We have been relatively quiet for a while and several months have past since the first pre-release Alpha build. Today we present you the second official Alpha build in this pre-release trilogy. It is a continuation of the first one which was released beginning of March and contains our continous battle against the dark side that consist of bugs and usability problems.
At this point we feel there's a healthy balance to the force (at least that’s what I personally feel) and we are plotting our course towards beta which should show up after the last of the alpha trilogy pretty soon. A lot of Team Jedi and also regular users are running the so called nightlies builds and it’s getting rock solid to use. Of course you should still keep in mind that on any upgrade a small glitch could happen as we are still doing rework. Once you decide to give it a try it is highly recommended that you create a backup first.
A full changelog is nearly impossible to create and in this release article we will only cover the basics. For a more extensive list you can visit our wiki page v18 (Leia) changelog which will be update along the way.
Stability and usability is key
In general the whole stability has been improved quite a lot. The times you still get glitches or occasional crashes haven been reduced due to just ripping out not so well coded parts and replaced with a more structured design and standard. Not that the old code was bad however over time new insights were gained and having newer code standards just make it better. Untangling all parts or components and make them behave better next to each other has been one of the biggest efforts done so far.
Music section also gained lots of improvement for those who cares a lot about having a clean music library. Going through the code and scanning options a better understanding was gained on the past intentions and redone in a more structured way. The same accounts in a smaller part for video library although that was in a better maintained state. What is new however in v18 is that similar to music we can now also use the embedded tags and fill the library based on that instead of using file names. For now this has been disabled by default as there’s simply a lack of really well defined standard and proper easy to use video tagging software. We hope with Kodi now gaining this ability a gained interest will make these available.
Next part is the great feature of Kodi to use it as your Live TV and recording front-end. It’s one of the less well known features as it requires certain knowledge and thinkering to set this up however once it works you’ll love it. To be able to use this you’ll need some extra hardware like a USB tuner or a network tuner like HDHomerun to get the cable or ether signal converted to a video stream. This in combination with one of the PVR server software options like VNSI or TVHeadend (more options are available) you instantly gain a very pleasant TV experience. What has been done over time is improving the usability and stability of this component and trying to make it a great replacement for your normal cable/ether set top box. A starting guide can be found here: Live TV and PVR/DVR Setup Guide
Windows and UWP
For Windows specific several big things happened. First of all we got added as 32-bit Bridge application to Windows store which makes it easier for new users to install Kodi and receive updates. A simultaneous action was converting Kodi to a full 64-bit application which took quite some effort. A more detailed story can be read here: Windows 64-bit is here
Now that was out of the way a long lived dream of quite a few became an option again. Getting Kodi running back on a XBOX like where it all started more than 15 years ago. Since 27 December 2017 we released Kodi once again for the XBOX (One) and is available from the Store. A more detailed story can be read here: Kodi for XBOX One
There have been several improvements done for XBOX since the first alpa and by now it's also possible to change resolution and SMBv2/3 also works. However for this you do need to enable the SMBv2/3 add-on in add-on manager under VFS add-ons.
Regarding Android we just continued to do what we started some years ago and that was stripping all custom written code and simply following the official Android standards. When XBMC back then became available for Android a lot of specific code was written to get it running on those low powered devices and we had more capabilities than any other application back then. Over time stock Android improved a lot and basically all what we had custom made was becoming readily available to be used. At that point we started dropping old stuff and just applied the standards which reduced support burden for the developers. Now all that was done we could start looking at new features and from that we gained the Leanback search integration on Android TV that shows Kodi content on Android TV itself. We now also include Google Assistant out of the box so theoretically you don’t have to pick up the remote anymore. To be honest it’s still uncomfortable and weird talking to your TV giving it commands. For Android TV Oreo there’s a whole new interface which includes the option to fill so called Channels that shows specific content from your app. We can proudly say that Kodi is actually one of the first applications that actually has this integrated. With the great hidden Kodi feature called Smartplaylists you can now populate the Android TV screen with content you want. For the touch enabled devices we can also say this has improved quite a lot as well make it feel more natural.
