Kodi

All posts tagged Kodi

dragons

Avast, mateys: here be dragons!

Well now, here’s a touchy subject in the world of cord-cutting: piracy.

A while back, an acquaintance posed a question to me, the presumed cord-cutting expert.

He said a “friend of his” was wanting to buy something he called a “DigiXtream Kodi box” that would let him stream TV shows and movies, even if they were still in the theater.

His question was, could this be legal?

I told him that I didn’t know anything about his friend’s prospective purchase, but in no way could I imagine that it would be legal.

Subsequently, I looked into his question.


At that time, the only way I knew for pirated content to be mass-distributed was with BitTorrent software. BT is a way to download files hosted on multiple users’ computers around the world.

When you initiate a file download (from a torrent link), free BitTorrent software on your PC pieces it together segment by segment from other computers around the world with the partial or complete file. Then if someone else wants the same file, your computer (if still running the BT software) may automatically offer to upload segments to that user.

BitTorrent (using peer-to-peer file sharing, or “P2P”) has many legal uses, but downloading pirated movies isn’t one of them.

Back in the early 2000s, I used BT a few times to retrieve episodes of “Survivor” that my wife somehow missed recording. More recently, I downloaded an obscure and unavailable British movie called “Let’s Kill Uncle”, which I wrote about in this post: Let’s kill Uncle first!.

I wouldn’t do that again, due to the way BT shares files. The MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) or any content rights holder can easily join a popular torrent themselves and capture a list of users’ internet addresses. They are probably more interested in downloaders of current, popular movies, but in retrospect, I was rolling the dice.

I know of a friend of a friend here in Tulsa who got a warning from Cox in just that way.


Kodi, I did know about. I’ve talked about it here numerous times.

It’s legitimate open-source free media player software. I have a Raspberry Pi I use as a media computer, running on free OSMC software. (OSMC is a minimal, self-updating version of Linux, packaged with a Kodi front-end.)

There are many addons in the official Kodi repository for audio, video, pictures, weather, games, etc. I’ve been using the Pi to stream our own in-house content with Plex, plus internet music and video content, as intended by its creators.


To my surprise, I found that Amazon sells a plethora of cheap computers, preloaded with custom builds of Kodi and third-party unofficial addons whose sole purpose is to pirate video content.

Apparently, selling the boxes is legal, but their purpose is clearly illegal. Isn’t it? People would seem to be taking a big chance, buying one of these boxes and yo-ho-ho-ing merrily away, bottle of rum in hand.

The Kodi developers are striving to keep their trademarked name dissociated from these boxes and addons. Read this lengthy and angry thread on their forum. Here is Kodi’s statement last year: The Piracy Box Sellers and YouTube Promoters Are Killing Kodi.

So I looked at Amazon user comments about the various boxes. They ranged from “perfect for cord-cutters”, to “returned; too hard to use”, to “broke after two months”.

But nowhere did I see comments like “beware, I got busted”, “had to pay a big fine”, or “doing time in Federal ‘PMITA’ prison” (“Office Space” reference).

How could that be?


Turns out there are a lot of websites offering “free” streaming movies via file sharing services called cyberlockers. If you go searching for free versions of any current movie, you will find them.

Clearly, pretty much all the content in these lockers is pirated. The quality is highly variable.

If you watch these “free” movies on your computer via browser, the price you pay is taking a high risk of malware infection and identity theft.

The newer unofficial Kodi third-party addons (some older ones use BitTorrent) dodge this specific malware risk by navigating an ever-changing landscape of direct link addresses to the cyberlockers’ contents without taking you to the potentially infectious websites.

But the custom Kodi builds (created by parties unknown) and third-party addons themselves could compromise your security. There is no accountability or support.

Non-dangerous downsides, particularly for non-techies: locating specific content of adequate quality is often hit-or-miss and time-consuming. These addons are not always user-friendly, and they can break or lose support over time.


The cyberlockers’ business model is multi-level marketing. Read the sordid details here: Cyberlockers: Explaining Piracy’s Profit Pyramid.

As the article notes, to supplement their ad income, many cyberlockers now charge a subscription fee for premium pirated HD content and faster downloads. The addons cannot bypass these fees.


Streaming or downloading via third-party addons involves only three parties: the user, his ISP, and the cyberlocker. That makes it difficult for content owners to trace users.

fbiantipiracy2

Currently, it would be impractical, though not impossible, for the ISP to act on its own.

