the wireless display signal.

2. Some video apps will be really, really slow buffering or loading thumbnails when the display is being mirrored.  Almost as if mirroring is somehow choking the wi-fi network signal (except they are different devices on different frequencies, so how?).  For example, the CW network app loads thumbnails and plays videos almost instantly when not mirroring the display.  When mirrored most of the thumbnails NEVER load and the video can take up to a minute to even start, and then is so choppy and pixelated as to be unwatchable.  Why does it work fine when mirroring is turned off?  I've no idea.

I can't think of anything Amazon customer/technical service could do to help aside from fix their buggy OS software in a future update OR allow people to roll the damned OS version back.

I'll admit I have no idea if the problem might be the Netgear Push2TV box either.  The Kindle is the only device in the house that supports it, so I've nothing else to even try connecting to rule it out.  But it was working just fine literally an hour before Amazon pushed the OS update, nothing has changed on the Netgear box, so logically the problem must be the tablet, right?

One thing this has taught me is that wireless display technology sucks.  It's still too new and suffers pretty much the problems you'd assume a wireless technology would suffer - namely signal interference and break-up.  I'll take an actual cable over it any day of the week, and that may be the ultimate solution here.  Bite the bullet and just use a box with an actual HDMI cable.  There's the irony, I have a really cheap - and by technology standards "ancient" - Android tablet.  It never got any updates after Gingerbread (Android 2.3.7 is what's on it).  Consequently it can't run the latest versions of most of the apps I'd actually want to run on it.  But, cheap as it is, it does have an HDMI port on it and plays crystal clear 1080p video when connected to the big flat panel in the living room.  I mean, if I have to have the Kindle laying next to the TV to use the wireless display adapter it's actually closer to the TV than the length of the HDMI cable for the cheap, old tablet.

Yet another reason I would never recommend anyone use a Kindle Fire tablet for a media center.  Ugh.

UPDATE #5
I started thinking I had a two-fold problem.  I still think that the OS update degraded the display mirroring, but I also began to think I had a problem with signal interference.  Add to that the ancient age of my wireless router, which didn't even support wireless "n" connections and only used the 20MHz width, with no automatic channel selection - you had to pick one from a drop-down list.  I had been given a "dead" router that was much, much newer and did support wireless "n" connections and automatic channel selection on either 20MHz or 40MHz.  It was not new enough to support 5GHz, but the real problem was I only had it because the original owners said it stopped working and simply replaced it.

After screwing around with it all afternoon I was finally able to reflash the firmware to it.  The "Guest" wi-fi doesn't seem to work (dead radio?)  but I wasn't going to enable it anyway, however the main wi-fi radio would drop the signal as soon as you tried to stream anything - then it would come back up, drop again - over and over and over.  I found out that was a known problem with the firmware file I'd flashed and thankfully there was a much, much newer one available that had addressed that problem.

Now that I have that in play the Kindle can connect at 2x the previous speed.  This new(er) router also supports some features that are supposed to help improve streaming quality, though I can't say if the improvement is from them, the faster connection, or both?  I also downgraded the firmware on the Netgear Push2TV to the same version it was running when this all worked properly.  I had upgraded it in hopes it would fix things, but thought I'd better downgrade it to the "known good" firmware again.  At the very least, to remove the possibility that different firmware was the culprit.

When using display mirroring on the tablet it doesn't cut in and out or freeze like it used to (we'll see if it does during longer connections), but the range within which the tablet delivers a clear picture to the Netgear box seems ridiculously short, and I think the tablet is still going to end up on the table right next to the receiver - otherwise everything looks like a RealPlayer stream from the turn of the century.

So, if you're experiencing this problem too make sure you're not using a "Router of the Ancients" and put the tablet physically closer to the Netgear box.  I'd still have preferred an HDMI cable over all this finicky wireless display nonsense.

UPDATE #6
A couple days ago Amazon pushed the Fire OS 4.5.1 update to the tablet.  Thankfully it didn't affect the display mirroring at all.  It still doesn't work as well as it did originally, mostly that it seems like the signal it sends the Push2TV is weaker because there is a significant improvement in image quality by moving the tablet closer to the Netgear box.  I should note that I don't have a huge living room either so before, at most, the tablet was only 7.5 feet away from the Push2TV and was clear.  Ever since the previous OS update, though, the picture is noticeably lower in quality unless the tablet is within 2.5 feet of the Netgear box.  It is as if something in the update cut the output power for display mirroring to about one-third its prior strength.

