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Media Players 102: Kodi for Multichannel Music Playback (features and hardware)

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HomerJAU

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The Second MCH Media Player Blog/Post (First post here)

Intro:
About 3 years ago I realised I could play my MCH audio more easily if I had my files on a hard disc. After playing with a few options (Playing FLAC from my Oppo and via my AVR) I discovered my first media player.

This gave me a nice user interface but it was a little slow and was a bit 'buggy' and was a proprietary system that was being developed for the movie crew with little effort for music IMO. Anyway, after quite a long period of investigation I decided to try 'Kodi' media software.


Kodi:
Formally known as XBMC, Kodi is Open Source (free) media player software that runs on different types of hardware and operating systems from full blown PCs running Windows to small appliances running versions of Linux. More about Kodi here.

Kodi is quite full featured and supports playback of almost all common media formats (apart from DSD for us on QQ) and has specific features focused on Movies, TV, Music, Music Videos and Photos etc. It is being actively developed by a good team of developers and is regularly updated (both maintenance/bug releases and major version/feature upgrades). Furthermore, it has a huge number of users worldwide, supports multiple languages and has a very strong and knowledgeable support community (see the Kodi support forums)

The current version is Kodi 16.1 (code named 'Jarvis'. A user can set an automatic update option, so if connected to the internet, it will be kept updated for minor releases. Users need to give the ok to update to a major version. The next major release, due later in 2016 is version 17.0 (code named 'Krypton').

In this section I'm going to limit my comments to 'Kodi Music' (audio-only) features, with maybe a little on Music Videos too. The Kodi forum has heaps of info which you can visit but this blog is about (I hope) cutting through the noise (and shear quantity of info) and getting to what you need to know and/or do to get a Kodi Media Player up and running for MCH music playback in your home.


Kodi Music Features:
I have already posted a quite a few screen shots of Kodi being used for Music playback so forgive me if you have already seen many of these screenshots.

Almost all of Kodi features are available across the all the various Kodi supported hardware (see warning below). For best results with metadata, artist fanart and slideshows etc an internet connection is required (if you are reading this your already on the net, right? Yea, but some of you are at work or on a mobile device. So I mean your Kodi hardware needs an internet connection for best results, including auto updates too - I say this because a friend of mine lives on a farm and has no internet access currently)

(Place holders below More Info coming & graphics coming - check back soon)

Menu Navigation:
Remote Control Apps:
Audio Setup In Kodi:
Skins:


Kodi Hardware Devices:

WARNING: Some Kodi supported hardware will not play MCH surround or has limited support. Buyer beware!

I'm currently recommending the Media Players/Devices below (because I have knowledge of these boxes playing MCH - other members will probably add to this list - I will try and keep this list updated over time) and I intend creating a separate thread on QQ on each for more details.

NOTE: I don't (nor does the QQ website) have any affiliation with any vendor or supplier. These are examples of hardware that work with Kodi for MCH that I'd recommend to friends and family. This list does not include all hardware that supports Kodi MCH music.

Kodi does not require much memory or local disc space (on the player). A typical Kodi installation using Linux is about 200Mb (Mb!). Some local metadata and music library data is stored locally. On my current Kodi player being used for 2 years with approx 1000 albums and 1000 other media files stored on external discs my local storage is a bit over 8GB. (I'm sure that can be reduced as I've not cleaned anything ever and I've loaded many Kodi skins too). So you don't need huge local storage for Kodi! Put your money into USB drives or a NAS for your media instead.

The good news is that because Kodi can run on so many different platforms and hardware, there is a huge choice (and that's also the bad news. Where do you start?). Well, I think there's probably three types of QQ members to cater for (I'll start with 3 anyway!).


1. New to Media Players - just want something that's inexpensive and comes setup 'out the box'. Something that works and allows you to touch and feel, test and prove it will work on your audio gear with your music and media - Hey you can always update to a Ferrari later! This will require the least technical learning curve (the ideal 'Dummies' player)

WETEK Hub (approx $100) - I have just ordered one of these and will start a new thread on how to setup and configure etc later. Info on the WETEK website.

