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Help Me Setup a Media Player (Intel NUC) - Questions

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steelydave

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Apologies if this isn't the right thread, and feel free to move the post if so...

After years of wanting to move to a HTPC I finally took the plunge - I got the following (part Christmas gift, part bought myself)

Intel 7th generation i5 NUC
8gb Crucial DDR4-2133 SODIMM RAM
250gb Samsung 850 EVO SSD
Logitech K830 wireless keyboard

Now I know it's a bit over-spec for a HTPC/media player, but I figured a) I wanted it to be powerful enough to do any on-the-fly transcoding/sample rate conversion that I needed (more on this in a moment) and b) the more powerful it is now, the more years I can go before I have to replace it.

So my first step now is to choose an operating system - Windows would be the easy route as I'm intimately familiar with it, but the cheapskate in me doesn't want to pay $100 for a license and the nerd in me would like to give Linux a go. I have some work experience with linux on the user side, but not so much on the administration/installation side. I'd like to use a 'full featured' flavour of linux (rather than something like openELEC) because I want to use the HTPC for more than just music playback - I want to have it as an 'always on' file server (I have a couple of external NTFS-formatted HDDs with all my music on them, can I mount/read/write/make them network accessible?), as well as Netflix (etc) streaming, watching films (all my movies are in .mkv format) and maybe occasional web browsing as well as possibly running a torrent client. I did a bit of research on linux variants that are good for HTPC use, and it seemed like Ubuntu might be perfect, but then I also saw it suggested that Linux Mint might be better for a first time linux/former Windows user like me.

At the moment I'm using an old Popcorn Hour to play all my PCM content (mp3s and CD rips, digital downloads and DVD-A/BluRay etc. rips all ripped to FLAC) but the main reason I bought this is I want to be able to play back all my SACD rips as well - currently I'm just playing back discs on my Oppo 103. The other wrinkle is that I don't have a DSD-capable receiver at the moment, so I'd ideally like a media player that allows me to transcode to PCM (either 88.2 or 176.4kHz/24 bit) for the time being until I get a DSD DAC. All my SACDs are in ISO format I'd also like to not have to rip them to .dff or .dsf as one has no DST compression (so double file size) and the other has no tagging capability. I know both JRiver and Foobar will allow me to play back from SACD ISO and output as PCM, and I know Kodi has some DSD playback capability, but I can't seem to find any definitive answer as to whether it a) can read SACD ISOs or b) transcode them to hi-res PCM.

So I guess if I could sum up my questions:

- Which operating system? If I chose a linux flavour, can I use it with having to become a PhD in linux administration?
- Can i connect my NTFS formatted USB drives and network share them under linux?
- Which media player software? Will Kodi read SACD ISO/output PCM?
- Anything else I should be considering before I dive in to installing software/setting up?
 

HomerJAU

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Hi steelydave,

I thought I'd move this to a more general thread as you are not just considering/asking Kodi related questions.

It's late here and I'm on the turps (Friday night after a very hot day). So I'm not going to attempt to give any input except...

  • I don't believe Kodi plays SACD ISOs
  • Personally I wouldn't get too hung up on playing back DSD. 1. I can't hear the difference 2. How many DSD albums have actually been recorded direct to DSD? I'm under the impression most MCH SACDs came from PCM recordings. (please correct me if I'm wrong)

Garry
 

quicksrt

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As for storage - if your case has room in it I would drop in a 4TB and a 6TB drive into this computer for a total of 10TBs on WD internal drives. All of your usb dives can be considered backups once the data is all transferred. I'm assuming you have a large collection. Perhaps 4TBs is all that is needed?

The one thing about DSD DACs is that they all do not do multi-channel. So feeding a Oppo 103 or 105 pcm files converted from DSD or dsf in JRiver is the best thing for now, until you have an extra $3,000 to $6,000 to blow on three stereo DACs or Single DAC that does MC (and DSD). I'm hearing that very nice DACs are now in the $250.00 range now, so the numbers I mention could be an exaggeration at this late date.