UPDATE #7
Yet another OS update and now it seems to be back to where it was in the beginning.  I can hold the tablet in my hands on the couch and it's mirrored crystal clear in full HD on the TV across the room.  Unless another update breaks it again I'm going to say it's fixed.

UPDATE #8I tried adding another Profile to the tablet to use Amazon's "Family Library" feature.  For whatever reason it caused the Display Mirror function to quit working?!  Removing the added Profile fixed the problem.  However, because of Amazon's "Household" policy you can't add the Profile back for (a rather crazy long) 180 days.  So, fine, forget about Family Library I guess.

USING PLEX MEDIA SERVER

As I noted above I have Plex Media Server installed on a Mac on the network that's typically turned on most of the time anyway.  You have two different options for using it with your Kindle Fire HDX Media Server:

1. Install the PleXBMC add-on.  It's free, it just joins your other Video Add-Ons in XBMC/Kodi and that's really all there is to it.

2. Install the Plex app for Android (it's available in the official Amazon App Store), but isn't free.  I'd only do this if you weren't planning to use XBMC/Kodi at all, but preferred Plex.  Remember, though, that Plex is really an ecosystem - to get full use out of it, and make sure ALL your videos and music files actually appear, you MUST follow the file naming conventions for it outlined on the Plex website - if you don't your files won't show up because it can't find the media info to download.  The only way around that is to change the folder to a "Personal Library" which won't go looking for media info online.  Also, go into the Plex app settings and under "Video" turn OFF the option to "Use Experimental Player" - this really shouldn't be enabled by default in my opinion.  With it on I couldn't play ANY videos from the server.  With it off I can play all of them.


CONCLUSIONS

My conclusion from this little exercise is that I would NOT recommend anyone buy a Kindle Fire tablet as a media center replacement for the following reasons:

1. You won't have access to the Google Play Store, which has far more apps in it than Amazon's App Store does.  Furthermore the apps in Amazon's App Store are often outdated compared to Google's store, which gets updates first.  I'm still waiting for the Amazon App Store to update the Hulu+ app almost a month after the one in the Play Store was updated to allow access to most of the same free content you can watch through their website in a desktop browser.  Many other apps are simply missing from Amazon's store.  Yes, you can acquire many of them by other means and side-load them to the Kindle tablet - but you also have to manage future updates manually.  And, no, you can't install the Google apps on it.  They won't work.

2. The 16:10 screen ratio on the Kindle tablet is a point of frustration.  Unless (and only if) you are watching mirrored video fullscreen from Amazon's own Prime Video app you will not get rid of the "pillar boxed" picture on your HDTV.  The tablet is technically capable of mirroring in 16:9 - since the Amazon Prime Video app does it - but this useful and obvious function is not made available to any other video apps and no options for it are available under Display Settings.  If you intend to use a tablet as your XBMC media center get one that either HAS a 16:9 ratio screen or has proper settings to output a mirrored display in 16:9.  I should point out that MOST of the Android tablets on the market also have 16:10 ratio screens, and on some of them it is Google Play Video that is the only one that will play full screen to an HDTV.  It's really all down to whether or not output settings have been implemented for mirroring that allow you to adjust the screen resolution.  There are also third party apps that can change the output resolution - but they all require a rooted device and may only apply the changes to tablet's screen, not the mirrored output.  This, in my opinion, is one of the biggest sticking points for me in recommending the use of ANY tablet as a replacement media center.

3. A tablet running Android 4.2 or later will have the capability for true multiple user accounts on it, just like your desktop.  Amazon's "Fire OS" however does not support this.  Each Kindle Fire tablet can be registered to only ONE Amazon account.  It comes with an app called "Free Time" that allows you to set up multiple "User Profiles" but this is primarily to limit what kids can access on it and how long they can use it.  It does not provide TRUE multiple user accounts on the device.  This may not seem like a big deal, but it means only the person who can actually make purchases on the tablet is the person to whom it is registered.  It will ask for the password confirmation before the "One Click" buying goes through, but a user under a "Free Time" profile won't be able to make purchases and even if they could the purchases would be associated with the Amazon account to which the tablet is registered.  Amazon, incidentally, says there is no way to move purchased apps, music, or videos from one Amazon account to another.  If you have multiple users, especially each with their own Amazon accounts, a single Kindle tablet isn't going to do you much good.