It would need to be capturing the user’s stream in real time to determine what was being watched, even if they had determined that the source site was a cyberlocker.

But only the copyright owner of that specific content is in a position to initiate legal action, so the ISP would need to notify it.

That is too much expense and trouble for an ISP to undertake without a compelling reason to do so.

But what if the copyright holder offered a bounty to the ISP? (to keep the terminology piratical). Or what if the content owner and the ISP were under the same ownership (e.g., Google)?

Could the MPAA set up a “honeypot” file at their own cyberlocker, and nail any miscreants who show up for the free goodies? I don’t see why not, though that may constitute entrapment.

Might the entire process of detection and documentation be automated?

Speculation.


I have read numerous opinions and have yet to find a clear-cut answer to the legality question. It differs from country to country. For the U.S., the following comment on Reddit perhaps best captures the general understanding, or lack thereof:

“Is watching streaming movies illegal?

“There is currently no definitive answer to this question. Depending on the site and file type, online streaming may create a full-length temporary copy of the movie on your computer. Alternatively, the program may delete the data as you watch.

“Some courts have held that even temporary copies may violate the law. However, the Copyright Office contends there is no violation when ‘a reproduction manifests itself so fleetingly that it cannot be copied, perceived or communicated’.

“Though the law is unclear, it is useful to note that owners, such as the MPAA, rarely go after individuals who watch streaming movies. Illegal or not, it’s much more difficult to track these users down. Unlike BitTorrent downloads, the MPAA can’t just sign into a program and snag IP addresses.”


At best, this is a gray area, ethically and legally. It does pose a risk, though of a kind different from BitTorrent downloading. From a practical standpoint, the third-party addons are likely to let you down as a consistent source for an evening’s entertainment.

Content owners have become increasingly interested in finding ways to offer their movies and TV shows on a subscription basis, since they have found that most people prefer to enjoy quality, worry-free, and user-friendly offerings.

Pay services have arrived in the form of smartphone/smart TV apps or Roku channels, such as Sling TV, WatchESPN, HBO GO, Showtime, CBS All Access, as well as old standbys Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu.

Using the legitimate services assures that you won’t be wasting your time, or walking planks of any kind.

Arrr.

kodirecent

The new Plex beta addon for Kodi as seen on our 65″ TV. (Click to enlarge.)

Plex is a great free way to deliver local music/TV/movie content from your computer(s) to your TVs, smartphones, tablets, and browsers.

There are free official Plex apps on several of our media devices: Roku boxes, smartphones, and TiVo.

I have been using the unofficial PleXBMC addon with my $35 Raspberry Pi/OSMC-Kodi computer.

Now there is an official Plex for Kodi addon. It is still in beta, and is currently available only to PlexPass holders.

Preview it in the following series of screenshots.

They also show how I have organized for Plex my Windows-automated online recordings of the locally-produced weekend KWGS music shows (see the previous Cord-Cutting post). Details after the screenshots…

folksaladkodi

My Christmas recording of “The Folk Sampler”. I added the pix from KWGS’ and Mike Flynn’s websites.

folksaladkodi

Christmas “Folk Salad”. That is my own simple naming convention for the recordings.

allthisjazzkodi

Christmas Eve “All This Jazz”. The AAC+ format provides the best sound for the 56Kbps bandwidth.

swingonthiskodi

Christmas Eve “Swing On This”. Grabbed the nice background shot from the internet.


How to organize home-recorded radio shows for Plex:

I will demonstrate by adding my KWGS recordings of “Jazz Night in America” to Plex.

They are on my Windows Desktop in a folder called 1JazzNightInAmerica, with names like JNIA20150704.mp3.

For Plex, each .mp3 needs to be in a separate folder, so that Plex will see them as “albums”. We will name each folder the same as the .mp3 name. My simple naming convention allows them to be put in order by date.

Right-click an .mp3 in Windows Explorer, select “Rename” from the context menu, and use Ctrl-C to copy the show name. Then right-click on the leftmost space within the right pane of Explorer, create a New Folder, then do Ctrl-V to paste in the name of the show. Finally, move the .mp3 into the new folder of the same name. Do this for all the .mp3s.

jniamp3s-=========>>jniafolders

I created a new folder in Windows Explorer under “Music” called “Jazz Night in America (KWGS)” to be consistent with the naming of the other KWGS shows. (I configured Plex to look for new music in the Music folder when I installed it on this PC.)