I'm on my 4th PC that I built into a music server. I'm at about the same stage as you are. I'm playing an i5 via HDMI to an Oppo 105. I just bought a used 105 because it does sound a bit smoother than the 103.

I think that my HDMI card I added on later does not handle as many different bitrate (output) as an hdmi output built into the motherboard as a original stock item.

It's taken me months to configure everything because I'm working 60 hour work weeks.
 
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dr. simple

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I would start with all the threads that Garry (HomerJAU) has already started. He's practically written the book on the topic:
https://www.quadraphonicquad.com/forums/search.php?searchid=2374661 (There are some non-related threads in there, but his "media server classes" are all in there.)

I learned most of what I needed by reading his threads and he was incredibly helpful when I needed a little extra advice.
 

quicksrt

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I got a wireless keyboard, and a separate wireless mouse. And I am working on the concept of a wireless monitor. I don't like my music server up on the big screen tv. It bugs me. So after it starts playing I hit the "pure audio" button on the Oppo's remote control. Big screen goes black, and I'm in my music mode. I'd like a small monitor I can carry around the room with only a power cord to worry about.

I must be the only one who does not appreciate music server screen displayed on big TV?
 

HomerJAU

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Hi steelydave.

If you feel like having a play with Kodi on your NUC it doesn't take much to install. I'd recommend the LibreElec (Linux based) version over OpenElec:

https://libreelec.tv/downloads/

I'm sure your NTFS USB drives can be shared from Linux. Kodi has an option to 'share' a source folder on a USB drive (I'm pretty sure I saw that option in Kodi running LibreElec/Linux)

BTW: The next version of Kodi will include a Netflix add-on (play Netflix within Kodi). That version is probably another couple of months away. Still in alpha testing.
 

HomerJAU

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You may also want to consider using a NAS. This will give you file access 24/7 (including when you are not at home).

This one support btrfs file system which stops 'disc rot' and can have external NTFS drives plugged in too:

https://www.synology.com/en-global/products/DS918+#features

Its Linux. Support RAID. Runs several apps including torrent client, automated backups etc.

Your NUC is then just a dedicated mini-PC or media player
 

steelydave

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Hi Garry,

Thanks for all the help so far - and thank you as well to the other people who've chimed in as well.


I've made a ton of progress today, and it was so easy I think I was actually over-worrying and over-planning in retrospect!


I'm by no means done yet, but I thought I'd basically list the steps of my progress here (with links and comments) just in case anyone else wants to follow in my footsteps.

Just to answer a couple of your queries - my reason for wanting to keep my SACD ISOs as is isn't as much about sound quality issue (although it factors in somewhat), it's more to do with the fact that I don't want to have to take hundreds of ISO's, rip them to thousands of FLACs and then have to do all that tagging, only to have to start over again with some kind of DSD file format in a few years if/when I get a DSD-capable DAC or receiver. So I think what I'll probably do is use Kodi for PCM and JRiver for SACD ISO playback, at least for the time being...I still have a ways to go before I'm all settled so I don't want to rush in to anything.

As far as a NAS goes, I have one - a HP N40L Microserver running UnRAID in a 5 x 3TB drive RAID-5 configuration. Unfortunately, since I moved back from the UK to Canada I don't have the room to set it up so it's in storage. So that's why for the time being, I have to connect a couple of USB external drives to my NUC.


Anyway, on with the show!

My first irrational worry was that I wouldn't be able to use my wireless keyboard - I come from old school PC use, where it seemed like everything needed a driver to function, and I worried that I was sort of stuck in a catch-22 where you need an OS and a driver to use a wireless keyboard, but how do you install an OS and a driver if you don't have a keyboard to do it? I'm happy to report that you don't have to worry about any of that. The keyboard comes with a little USB dongle (they call it the 'Logitech Unified Receiver') and all I had to do was plug it in and turn the keyboard on and I was up and running no different than if I had a wired keyboard - even during boot-up etc. I could get in to the BIOS/CMOS settings.

