KODI is powerful, open-source software for organizing your media library, but it has a relatively steep learning curve.
You might have seen the name Kodi pop up online lately and wondered what it's all about. Kodi is free, open-source software for managing your local collection of movies, television shows, music, and photos. You might even remember it as the old Xbox Media Center (XBMC).
Kodi relies exclusively on your existing media, so it won't save you from your having to subscribe to video streaming services, such as Netflix and Hulu, or music streaming apps like Spotify and Pandora. Instead, Kodi's utility is its support for lots of file types and compatibility with many different devices. Below, we offer a full explanation of the popular media manager as well as its legality.
What Devices Does Kodi Support?
You likely own at least one device that supports Kodi, since this free software is available for Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS, and even Raspberry Pi (RPi) devices. Check out our feature on how to install, update, and use Kodi for more information. On some platforms, such as macOS and Windows, getting started with Kodi is as easy as downloading the installer package. Installing Kodi on an iOS or an RPi device is a bit more involved.
You can sync your media libraries across multiple devices with Kodi, using supported add-ons or a local network. If you want to set up a dedicated media player with your Kodi library in each of your rooms, there's nothing to stop you from doing so.
Kodi is open-source software developed by the non-profit XBMC Foundation, so many of its features and add-ons are driven by the community. In practice, this means that Kodi sees frequent updates. You can read more about the details of each new release on the official Kodi blog. If you are interested in developing features for Kodi, you can choose to download the absolute latest builds, but most users will want to stick with the stable releases. The latest stable version of Kodi is 18.3 (Leia), but you can download dev builds of version 19 (Matrix).
What's It Like to Use Kodi?
Kodi effectively puts content front and center, which makes it an ideal interface for home theater PCs (HTPCs) or other devices connected to projectors or speakers. It also hides a surprising number of personalization and configuration options within its menus, though you don't have to dive deep into these settings to use it to its full potential. Now that Plex has dropped support for HTPCs, Kodi may be your best option for such setups. If you don't know, Plex is a media server that is popular with cord-cutters and is simple to set up and use.
On the left-hand side of the interface, there's a vertical menu that lists all your content, including Movies, TV shows, Music, Radio, and Photos. It's set up similarly to any other file manager, so it shouldn't be too difficult to learn all of its organizational tricks. There's also a universal search bar for finding local media files, installed add-ons, or content from YouTube or TheMovieDB (via add-ons).
If you intend to use Kodi in an HTPC setup, you might appreciate the easily accessible power settings in the main interface. There is other system information in the settings as well, such as battery levels, connectivity information, and an overview of resource usage. The system clock in the upper-right corner ensures you don't lose track of time during movie marathons.
Moving through Kodi's interface is straightforward, and its dark color gradients and persistent menus help you organize and consume content intuitively. However, you are better off navigating with a remote than with a keyboard and mouse. Kodi supports radio frequency (RF) remotes, game controllers, as well as smartphones and tablets.
What Content Can I Use With Kodi?
The Kodi homepage prominently informs users that it does not provide any content directly nor does it condone the use of pirated media or illegal streams with its software, as provided by illegal third-party add-ons. The software does not discriminate between legal and illegally files, but you are accountable for any illicit content you obtain. A legitimate use of Kodi would be for organizing collections of DRM-free media or playing a DVD. It rivals VLC player in terms of flexibility.
Adding local content to your library is a straightforward process. All you need to do is click on a specific content type on the left-hand menu, such as movies or music, select Files, and then add a source (the file location with your content). You also need to specify a name for the source, as well as the type of content you want Kodi to scan for in that folder. Keep in mind that importing some content types, such as music, relies on tags, so make sure your library is well-organized before you starting importing it. If you insert a disc, it should pop up in the menu.
Most mainstream streaming services do not offer Kodi add-ons not supported, so you won't be able to import or enhance content from major players such as Netflix, HBO, Amazon or Hulu. Some services such as Dazn, Pluto TV, PS Vue, and Fox Sports do work with Kodi, but you still need to pay for the service itself. The majority of the video add-ons play only short clips or a selection of episodes from channels such as the DIY network, ESPN, or ABC Family.
Is Kodi Legal?
Yes. If you download and use Kodi as intended to manage and play media files you own, it is completely legal. The software is free, open-source, and as safe as any other trusted program installed on your device. The add-ons found in the Official Kodi Add-on Repository (the ones natively accessible within the Kodi App) are also perfectly fine to use. Kodi oficially takes a hard stance against piracy, too.
That said, Kodi can be used to illegally access copyright-protected content through the use of third-party add-ons curated by external organizations. One such third-party group is called TV Addons, which hosts a collection of unofficially supported Kodi apps, a minority of which offer access to copyright-infringing streams. While some people may use Kodi for illicit purposes, that does not mean that Kodi itself is illegal.