Now I move one of the folders from 1JazzNightInAmerica into it.

Plex will detect it eventually, but to snap it up, I tell Plex to Update Libraries. Now I see an [Unknown Artist]/[Unknown Album] under “Recently Added Music”. I ignore it for now and go to my Music Library on Plex where I see a list of artists. Scroll down and find “Unknown Artist”. This will now be renamed.

Click the pencil icon for the [Unknown Artist] to edit. Type “Jazz Night in America (KWGS)” into the Artist slot. I copy and paste that same text into the “Sort Artist” field as well. You may, if you wish, add genre Tags (I selected “Jazz” and “Contemporary Jazz”).

You may also add a Poster image and a Background image for this artist. I usually look for official images associated with the show. You need only enter the URL of an image and it will be imported into Plex (but go ahead and save them to your PC as well for future use). I found a photo of host Christian McBride with his bass, and the JNIA logo to use as the background.

I now have a new “Artist” listed as “Jazz Night in America (KWGS)”. Click that artist icon. This artist has one [Unknown Album] so far. Edit the album by clicking the pencil icon on it.

The path to the .mp3 is visible under the Info tab. Copy the intended album name from the path, in this case, “JNIA20150704”. Paste it into both the Album and Sort Album slots under the General tab.

Click to enlarge.

(Optionally, you may also wish to add the same image you used for the artist Poster above; it must already be saved on your PC to do this. Plex uses it for display in some views if it is there. I found that if I added the image to this first album, Plex added it to the rest of the albums I added later.)

I now have a new Artist with one properly named Album to his credit.

At this point, I cut and paste the remaining folders from the Desktop folder into Music/Jazz Night in America (KWGS) folder.

I then tell Plex to Update the Music Library again. When complete, Recently Added Music shows a bunch of new [Unknown Artist]/[Unknown Albums].

You must edit each one, but it is easier this time. For Artist, just type in “Ja”, which will be sufficient to bring up a small list of matching artists from your library. Select “Jazz Night in America (KWGS)”. Click the Info tab and copy the name of this album (e.g., JNIA20150711) from the path, and paste it into Album and Sort Album under the General tab. Save Changes.

The latter process was a bit laborious, since I had so many shows already recorded. It’s not so much work if you are just beginning to record a weekly show.

Here is Mr. McBride and his shows. Now I can go to any of my devices with Plex and listen!

I hope this is helpful to someone, somewhere.

jniaplexview

Browser view of “Jazz Night in America (KWGS)” in Plex, with all the shows (“albums”) I previously recorded. All are now available to my Plex apps on Roku, smartphone, TiVo, Chromecast, Raspberry Pi. (Click to enlarge)

New Raspberry Pi 3 with Ethernet, & USB dongles: IR remote control, wireless keyboard.

New Raspberry Pi 3 with USB dongles: IR remote control, wireless keyboard/mouse.

For once, I spent birthday cash on a specific fun item: the new Raspberry Pi 3. The Pi with clear case and power supply cost $50.

A few needed extra expenses:

Two Kingston Digital 8GB microSDHC Class 10 UHS-I microSD cards: $11 total

Wireless USB PC Computer Remote Control Media Center Controller: $8

Logitech MK270 Wireless USB Keyboard/Mouse Combo: $20 (already had one to use with the hacked Wii)

This new Pi has a quad-core processor, ten times more powerful than my original Pi (which has a new job, plugged into our bedroom TV). That makes for much snappier response in OSMC (Open System Media Center), an adaptation of Kodi software for the Pi and other devices.

I loaded one of the microSD cards with OSMC, then customized it. That’s easy by now, having previously explored most of its many available settings and options.

The other microSD card I loaded with Raspbian, a Windows-like operating system for the Pi.

For the first time, using Raspbian, I can efficiently browse with the 65″ theater room TV as a monitor using a wireless keyboard and mouse.

I recall presuming back in the early 2000s that big-screen browsing would be coming soon. It turned out that laptops were a much better way. (The height of boredom is watching someone else browse.) But this would be great for demonstrating a site to a group of people.

As much fun as I have with the Pi, I must admit that a Roku/Chromecast/Apple TV/Fire TV-type device can do almost everything it can do for home theater.

The Pi on OSMC/Kodi definitely can’t replace one of these devices, as it does not have proper addons for Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu.