This little box comes with Kodi pre-installed and also Android apps including Netflix, Hula and YouTube. You can also install your own Android apps. Optionally, users can install Linux on an SD Card and Dual-Boot between Android and Linux (both these operating systems support Kodi) - LibreELEC is the Linux/Kodi software for the SD Card (EDIT: Now working for HD Audio including 96/24 and 88.2/24 FLAC)




2. New to Media Players (A bit of a 'techie') - just want something that's inexpensive & I don't mind having a fiddle - If you are a bit of a tech head and would enjoy going a bit deeper - something that works and allows you to touch and feel, test and prove will work on your audio gear with your music and media - You will probably stay with 'your toy' you built yourself.

Raspberry Pi3 (under $100 but requires a bit of assembly and you will need to install Kodi, but its not difficult - maybe another QQ member can help start a thread on parts & assembly & setup?). Some spec/info here




3. Intel NUC (approx $350ish including all parts - i3 or above - although >i3 is overkill and more expensive with no gain for MCH audio or HD video - I will start a thread on Intel NUC setup later (This is my current Kodi media player). Intel NUC info here.

This is a similar proposition to (2) above but more expensive, although this gives the best performance, probably be supported longer and comes in a box that looks like its a Ferrari. You'll need to buy memory and a small SSD type drive and assemble, then load an operating system and Kodi (quite easy if you've built a PC previously). Although you could install Windows I'd advise using one of the free Linux based Kodi variants such as LibreELEC as it boots very fast from 'on' (do you really want to pay for a Windows license to listen to music?)




There are good reviews on using Kodi on the Nvidia Shield ($250 with remote I think) but this has not been released in Australia and other countries yet.


NOTE: Any PC using an Intel i3, i5 or i7 can play and decode hires PCM (FLAC) and DTS/DD etc and run Kodi - So if you already have a PC you can quite easily install a Kodi version (e.g for Windows) and have a play.


This post is obviously incomplete. I plan to expand and also add new threads for the 3 Media Players above over next few days with specific info such as how to install Kodi and/or an operating system if your using a NUC or RPi.

I'll also add threads for File/Folder naming recommendations and converting discs to compatible file format (FLAC).

Others here are welcome to add info too.
 
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winopener

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Wetek Hub is an Andoid device. Will these instrubtion be specific for the wetek only or also a more broad Andoid one? I have somewhere in the house an andoid stick with a Rockchip 3something, Andoid 4.4, 2Gb ram and 16Gb ssd that could be useful for some test. Of course there is already a nas on the lan full of stufff...

OFF-TOPIC: someone here is skilled on Foobar skins? Need a help on one thing...
 

HomerJAU

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A lot of what will come here is generic Kodi type info although some differences in setup, installation and customisation due to operating system differences.

I'd suggest you check on the Kodi forum to see if your Android stick is a supported device. I believe I read moving forward the next version of Kodi will require Android 5 as a minimum. The WETEK Hub has Android 5 now but has Android 6 in beta testing. I understand Android 6 is a bit faster and has better core support for some additional media functionality (from memory).
 

winopener

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Seems that Rockchip devices are a no-go for Kodi support... btw, it has Kodi 14 inside.
 

Halloway

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The Wetek Hub (I received mine today) does support dual-booting to OpenELEC or LibreELEC if the Android thing is bothering you.
 

Analogueghost

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The Wetek Hub (I received mine today) does support dual-booting to OpenELEC or LibreELEC if the Android thing is bothering you.
Very much looking forward to hearing your experiences with the Wetek. It looks like a very promising little box.
 

HomerJAU

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The Wetek Hub (I received mine today) does support dual-booting to OpenELEC or LibreELEC if the Android thing is bothering you.
I received a shipping notification last night!