My next step was figuring out which operating system to use, so I basically just googled 'Which Linux for HTPC' and there are loads of Buzzfeed-style list articles that rank the various types of Linux, which they seem to call 'flavours' or 'distros'. To be honest, you could drive yourself crazy comparing all the versions (and then each version seems to have different GUI's) but I settled on Linux Mint - Cinnamon for a couple of simple reasons - one, it's said that its the easiest one to use for people who are coming from Windows, and it comes with both Firefox and all the major media playback codecs (as well as Flash) preinstalled.

After that, I used this tutorial, which shows you how to use Win 32 Disk Imager to create a bootable USB stick that Linux Mint installs from.

Once the installation ISO was written to the USB stick, I stuck it in the front USB port of the NUC, and powered it on. I thought I might have to get in to the CMOS to change the boot order so it would boot off the USB stick, but I guess it's set like that by default and the Linux Mint installation screen came up. It gives you a couple of options, you can either 'test drive' Linux Mint, ie. run it off the USB stick, or you can install it - I chose install. The installation process asks a few simple questions, stuff like if you want it to partition your hard drive, what you want your computer's network name to be, etc. I didn't keep track of how long it took to install, but it was only a few minutes (infinitely faster than any Windows installation I've ever done) and when it was done it told me to remove the USB stick and rebooted.

Rebooted and logged in, and miracle of miracles, everything just worked! Resolution was correct for my 1080p TV, the gigabit ethernet had internet connectivity, and I opened firefox and played some youtube videos and sound worked. Obviously because it's not Windows, everything looks different, but it's all laid out very intuitively and in a very clean way - for example, I needed to change some DNS settings because I use a VPN, and it was easy to find the network settings and change them without having to do any digging or consult a manual, and the changes I made worked as expected.

My next step was to install Kodi and I followed the steps outlined in this tutorial, which worked like a charm. A couple of minutes to download and install and it was up and running.


So that's where I'm at now - I couldn't be more impressed with how easy it was to get set up and running with Linux Mint. Obviously there's the potential that nothing could work properly when I get to actual media playback, but I guess I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

My next steps:

  • Figure out how to set up/mount/SMB or NFS share my NTFS-formatted media drives
  • Install/configure JRiver
  • Populate media players with my media and see if playback works
  • Look in to linux torrent clients
  • maybe rip a SACD ISO to .dsf or .dst (whichever the taggable one is) and see what Kodi makes of playing it back


Stay tuned for the next exciting developments, haha :D
 

HomerJAU

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Good to hear you got something working so easily. It helps if you a familiar with most of the technology.

One thing to note on converting SACD ISOs to PCM (FLAC): Foobar2000 will tag your FLACs during the conversion as the album, track metadata seems to be stored in the ISO. Although (from memory) it doesn't tag cover art. My point is SACD to FLAC and you can play tagged Music without any extra step.

BTW: I think I have some code somewhere that auto scans recursively all folders and tags cover art (if it exists as a 'cover.jpg' or 'folder.jpg' file in the album's folder) into all the FLAC files. I wrote that a few years back when I first got into converting discs to FLAC and hadn't tagged the covers. I just had to find a cover image for each album and save each to a heap of album folders, then run the program while I made a coffee. All done! I'll dig it up and add that as a new tool to Music Media Helper.

Now you have a working Kodi you should try to play a SACD ISO. I was going to test that today but I didn't have time. I don't expect it to work but it would be a welcomed addition. Kodi will play DVD and BD ISOs but it probably doesnt know about a SACD image layout.
 

HomerJAU

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...

I'd like a small monitor I can carry around the room with only a power cord to worry about.

I must be the only one who does not appreciate music server screen displayed on big TV?
There's a reason to move to a media player with Kodi. You can use a smart phone or tablet to play music.

Heres a video I added recently of my iPad interface using a $2.99 app 'talking' to my Kodi media player via wifi:

https://www.quadraphonicquad.com/forums/showthread.php?22375-Media-Players-102-Kodi-for-Multichannel-Music-Playback-(features-and-hardware)&p=357187&viewfull=1#post357187
 

dr. simple

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There's a reason to move to a media player with Kodi. You can use a smart phone or tablet to play music.