While the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) defended TV Addons, stating "there is a strong case that no wrong has been committed by TV Addons for merely hosting [these apps] online for download." Kodi has lashed out at the service, tweeting, "Let's hope TV Addons gets shut down regardless cause they bring nothing but misery to everyone." Despite the backing of the EFF, the Phoenix and ZemTV add-ons (previously hosted on TV Addons) have shut down recently, allegedly due to copyright infringement claims. Legal battles are ongoing in both the US and Canada.
Kodi developers are trying to distance themselves from these illegal plug-ins. According to Trusted Reviews, some Kodi skin developers have bundled utilities with their installs that specifically look for these problematic extras. In brief, this installation package, called KN Addon Caretaker, checks the user's add-ons against a database to make sure they are all legitimate.
Another potential point of legality concerns Kodi boxes, which are preconfigured hardware devices loaded with the Kodi software. Kodi boxes are legal, so long as they use official add-ons or legitimate third-party ones. You might purchase a Kodi box to avoid the hassle of setting up the software on a device. However, these boxes cross the line of legality if they are configured to work with third-party add-ons that provide access to illegal streams and content. Note that there is no such thing as an official Kodi box.
Can Kodi Replace Cable?
Watching live TV is possible with Kodi, though it is a hassle to set up and not particularly intuitive. If you do choose to take on this project, you need to set up a Personal Video Recorder (PVR) back end, client, and front end, a process that is fully detailed on the Kodi wiki.
Kodi provides two of the three things needed to watch live television channels; the front-end interface (Kodi itself) and a PVR client (an integrated Kodi add-on). This just leaves the PVR back end (hardware). Some companies, such as SiliconDust, sell CableCARD-compatible TV tuners that translate encrypted digital cable signals into a recognizable format, though this requires an existing cable subscription. A technician from your cable provider also needs to configure your CableCARD. Alternatively, you can buy a PCI tuner for your computer and pull local channels off the airways for free. Both methods are legal, though a CableCARD-compatible device will likely run you somewhere in the $100 to $200 price range.
Another add-on, Pluto.TV, streams live channels over the internet for free. Recently, Plex announced that it would be accessible through Kodi for free and without a premium subscription. Premium Plex subscriptions open up live TV and DVR functionalities.
How Do I Customize Kodi?
One of the easiest ways to change Kodi's look and feel is by switching to a new skin in the interface settings. The two default skins are visually similar, though one is optimized for touch screens. The skins are created by the community, but that doesn't mean they are half-baked; there is documentation and support for each of them in the Kodi forums.
Add-ons created by the community and approved by Kodi are another way to make the most out of the software. Any add-ons that you've already installed are organized by content type in the main left-hand menu, while the add-on browser categorizes downloads by their use. For example, there are add-ons dedicated to changing the interface's look and feel, pairing subtitles or lyrics with your content, or adding new options to context menus.
The profiles section is also useful, as it lets you set up one or more password-protected user accounts. There aren't any parental control settings specifically, but you can control the content sources and lock down the preferences for any of the accounts that you create. Kodi also conveniently lets you select between Basic, Standard, Advanced, and Expert settings levels across the interface.
Do I Need to Use a VPN With Kodi?
Whether you need to use a virtual private network (VPN) with Kodi depends on how you plan to use the software. If you are simply using Kodi to manage your local media libraries, a VPN is not necessary. Once you start using add-ons that use your network connection, however, a VPN could help prevent your ISP (or anyone else) from spying on your traffic.
A VPN does not protect you from every security threat, though. For instance, a VPN does nothing to stop you from downloading malware masquerading as a legitimate third-party add-on or from giving your credentials to phishing sites with real-looking login pages. The latter is a real concern, since many Kodi add-ons are not first-party affairs.
You won't find any VPN apps in Kodi's official collection of add-ons, so your best bet is to run a VPN on the device on which you have Kodi installed. You won't have any trouble finding a VPN that runs on Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, or Linux-based devices. If you install a VPN on those devices, all your outgoing internet traffic will be protected. However, you might run into some problems with the few video streaming services that are as available as Add-Ons, since video streaming services constantly work to block VPN traffic.
Do Cord Cutters Need Kodi?
Cord cutters don't need to download Kodi; instead, it's useful for those who want all of their local content organized in one interface and available across multiple devices. This won't help people invested in streaming services either, as it doesn't offer ways to get new content and does not integrate with sites such as Netflix, Amazon, Spotify, or HBO. However, if you are planning to set up a home theater PC, Kodi offers a full-featured multi-platform media experience for free. Just make sure to stay on the right side of the law when it comes to content!