Good point regarding the dual-boot. Some users on their previous WETEK model (WETEK Core) just use Android which included a modified Kodi (by WETEK), Netflix and other Android apps. Some add dual boot with OpenELEC or LibreELEC (these are Linux and Kodi in a single install) on an SD Card. Others overwrite Android and put Open/LibreELEC on the WETEK internal memory. Same can de done on the WETEK Hub.

The main difference is (from what I've read but to be confirmed):
Android:
Ability to run Androoid apps including Netflix, Hula, YouTube etc (install your own)
Boots to Android home screen, user must select an app to use
A bit slower than Linux

This is the easiest to get up and running, it ships I like this.

OpenELEC/LibreELEC:
Boot straight to Kodi (like turning on a TV set top box) - start at the Kodi home screen
A bit faster than Android

Users can add this to an SD Card at any time.

Dual Boot - On switching on the Hub boots to the last system you used. Hold down its remote control Power Button to switch to the other system (you can use both Android and Linux on same box)

I will discuss more in the WETEK Hub thread (coming after I receive my shipment)
 

atrocity

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Raspberry Pi3 (under $100 but requires a bit of assembly and you will need to install Kodi, but its not difficult - maybe another QQ member can help start a thread on parts & assembly & setup?). Some spec/info here
While the Pi appears to work just great for a lot of people, I've been through three different generations of them and have found none of them to be 100% reliable for either multichannel FLAC or high-definition video. I've tried multiple XBMC/Kodi distributions with no luck. My latest attempt involves a Pi 3 which for some reason will not output above 48k. That in itself is not particularly troublesome, but the fact that it randomly drops out is. The dropouts were much worse on older generations.

Having said that, I'm not entirely sure that the issue isn't with the Onkyo receivers I use. I've never been convinced that Onkyo truly has HDMI down.
 

HomerJAU

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The 48kHz limit could be a Kodi audio setting (like having Dolby Digital transcoding on)?

Where are your FLAC files located? WiFi could be an issue if your signal is not strong due to distance or objects in the signal path (walls etc)
 

Halloway

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I must confess that so far I'm not that impressed with the Hub's sonic capabilities. My MCH music is in FLAC format and neither Android nor LibreELEC (LE) output the format. LE is the worse of the two in that Kodi will only play MCH FLAC by converting it to Dolby Digital. Android is better insofar that Kodi will at least convert the MCH FLAC to PCM before outputting it. The downside is that there appears to be an upper limit of 48KHz, despite my having set the appropriate setting to 96KHz.

Unfortunately, so far, the Hub merely confirms my long-held belief that neither Linux nor Android are suitable operating systems for multichannel music players. That having been said, Android 6 is said to be more MCH-friendly and Kodi 17 is currently in Alpha so I am a little hopeful that things may improve.
 

HomerJAU

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I'd agree with your comments on the Hub as your comments mirror my experience after a few days here. (I'm hoping we may see some additional firmware updates to resolve some issues but it may take the next major update which is a couple months away at least - Android 6 and Kodi 17)

I can assure everyone that my Intel NUC with Linux/Kodi (OpenELEC) plays all my HiRez MCH music correctly (192/24 included), so you should probably change your belief on Linux.

I was thinking about this last night: I chose the Hub in my series of Media Player write-ups as its a low cost entry for users to experience this. But maybe I should continue with details on using an Intel NUC as that's still very affordable and I know it works!

I will do a review on the WETEK as soon as I find the time, although with its current limit of 48/24 I doubt anyone on this forum would be interested in using it in its current form.
 

Halloway

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Well that's good news about Linux on an Intel platform. I'd been wondering about something like that as a dedicated MCH music player but had been put off by my previous experience with Linux, admittedly some time ago now.
 

HomerJAU

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There's a new LibreELEC/Kodi build for the WETEK Hub that now supports HD Audio. I just tested mch FLAC at 88.2 and 96kHz (24bit) and it works perfectly! Also working with DTS-HDMA and Dolby TrueHD passthrough. So at around USD100 this is now a recommenced media player for QQ members.