UPDATE: Since I wrote this Amazon introduced a "Family Library" feature that is supposed to allow multiple Amazon accounts to share content.  In my own experience not only did it not share all of the content (only apps were shared), it broke Display Mirroring.  Let's hope they fix this.

4. To make proper use of a tablet as a media center hub/controller you are going to need another device on your network on which to store and serve up all your media files.  This isn't a big problem if you already have a NAS full of digital video, music files, and photos.  You can also use any computer on your LAN - but it should be one you leave turned on most if not all of the time and the media server software (Plex is a good cross-platform choice) will also have to be running in the background.  You could also use another installation of XBMC as the media server and just minimize it, but it uses significantly more resources than Plex does.  But it's an important point that the (very) limited storage available on a tablet isn't going to cut it if you have a lot of ripped discs and/or a gigantic digital music collection.  You'll need a second system of some sort to serve up that media.

OPINION: XBMC name change to KODI

I've read their official announcement and FAQ about the name change, and the backlash against it.  So I understand the legal and logistical  reasons why they didn't throw open the renaming to the community.  I consider myself part of that community even if I've never had the skills to contribute directly to the project (though I have submitted fixes for add-ons before).  I've been using this software as my media center for years, and have installed it on multiple systems for both myself and others.

XBMC has been forked and spawned numerous projects based on it - including Plex and Boxee.  I do use Plex Media Server as my preferred background media server app on my Mac.  But the greatest strengths of XBMC have always been that it is cross-platform and free.  Plex, for example, charges for their mobile apps.  The downside of XBMC is that add-ons are not "official" and are often easily broken when the source websites change structure or drop whatever API the add-on was using.  Which doesn't bother me too much since I don't mind tinkering - or even combing through debug logs and trying to fix code (which is challenging since I actually don't know the programming language in which it is written).

But I'd have to say I'm in the camp that doesn't really care for the new name "Kodi" at all.  It makes me think of a bratty little kid or a puppy.  The devs seem to think that people don't like the new name because they are overly attached to the old name.  But the comments on the new name make it pretty clear that it is the new name itself that is the problem.  I'm certainly not overly attached to the old name.  I've never even owned an Xbox, so that origination of the name holds no nostalgia for me.  Whenever I've mentioned the media center software in conversation I can't recall one single person ever asking me what the name meant, though I've volunteered on occasion that it "was originally for the Xbox."  I'm sure it was suggested and rejected for some reason, but XPMC (Cross Platform Media Center) would have been a better name change in my opinion.  For wont of one fucking letter!

The criticisms that "Kodi" is too "childish" shouldn't be so quickly dismissed by the development team.  It also didn't help that they used a very childish logo in the announcements on their blog (which thankfully is NOT the actual logo).  Speaking of which there are some really talented (and some not so talented, but A+ for effort) people trying to make lemonade out of this lemon of a name - with some pretty good logo proposals (and a lot of awful ones).  So maybe, somehow, they'll salvage it - time will tell.  Or some disgruntled group will fork it yet again under a better-liked name.  But that's often the nature of open-source GPL software.

3 comments:

vabna islam said...
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Dennis Ancheta said...

when i try to install mashup, i keep on getting the note "Unable to connect. Could not retrieve directory information. This could be due to the network not being connected. Would you like to add it anyway?" My internet is running perfectly fine so I am confused. I am using my kindle fire hdx by the way. thank you.

OffWorld Girl said...

The Mashup addon for XBMC is officially dead as of November 2014. The developer was apparently the target of legal action by copyright holders and doesn't have the resources to fight them, so he nuked his website, repo, social media...everything. I've never used that addon myself, but according to the linked article when you install the last update it will actually uninstall itself.

Details: http://www.tvaddons.ag/mashup-xbmc/