Linux gained some great things as well which might not mean a lot for regular users though. For our Google Summer of Code we had a project integrating Wayland display server protocol (again) to our code base which is meant to be the successor of X11 Window System. Since Linux is also quite divided on display drivers we had quite a lot of code implementations getting Kodi running on the variety of devices out there. To reduce the maintenance burden of this code a general path was chosen and for GBM (Generic Buffer Manager) and V4L2 (Video for Linux). With this only a small part of the initial code is needed to get devices running and from this newer devices would just run out-of-the-box once the Linux kernel supports these.
Retroplayer and input manager
Retroplayer together with input manager makes controlling Kodi using various remotes or controllers much better and a plug and play experience. Not having to tinker to get the correct configurations is something that we all would like and hopefully this achieves this.
Now comes on of the biggest changes over past year. The video playback which is of course where Kodi shines. Once designed for the old XBOX and old video standards there wasn’t really taken lot in account with future standards and the massive increasement of video resolution and new codecs. With future in mind work started to redesign this section and to split it from into its own component to not be hindered with whatever happens in the user interface or other parts. Making the sure video gets the highest CPU/GPU priority over anything else happening makes sure you don’t get stuttering video or audio when navigating. This sounds so obvious to do however this wasn’t done or even possible in the past. Parallel to that, parts are reworked to be a lot more efficient and need way less CPU while gaining quality. Higher resolutions like 4K and 8K are also kept in mind next to HDR and new video codecs once they become available.
DRM (Digital Rights Management)
With the work above being done in the video player a possibility came up to also allow something that opens Kodi up for using it in combination with DRM protected content. These days it’s quite common for content owners and providers to protect their content with encryption. With v18 we added the ability to also play this content as it was actually intended by the DRM system. Depending on the used hardware and included license you can now playback this content which usually also comes with a subscription service. Instead of the sometimes clunky apps a possibility would be to just use the trusted Kodi environment to watch what they have to offer. There are already several add-ons available from our repository that already use this capability and we certainly hope more will follow and that content providers will make their service available as official add-on.
As mentioned before here’s a lot more done that mentioned above, however the list would become quite huge and maybe not that clear for the regular user. A more extensive overview can be found at Kodi v18 (Leia) changelog which is updated when changes are made.
Current available skins
Due to changes in how Kodi works skins need to be updated for each release. As of this moment we have the following ones have been update by their developers and are readily available from our repository.
More will follow at a later point in time when we approach final release.
The story continues
Although we don’t really have a clear future plan or clear cut goals we would welcome any developer who wants to spend time on getting Kodi better in every way. Either improving the core code to newer standards, fixing bugs or implementing a new feature we haven’t thought of. Compared to years ago the code has become better to understand and follow for newcomers to get started. Once we get something written down of certain to reach goals we will certainly share them.
You might also wonder when we will actually release this as a final version? Currently we don't really have a set time however it should at least be somewhere this year so. There's still enough room left for improvements however we could change our minds at any point in time and just call it ready enough to start the release cycle. In short we can't say or promise anything. For now we will start doing the Alpa release on a regular bases to bring further balance to the force.
That’s about it for now and we’ll go back at improving this upcoming v18 release. Should you wish to give it a try a new version is readily available each day as well as nightly version. We can certainly recommend trying it out however take in mind that it’s not fully production and living room ready yet (take a backup). So far a guestimate of several tens of thousands users already use it so it can’t be that bad can it. You can get it from the download page clicking on the platform of choice and hitting the “pre release” tab. For Android and Windows we have an easy to use download add-on which you can find in our repository.
Go to the Official download page and choose the platform of choice and you will find these builds under the pre release tab.
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May the force be with you…..