Heres a video I added recently of my iPad interface using a $2.99 app 'talking' to my Kodi media player via wifi:

https://www.quadraphonicquad.com/forums/showthread.php?22375-Media-Players-102-Kodi-for-Multichannel-Music-Playback-(features-and-hardware)&p=357187&viewfull=1#post357187
I'd like to second Garry's mention of the iPad/iPhone interface for Kodi. All I have to do is turn on the receiver, open the app on my iPad or iPhone, and I'm on my way.

My ONLY beef with the iPad app: You can't enter a "sort name", so Tom Cochrane comes after Todd Rundgren even though they belong at different ends of the alphabet. (If anyone knows how to enter a sort name, please let me know!)
 

dr. simple

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By the way - and my apologies if this has already been covered - I can confirm that Kodi 16.1 plays multichannel dsf files.
 
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steelydave

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By the way - and my apologies if this has already been covered - I can confirm that Kodi 16.1 plays multichannel dsf files.
Good to know, do you output them natively to a DSD DAC, or is Kodi transcoding them to PCM? What's your output configuration?


My progress today was limited to setting up network file sharing, which (once again) was easier than expected, bar one hiccup that took me a couple of hours to resolve. I know most of this is probably insanely specific to my installation, but hopefully it may help someone as much as provide backup info for me in case I need to do this again some day for some reason.

First off, my NTFS-formatted USB drives were plug-and-play recognised - no drivers or anything, they just show up as icons on the desktop and in the Mint file browser below the internal SSD that has the operating system on it (ie the Linux version of the C: drive), very similar to Windows.

I'm running Linux Mint Cinnamon version 18.3, which by default doesn't have Samba network sharing installed, but it was a really simple process to do so. I followed this tutorial, which basically consists of opening a terminal window and typing the command 'sudo apt-get install samba' which installs and starts the Samba network service.

From there, sharing folders or drives is just like in Windows - you right click on the thing you want to share, and one of the context items in the menu that comes up is 'Folder Sharing' where you can pick the name of the share, as well as the read and write access permissions. However, sharing my two NTFS drives is where the hiccup happened. I set all the folder sharing options to what I thought were correct, but when I tried to access the share from my Windows laptop, I got 'access denied' errors, no matter what I did, setting the permissions to full, or using a user/password login, nothing worked. After two hours of googling and fiddling, I finally came across the answer. When you plug USB drives in to Mint, it mounts them in the /media/<username>/<drivename> folder. So in my case the drives were /media/dave/Elements and /media/dave/Seagate. The problem, it turns out, is that the <username> folder is protected by the operating system and only the named user can access it, so no matter what sharing credentials or settings you enter, the operating system still denies access. There are two ways around this (outlined in this post) - one is mounting the drives outside of the /media/<username> folder, which seemed like a pretty convoluted process that involved changing a lot of configuration settings in the operating system. The second one involves editing one line in the Samba configuration file, and being the kind of guy who likes instant gratification, I went with that. What you have to do is edit the file /etc/samba/smb.conf (I used gedit to do this), and below the entry that says 'workgroup = WORKGROUP', add a line that says 'force user = <username of the folder the drive is mounted in>' ie for me it was 'force user = dave'. So all Samba connections to those shares are now treated by the operating system as if they're coming from me, who created the mounts in the first place, and it lets them through. As soon as I did that and restarted the samba service ('sudo service smbd restart' from the terminal window) all my sharing worked like a charm, exactly as I intended.