But the Pi still does a few unique things for me:

Serves Windows Media Center PVR recordings to the TV. But I wouldn’t need the Pi for that if the WMC PC had an HDMI output. And Emby is capable of doing the same, only better!

Plays back practically all audio and video formats.

For example, I use VLC media player with Windows Scheduler on a PC to record weekly radio shows from KWGS online. The highest quality stream offered is in the advanced audio coding format AAC+. The Pi/OSMC is a good way to take advantage of this .m4a stream delivered via Plex, my current preference in music/video library systems.

Chromecast can handle some .m4a files, but not these (tried it per How to Stream Local Media from Desktop, Android and iOS to Chromecast); my Roku 3 wouldn’t play them, even using the Roku Media Player channel.

Skip directly and easily to specific times on audio/video recordings with a Kodi smartphone app, such as Kore or Yatse. Roku can play my .mp3 files, but no skipping allowed.

OSMC has a slicker and more comprehensive interface than Roku. It includes current Yahoo weather for your zip code and a news ticker, just in case you shut yourself off from the outside world a little too much.

Free Kodi addons of various stripes, e.g., ESPN3.

More tinkering (and hair-pulling) possibilities.

As I mentioned, the original Pi has moved to our bedroom. I added a USB wifi dongle, got it onto the current version of OSMC, added PlexBMC and a few other music and video addons.

But honestly, the Roku LT is sufficient in there. I will be thinking about what else I might do with the old Pi, e.g., RISC OS, Software-Defined Radio, etc. (See previous post $8 USB tuner turns PC into FM radio/recorder.)

Update, 10/6/2016: I wound up moving the old Pi running OSMC back to the theater room; the new Pi is also there running PIXEL (Raspbian OS). With the Logitech Harmony remote, I can switch between the two rather than changing SD/microSD cards.

My original Pi

Windows Media Center running on my PC after free upgrade to Windows 10! Note the logos, some of which I created.

Windows Media Center running again on my PC after the free upgrade to Windows 10.

The free Microsoft offer to upgrade PCs on Windows 7 & 8 to Windows 10 ends on July 29.

I use Windows Media Center as a free DVR. I had planned to skip the upgrade in order to keep WMC, since Windows 10 doesn’t support it. (See previous post RIP Windows Media Center (in 5-8 yrs).)

But last week, as the deadline approached, I got to wondering again if there was any way to keep WMC going under Win 10. Turns out there is!

Look for DavidinCT’s post of 4/8/2016 about midway down this Windows Central Forums page.

Download the WMC zip file appropriate for your PC, unzip it, and read the directions closely before starting.

Update, 10/4/2016:

My successful add of WMC to Win 10 per the above method was wiped out when my PC automatically received the Anniversary Update for Windows 10 Version 1607 for x64-based Systems (KB3176936) on 9/24/2016. Tried a reinstall, but got an “Installing package failed, reverting…” message.

Using the WMC version 8.8.1 zip file referenced in this post at MyDigitalLife, I was able to get WMC working again. You would need to create a login there to see the post.

More about this particular Unofficial Windows 10 Port at Wikipedia.

Was the Windows 10 upgrade worth it in retrospect? Probably not, except as a learning experience, which it certainly was. Here’s to the next big Windows 10 update, if there is one, not creating quite so much labor. 😉

I upgraded to Win 10, then installed WMC with the download. There were hitches reinstalling the following three WMC-associated third-party programs, which I solved. But all YOU would need to do to avoid these problems is simply uninstall the first two before doing the Win 10 upgrade, then reinstall them afterwards. (As I did on my second desktop PC.)

ServerWMC – feeds data and video to my Raspberry Pi for viewing and control through OSMC/Kodi. In order to reinstall it on Win 10, I was forced to locate its original .msi install/uninstall file. It was in the folder “Windows.old” created by the Win 10 upgrade. (This folder is needed if you want to roll back to the original Win 7 or 8 installation.)

My Channel Logos – a useful program that populates the WMC TV schedule grid with network logos (you can add custom logos, too). Again, had trouble reinstalling because it wanted to see the the original .msi file, but this time, I couldn’t find it. Used the free version of the Revo Uninstaller program to remove the old version of MyChannel Logos so I could do a successful reinstall.

One further tip: my previous custom logos were in C:\ProgramData\MyChannelLogos. I did have the foresight before the new install to change the name of the existing MyChannelLogos directory to MMMyChannelLogos so it wouldn’t be overwritten. Afterward, I moved my custom logos to the new Custom directory under MyChannelLogos.

