Our KODI Setup

Introduction

KODI is open source entertainment system software commonly found on Android boxes and often used to stream Movies and Television shows. Our KODI setup is a bit different. While we do watch some streaming shows through the Crackle and Popcornflix add-ons, we mainly use KODI to store our Blu-rays, DVDs, CDs and Photographs. We run KODI on a variety of hardware: Desktops, Laptops, Android boxes, and we use our systems, tablets and phones to stream and control KODI.

Overview

Our main KODI box is a desktop computer that lives in our living room close to our television and surround sound entertainment system. This desktop acts as a server storing and serving all our media collection to our TV and to other systems in the apartment. There are two other non-smart televisions in our apartment, one of which has a Windows 10 desktop computer connected to it, and the other a Zoomtak T8H Android box. Both devices can read the movies, television shows, music and pictures stored on the main server. I use a different desktop PC running Ubuntu 18.04 to rip DVD and Blu-ray media, then transfer that media to the server over our gigabit LAN connection. While we could stream content over our wireless router, Blu-ray media tends to be very large and would likely cause buffering issues.

Systems

KODI - main KODI server

  • AMD-E350 dual core CPU running at 1.6GHz
  • ASUS E35M1-M PRO motherboard
  • 8GB 1600MHz DDR3 RAM
  • 120GB Samsung SSD 840 + 8TB Seagate ST8000VN0022-2EL
  • ASUS AMD Radeon HD 6310 (onboard)
  • Realtek RTL8111/8168/8411 LAN
  • Corsair Carbide SPEC-01 case
  • Xubuntu 16.04
  • KODI 17.6
  • SAMBA - for sharing with Windows Computers
  • Lirc - for HP media centre remote integration
  • HP Windows Media Centre remote + IR Receiver model #OVU400103/00
  • SAMSUNG 40" LCD TV - Model #LN40A330J1DXZC
  • Brendell BR-201A 5.1 Channel AV Surround Integrated Amplifier
  • Sony 5.1 speaker system

Our KODI server has undergone many changes over many years. In it's current form it's a bit less powerful than the Intel Core 2 Quad-based system we used to use, but it's also a lot less power hungry. We plan on changing the motherboard and CPU over the next 6 months to something a bit more modern (and that supports SATA 3 for better performance from the 8TB storage drive). The video chipset on the ASUS E35M1-M PRO is also a bit weak compared to the fanless dedicated 1GB NVidia GeForce 210 PCIe card we used to have in the Core 2 Quad-based system.

TANK - Media ripping computer (my desktop)

  • AMD A8-5600K APU @ 3.60GHz (4 Cores)
  • Gigabyte F2A85XM-D3H motherboard
  • 16GB 1866MHz DDR3 RAM
  • 120GB Samsung SSD 750 + 1TB Western Digital WD10EZEX-00W
  • AMD ARUBA (onboard) graphics
  • Realtek RTL8111/8168/8411 LAN
  • Antec Three Hundred Two case
  • LG 22" LCD Monitor
  • Ubuntu 18.04 LTS
  • MakeMKV (Licensed/Registered)
  • Handbrake
  • Rhythmbox
  • K3b
  • Filezilla

TANK is my go-to computer for coding, media ripping, and general fun. It's not connected to a TV, but an LG 22" LCD monitor. TANK has 2 drives, a 120GB SSD on which Ubuntu 18.04 resides and a 1TB Western Digital Blue hard drive on which Windows 10 Home lives. The Windows 10 partition is used when developing Fasteroids, the Asteroids clone we're working on. The rest of the time I usually spend on Ubuntu. You might think the 120GB SSD is too small, but it just means that we have to move the Blu-ray rips off the machine on to our server faster.

Zoomtak T8H Android box

  • Android 5.1 Lollipop OS
  • Amlogic S905 Quad Core 64bit Cortex-A53 Up to 2.0GHz
  • Penta-core Mali-450MP GPU @ 750MHz
  • 2GB DDR3
  • 16GB eMMC storage + SD card slot and potential expansion via USB
  • GigaBit Ethernet
  • 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Dual Band AC Wi-Fi (2.4GHz/5.8GHz)
  • KODI 17.3 - Zoomtak haven't released an update for a long time!
  • RCA 32" LCD TV

Deciding which Android box to buy was a tough decision. At the time of purchase the Zoomtak T8H looked like a good choice because of it's specs and metal chassis. The next Android box we buy will probably be another MyGica box. We bricked an old box, but the MyGica team were miles more helpful and communicative than the Zoomtak team (whom we reached out to several times about a small remote issue and never got an answer). The Zoomtak box has only been updated once since we purchased it a couple of years ago, whereas our previous MyGica box maintained regular updates.