So my next mission is to add my PCM music library to Kodi and see how that goes, and then maybe look in to skins and possibly an Android remote app as well. It looks like there's an official one called Kore, and a whole bunch of unofficial ones - any thoughts on which one to use? I'd probably go with the official one unless there are compelling arguments for any of the others. Depending on how quick my progress is, I'll probably look at testing DSD file playback after that.
 

dr. simple

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Good to know, do you output them natively to a DSD DAC, or is Kodi transcoding them to PCM? What's your output configuration?
I'm still using Kodi 16.1, and I assume that the configuration choices are the same in the current version: Under "System: Settings: Audio Output: Output Configuration", there are three choices:
Fixed - Output properties are set to the specific sampling rate and speaker configuration at all times
Optimized - Output properties are set at the start of playback and will not change if the properties of the source change
Best Match - Output properties are set to always be as close a match to the source properties as possible

First off, I don't see the point in "Optimized" because if, for example, the first track you play is a CD rip, your source properties are stereo 44.1/16, and everything after that will be limited to that.

To send the data stream to your AVR, use "Best Match", and then the option to "Enable Passthrough" is available. So obviously the question here is whether your AVR can decode dsf files. I like to create playlists on the fly, so I may be playing a multichannel 96/24 track, then a stereo 44.1/16 track, then a multichannel 88.2/24 track, and this drives my AVR (and ME) crazy. The constant "re-handshaking" or whatever you choose to call it is maddening.

So I use "Fixed". Kodi does all the decoding and everything is sent PCM to my AVR. It works very smoothly and to my ears it sounds great. I've only played DSD64 tracks (not higher), and Kodi decodes them fine.
 

CitySound

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Hi Steelydave,

I just bought the same NUC as you did and I'm really excited about using Kodi! This thread has been very helpful, thank you. If you get a chance please visit my thread. I have zero experience with Linux, so I can use some advice! After a little research I am seeing that many Kodi users run Ubuntu. I'm curious to know if you considered Ubuntu, and if so, why did you decide to go with Mint?

Thanks,
Bob
 

CitySound

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Steve,

I got my NUC today, and thanks to your awesome instructions I was able to get Mint Cinnamon & Kodi installed without a problem! Cheers to your great thread!

Now I'm stuck - I'm trying to mount my QNAP NAS without any luck. I'd really appreciate it if you'd come over to my thread and give me some help when you can.

Bob
 

salsdali

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more RAM = always better in this day and age

8GB would be bare minimum

16GB is good/very good

32GB is best/prefered
 

steelydave

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16 or 32gb of ram is overkill, and expensive overkill ($225 for 16gb, $425 for 32gb of DDR4 SODIMM) for a media player box that's only going to be running one or two applications at a time. A computer with 8gb of RAM that's only using 2gb of it will run at exactly the same speed as a computer that has 32gb of RAM. I'd rather have the extra $400 in my pocket!

So I added my PCM music library and Kodi imported it fine. There are some minor niggles about the way it handles tags that I don't love - predominantly the way it handles 'Artist' and 'Album Artist' tags. In every other software I've used, the 'Album Artist' tag basically supersedes the 'Artist' tag, so I would use it to group albums by an artist where they have several name iterations. For example, Buddy Rich is credited under loads of different names, like Buddy Rich, The Buddy Rich Big Band, Buddy Rich and his Orchestra, etc etc. The way I tagged my library is that I put the exact correct name in the 'Artist' tag, but then for ALL my buddy rich albums, I put the 'Album Artist' as just 'Buddy Rich'. So in my old playback software only 'Buddy Rich' would show up as an artist. In Kodi, if you list your music by artist, it shows artists listed under BOTH the 'Artist' and 'Album Artist' tag. So my Buddy Rich music for example is listed twice - under 'Buddy Rich' but also all of those other subtle variations. I'll have to look in to it more, I'd rather make Kodi do what I want it to do before I go back and trawl through tens of thousands of tracks I've tagged and start changing things.

PCM playback seems fine, regardless of file type or number of channels, everything seems to play back correctly. My only issue currently is that my amp is reporting that anything above 24/48 is being played back at 24/48 - so anythin 24/96, 24/192, DSD etc. Will have to look more in to the settings and see if that's correct or not, but it sounds good at least and I'm sure the problem is solvable, if it is a problem to start with.