Ceton My Media Center – allows the corresponding smartphone app to control and program WMC remotely. It took me awhile to realize that it was still there under Win 10, just no icon or program was visible (even in Control Panel/Programs and Features). Found it by typing “Ceton My Media Center” in the new Win 10 desktop search box. Pinned the “app”, as Win 10 calls programs, to the start menu.

Problems like the above (though I haven’t run into any others yet) are why you ultimately might want to do a new clean install of Win 10 after the upgrade. Microsoft allows you to burn ISO image files to a DVD for this purpose, should the need or desire arise. I created DVDs for all three of my computers. The tool is downloadable on this Microsoft Win 10 page. I’m too lazy to reinstall without a compelling reason, but it’s good to have the option.

Other notes:

  • I ran TightVNC viewer on my laptop to remotely upgrade my two desktop media PCs, which were running TightVNC server. No need to attach a monitor and keyboard, even during installation, and the several reboots.
  • WMC programming data for the TV listing grid is provided free by Microsoft from Rovi (also see previous post TiVo to be acquired by Rovi (Tulsa roots) ). My guess is that the data will become unavailable by 2020 or 2023, but if you still have the PC, at least you will be on Win 10, which Microsoft will support through 2025.
  • Personally, I like Win 10 better than Win 7, and much better than Win 8. The app “charms” have been tamed and are actually useful now. But if you dislike Win 10, you can revert back to Win 7 or 8 within 30 days of your upgrade.
  • Some PC models are not approved for Win 10 upgrade. I learned this when I tried and failed with a Dell Latitude E6420 owned by one of our nephews. Here is Dell’s page listing their Computers tested for upgrade to Windows 10. If you have problems, check with your PC’s manufacturer.

Think it over fast, the free upgrade opportunity goes away after July 29!

Screenshot of our 65" TV playing "Sonik Re-Entry" via the PleXBMC addon in OSMC/Kodi

Screenshot from our 65″ TV while playing “Sonik Re-Entry” on my $35 Raspberry Pi media computer.

This is a post where both sides of this website (vintage local TV and cord-cutting) converge.

Drive-in theatre maven Wesley Horton recently found an ad in the Nov. 10, 1967 Stillwater News Press for the Channel 2 Saturday night sci-fi/horror movie program, “Fantastic Theatre“, and sent me a copy. I finally got to see again the logo created by the Channel 2 artist!

1967 ad

1967 ad. Click to enlarge.

In early 1999, I had identified the show’s creepy electronic theme as “Sonik Re-Entry” by sending a .wav file of me trying to “sing” the instrumental melody to a couple of experts on early electronic music.

Once identified, I ordered a two-fer CD with the album it was taken from, “Song of the Second Moon” by Tom Dissevelt and Kid Baltan, plus Russ Garcia’s “Fantastica”. I later discovered that Channel 8’s “Plenty Scary Movie” promo used music from this bonus album, so it was a great deal.

A few days ago, I ripped the CD into .mp3 files using Windows Media Player. I have it set up to automatically do this when I insert a music CD into my PC.

I wanted the album to appear in Plex (What is Plex?) correctly so I could play it on Roku boxes, my Raspberry Pi/OSMC/Kodi media computer, or download it to smartphone for listening at the gym.

Usually, that happens with no further intervention needed. This time it didn’t.

On my phone

Smartphone. Click to enlarge.

This particular CD (issued in 1998 by Fantazmos Records in Frisco) was not recognized by WMP’s music database, so I had to name the .mp3 tracks, and manually add ID3 metadata tags to them. This I accomplished with freeware, Mp3tag. I had previously learned by trial-and-error plus Google which tags were important for the Plex server software on my PC to index the tracks properly.

In addition, I had to move the tracks from the two albums into separate folders, using Plex’ naming and organizing conventions on my PC.

Plex lets you add album art, a background, and the performers’ photo. I used part of Wesley’s ad for the background, and found the cover art online easily enough.

The screenshot at top shows you how it appears on our big TV. At right is a view on my wifi-only smartphone, showing the Dutch composers/performers.

Listen to samples of “Sonik Re-Entry” on the TTM “Fantastic Theatre” page. One features a voiceover by the original host, Josef Peter Hardt, created especially for David Bagsby’s “The Tulsa Project” CD!