Configuration

Storage Setup

Over the years we've gone through a lot of different storage setups starting with a 250GB hard drive to our current storage solution, an 120GB SSD for the Xubuntu operating system plus an 8TB Seagate Ironwolf drive for storage. Prior to this the server had 3 drives, 2 x 3TB and a single 2TB drive. The 3 drive setup worked for our DVD storage, but Blu-ray files can be very large unless re-compressed (movies like The Lord of the Rings - The Return of the King can take up to 32GB). By mid-2019 I expect to upgrade to a 12TB or larger drive. I've had particular luck with Seagate drives. With the exception of a 1TB drive all our Seagate drives are in good shape.

Movies are divided up by media type. The 8TB drive is mounted under /mnt/media. From there we have directories for Movies, TV, Music, Pictures, and Music_Videos. The Movies and TV further are sub-divided into Blu-ray and DVD directories. Blu-ray files are stored in the Blu-ray directory. DVDs are stored a bit different since we've been ripping our DVD collection for a very long time using a variety of methods (the first was just using transcode on the command line). Our current method for storing DVDs is to store them in a directory name that matches the name and date of the movie below the DVD directory. For example:

/mnt/media/Movies/DVD/The Exorcist (1973)/The Exorcist (1973).mkv

Part of the reason we've moved to this method is to differentiate between the files we've ripped with subtitles (thanks Jeff Smith) and the movies we haven't. The other part of the reason we've moved to this method is because we're getting close to 850 DVDs in our collection - throwing all files in one directory gets a bit unwieldy when you start adding .srt subtitles and extra meta-data.

File Sharing

We use SAMBA to share files with the Windows computers in the apartment, but all SAMBA shares are read-only. This is to prevent crypto-malware from encrypting the shares. Movies are ripped on a Ubuntu computer then transferred over via SSH. That Ubuntu computer is mostly used for development and ripping our media collection, it doesn't have the best specs, but it's certainly more than capable of ripping all our media.

Extras

LED Lighting (on back of TV)

The TV in the living room and one other room both have LED lighting on the back. The company that made our lights, Quingdao Up-Lights Technology, Co. LTD, appears to have gone out of business in late 2016. The web site listed on our box is no longer working, though there is a link that suggests the company might still exist: https://uplights201603.en.ec21.com/company_info.html. These were the first LED strip lights we've bought and we learned some valuable lessons from buying them. One of the things that attracted us to these particular lights was the length of lights we got for under $50 CDN. One local company was selling LED lights for roughly the same price, but less than 1/8th of the length offered by Quingdao Up-Lights.

The upside to the Up-Lights are: the remote is much better than ones we've seen locally, and the length, we got 2 spools completely filled with LEDs. I can't remember the exact length but I think each spool was between 20 - 25 feet (we still have 1 spool full in a sealed bag). Having never had LED strip lights before it was important to have the extra length so we could experiment with soldering them. Soldering the LED lights together was a bit more difficult than it might be for other LED lighting set-ups. The Up-Lights have 4 small solder points. Many LED strip-light kits only have 2 solder points making it much simpler to solder since you don't have as many wires to solder. We probably chose wire that was a little too heavy gauge as one of our strips had the copper lift off the LED strip because of the twist/pressure from the wire. There are lots of excellent Youtube videos on soldering LED lights. Some tips to remember:

  • If you've never done this before experiment on a small length of LED strip you're not going to use
  • Don't forget to tin your iron first
  • Add solder ("tin") to the wires you're joining the strips with
  • Add solder ("tin") the solder points on the LED strips
  • The tinned soldering iron should just join the tinned wire to the tinned solder point on the LED strip - it only takes 1 second
  • Build a wooden frame out of balsa wood and mount the LED lights on it, then it on the back of the TV

If you can, buy digital LED lights. The Up-Lights we bought were analog. We didn't realize this at the time of purchase. With digital lights you can do neat projects like the KODI Bob-light add-on where the lights change with the music/movie mood. Again, try to buy LED lights with only 2 solder points, it's a lot less work and more flexible.

Other Remote Controls

The remote that came with our pricey Zoomtak T8H is quite frankly garbage. In fact I've found that most remote control that come with Android boxes tend to be poor quality and lack the features of a remote like the HP Media Centre remote we use with our KODI server. We've tried quite a few different remote controls over the years. One popular solution is the Mini Keyboard UKB-500-RF. We bought one for $30 at a local store only to find that the down rocker didn't work very well. Shortly after we found the exact same keyboard (new as well) for $15. That half-price keyboard worked perfectly.

Starting in the top left the remotes pictured are:

  • HP Media Center remote - HP Product Number: 5069-8344, IR receiver (model soon), needs 2 x AA batteries
  • Mini Keyboard - Model: UKB-500-RF - IR receiver inside until, phone battery BL-5C, rechargeable
  • IOGear keyboard - Model: GKM681R - IR receiver (model QLERXGKM681R) in bottom
  • Zoomtak T8H remote, no model information on remote, needs 2 AAA batteries not included with the $180 unit - cheap bast**ds! IR inside T8H unit.

We also have a Logitech Harmony 650 remote (model: N-I0003) which we haven't used in part because some of the other remote control units actually have more functionality.