I tested some DSD (.dsf) files, and Kodi seems to transcode them to PCM as well (24/48 for whatever reason, as above) but they play back. For some reason DSD tracks don't seem to show embedded album art even though I tagged them with mp3tag the same way I do my PCM files, not sure why that is. Stereo tracks played back flawlessly, but the one disc I ripped multichannel .dsf from .iso (Jeff Beck - Rough & Ready) each track had a split second of static at the beginning of each track. Not sure if that was something to do with the disc, or the ripping, or the conversion, but I'll try with another disc to see if it was just a problem with that disc or if it's a repeatable problem.

I haven't played with this yet (and not sure if I'll even bother) but the newer NUCs allow for software control of the LEDs on the front panel, you can manipulate both the colour and the brightness (ie blinking, flashing etc.) There's been Windows software for this for a while I understand, but someone finally wrote a Linux kernel that will do this, so I'm leaving a link to it here just in case anyone wants it, or I want to come back to it.

The thing I'm happiest about this week is that I installed the official Kodi remote app called KORE on my Android phone, and it's fantastic. My worry (I dunno why!) was that the remote was going to be clunky, or not feel like I really had control over my library, but it's actually better than I expected on all those fronts. The app has 3 'pages' - you start on the middle screen which is the remote, and if you swipe left you're on the 'now playing' page which has your usual play/pause/skip/shuffle etc. controls, as well as a seek bar and track time etc. It's so responsive and well integrated that it feels like the music is actually playing from your phone, if you know what i mean - it doesn't feel like you're browsing a remote machine. If you swipe to the right page, you can see your playlist of things you have queued up. I had great fun whizzing through my collection queuing up tracks to play while music was already playing. The whole thing is very intuitive too, I didn't have to read any instructions or scratch my head over how to do anything. Setting it up to control my kodi installation was easy too, the app tells you what settings you have to change in kodi to enable remote functionality - I followed them and the remote connected without a hitch. I made a screenshot of the three remote pages so anyone who's on the fence can see what it looks like that I'll include at the bottom of this post.

One of the next things I want to do is add 'Artist' artwork - it looks like there are a couple of add-ons that do this, 'Universal Artist Scraper' and 'TheAudioDb Artist Scraper'. Anyone use either of these? The whole metadata thing (beyond what I've put in my tags) is new to me, as is scraping to get it so any pointers would be great.

Beyond that, hopefully I can figure out my 24/48 issue, and my multichannel DSD static problem. I also have to figure out how many SACD ISOs I want to convert to .dsf tracks, because the storage requirements are ridiculous. A 45 minute multichannel album is nearly 4.5gb, which is more than double what a 24/96 FLAC file would be - it's such an insane thing that Sony made .dsf (tagging, no compression) and Philips made .dff (no tagging, compression) but there isn't a DSD format that has both tagging and compression. I know hard drives are cheap these days, but there's still something in me that feels it wasteful to have single albums taking up near enough to 5gb each of space!

KORE Android remote:
 

HomerJAU

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These smart phone and tablet remote apps are awesome. The ease of browsing your library and adding songs to the playlist (queue) without interrupting track playback is wonderful. It’s an absolute game changer for music playback. Instant access to any of thousands of tracks!

Album art on most skins comes from a file in the tracks album folder named: folder.jpg

Kodi groups ‘album tracks’ by the album artist and album name. So this gives you the option to have an album artist of ’Various Artists’ called ‘70s Quad Hits’ with each track’s artist tag as the actual artist: e.g ‘Pink Floyd’ or ‘Chicago’ etc

In Kodi you can search and display by ’artist’ even if the song is in a compilation album of ‘various artists’.

That’s the theory behind its implementation.
 

HomerJAU

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more RAM = always better in this day and age

8GB would be bare minimum

16GB is good/very good

32GB is best/prefered
This isn’t true for a dedicated media player. Kodi runs on devices with just 1GB of RAM for example, although more RAM can be used to cache LAN or wifi streaming for high bitrate video on slower networks. (Personally I’d got for 4GB, any more won’t get used)
 
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