I'll do a write up sometime next week and upload the SD Card Image for anyone that want to create an SD Card with LibreELEC/Kodi that's fully configured for HD Audio etc.
 

dr. simple

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I've built my media server in stages, beginning with learning to rip all the formats, then learning Kodi and Plex, then buying a NAS, and I'm just about ready to buy a dedicated processor. Right now, with the 7th generation NUCs now available, the 6th generation NUC i5 has dropped in price. I just ordered this, so I can't yet speak to it's ability, but I thought any of you in the same stage might be interested:

https://www.amazon.com/Intel-BOXNUC6I5SYK-NUC-Kit-NUC6i5SYK/dp/B018NS910U/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1487028855&sr=8-1&keywords=Nuc6i5syk

By the way, if the price changes, at the time I'm posting the NUC6i5SYK and SYH are available for $299, which represents an $86 or 22% savings over the regular price.
 

HomerJAU

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An i3 is all you need for a Kodi Media Player for either HD Audio or Video if that will save a few bucks. Also for Kodi you don't need a large SSD drive (but also hard to find small drives these days).

I have a 30GB and 120GB (one used to try new versions of Kodi when in beta). Even 30GB is oversized as Kodi only needs about 240Mb and another few GB for its database and cached artwork. No media files get stored as they reside on your NAS or external hard drives.

My next NUC will probably be a 7th or 8th gen as their processors support 4K/HDMI 2.0 but my current i3 4th gen works flawlessly for all my HD surround audio and 1080p video.
 

dr. simple

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An i3 is all you need for a Kodi Media Player for either HD Audio or Video if that will save a few bucks. Also for Kodi you don't need a large SSD drive (but also hard to find small drives these days).

I have a 30GB and 120GB (one used to try new versions of Kodi when in beta). Even 30GB is oversized as Kodi only needs about 240Mb and another few GB for its database and cached artwork. No media files get stored as they reside on your NAS or external hard drives.

My next NUC will probably be a 7th or 8th gen as their processors support 4K/HDMI 2.0 but my current i3 4th gen works flawlessly for all my HD surround audio and 1080p video.
I've read most (if not all) of your posts (and I could not possibly be more grateful!), and I learned from them that an i3 is sufficient for Kodi, but I decided to go with Plex for streaming to devices (since my wife, daughters, and I all have iPhones). I'm using the Kodi with the Plex add-on in my listening room. From all that I've read about Plex, I'll need the i5 if more than a couple of us are using the server at the same time.
 

HomerJAU

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I've read most (if not all) of your posts (and I could not possibly be more grateful!), and I learned from them that an i3 is sufficient for Kodi, but I decided to go with Plex for streaming to devices (since my wife, daughters, and I all have iPhones). I'm using the Kodi with the Plex add-on in my listening room. From all that I've read about Plex, I'll need the i5 if more than a couple of us are using the server at the same time.
Sounds good Paul! Interesting to hear how Plex goes with your iPhones.
 

HomerJAU

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Here's a video I created a while back showing what Kodi shows on a screen while playing audio only music using the Artist Slideshow add-on (and navigation within Kodi's UI):

https://reva.blob.core.windows.net/demos/kodi/AaronNev1.mp4

Now that I have some web storage I'll post more and eventually do a tutorial to help users set up a Kodi based media player for MCH music
 
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HomerJAU

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Here's another screen capture video:

This time its of my iPad running 'Music Remote for Kodi' - An app that connects to Kodi via over a network via wifi.

In this short video I add songs to a Playlist by navigating Artists/Albums (while Kodi plays current song - if a TV is connected to Kodi you can't see what I'm doing on the iPad). Near the end of the video I hit the 'info' icon for Roger Waters and the app loads data from a couple of websites. (How old is the artist, where were they born... etc) - all without stopping current music playlist.

https://reva.blob.core.windows.net/demos/kodi/MusicRemoteForKodi.mp4

The 'Music Remote for Kodi' app also plays Music Videos (from Music Video playlists) and runs on an iPhone too.
 
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