You’re sick of paying hundreds of dollars a month for the privilege of watching ads on cable.
Your cord-cutting research has led you to try out various streaming services. But those aren’t really scratching that affordable entertainment itch, either.
For starters, there are so many of them that the monthly cost is beginning to approach that of a cable subscription.
And even then, there’s still plenty of content you’re interested in that’s simply not streamable.
So you get back to your research and stumble across an interesting potential solution.
All of these cord-cutting guides keep bringing up Kodi. They champion it as an all-in-one media platform that works on many different devices.
But what exactly is it? And is it truly the answer to your streaming prayers?
We’ve got the ultimate guide to Kodi — from history to installation to getting the most out of it.
What Is Kodi?
In a nutshell, Kodi is an open-source, multi-platform media player that supports music, movies, TV shows, photos and more.
It’s extremely customizable and can be modified with plugins to gain new functionality.
Kodi gathers all your media files in one place and eliminates the need for separate audio and video players.
And with the right plugins, it can even help you discover and view new content as well.
What Is Kodi’s History?
Kodi’s story begins in 2002 when it made its debut as the Xbox Media Player. As the name implies, it was originally designed as a media player for the Microsoft Xbox.
In 2003, Kodi rebranded as Xbox Media Center, or XBMC. The name change reflected its expanded functionality as both a player and a media management tool.
XBMC stuck around for 11 years, growing in both features and userbase.
Eventually, it grew so big that the name “Xbox Media Center” no longer made sense.
And in 2010, XBMC development for the Xbox was officially discontinued. The Xbox Media Center no longer worked on the Xbox — ironic, huh?
So in 2014, the XBMC Foundation (the non-profit organization that operates the project) renamed the software Kodi. It’s gone by that name ever since.
Throughout its history, Kodi has remained true to its open-source nature. Anyone can view the program’s source code and create their own plugins or spin-offs.
The result is a thriving community of programmers and media lovers, all united by their devotion to the Kodi project.
How Much Does Kodi Cost?
Kodi is, and always has been, free.
Part of the philosophy of open-source software is that it should be accessible to all. Anyone should be able to use a program regardless of their financial capabilities.
The XBMC Foundation accepts donations to help support Kodi’s development. But all monetary contributions are completely voluntary.
Some third-party plugins may require payment; others may need you to subscribe before accessing content.
And, as we’ll discuss later, it’s a good idea to put a few bucks a month towards a VPN if you use Kodi. It’ll keep you safe and allow you to access more content.
But the base Kodi software won’t cost you a penny.
Whether you’re a millionaire or dead broke, Kodi is yours to use.
What Devices Does Kodi Work On?
Kodi’s come a long way from its Xbox-only origins.
Today, it can run on hundreds of different devices.
The list of supported devices is so extensive that the Kodi Wiki details system requirements rather than specific devices.
Kodi runs on Windows (7+), Mac (OS X 10.8+) and Linux desktops and laptops. The official Kodi Linux app is designed for Ubuntu, but third-party ports for other distros are available.
Android (5.0+) and iOS (6.0+) can also run Kodi. There’s a catch with iOS, though: you either need a jailbroken device or a Mac computer running Xcode 7 or higher.
Kodi can even run on Raspberry Pi, the tiny and affordable single-board computer beloved by programmers worldwide..
Many other devices, including Android TV boxes and Android smart TVs, can also run Kodi. You can install it on your Nvidia SHIELD, Amazon Fire TV Stick, Xiaomi Mi Box, WeTek Play and more.
These devices rely on third-party OSes, usually Linux variants, that are designed specifically to run Kodi. LibreELEC, OpenELEC, XBian, and OSMC are examples of these so-called just-enough operating systems.
Kodi can’t officially run on the Roku, but a workaround exists that lets you mirror it to your Roku from another device. We’ll provide a guide for this later in the article.
And Kodi is even back on the Xbox once again. Xbox One users can download Kodi simply by searching for “Kodi” with the Xbox One search function.
What Can Kodi Do?
Every new iteration of Kodi adds exciting and innovative features. And every plugin you install does the same.
Depending on what you’re looking for, Kodi’s base software might do everything you need it to.
If not, there’s almost certainly a third-party add-on that will give you the functionality you’re missing.
What Can the Basic Kodi Software Do?
Out of the box, Kodi can instantly replace pretty much every other media player and viewer out there.
You won’t need separate applications for your videos, music, and photos. Kodi can handle them all — and then some.
The catch? You’ll need to have your desired media files already.
Kodi itself doesn’t come with any media or streaming content. Rather, it serves as a way to organize and play all of your existing media files.
Kodi for Audio Files
Move over, iTunes: Kodi’s got you beat in the music department.
It can play music from CDs or files. Supported file types include MP3, AAC, OGG, WAV, FLAC, and WMA.
You can easily organize your music library, edit ID3 tags and even download missing album covers automatically. Kodi also has a “smart playlists” feature that creates playlists based on genre, artist, year and other metadata.
Kodi for Video Files
Kodi can play DVDs and Blu-rays as well as digital files.
Supported video file types include MPEG, WMV, H.264, and RealVideo. ISO disc images are also supported; these typically imitate full DVDs, complete with menus and extras.
Kodi can automatically download metadata and other info about movies and TV shows.
You can view things like cast and crew info, descriptions and promo posters. This turns your video library into your own personal IMDB.
Kodi for Image Files
Whether you’re viewing a slideshow of vacation photos or browsing your GIF library, Kodi has you covered.
It supports JPG, GIF, PNG, BMP, TIFF and ICO files, among others.
Kodi can even display CBZ and CBR comic book files. If you’ve ever wanted to read your comics on your TV screen, you can easily do so with Kodi.
Kodi Remote Control Support
When you’re using Kodi on a TV, remote controls are a must. And they’re handy even if you’re using another device, too.
Kodi supports many types of remote controls. RF, MCE, CEC, smartphones, game controllers, Apple remotes and even web interface controls are all supported.
Kodi Library Syncing and Sharing
Maybe you’ve got Kodi all set up on your desktop computer, but want to access it from your laptop as well.
Or perhaps you’d like to share your Kodi library with your kids, roommates or others in your home.
Whatever the case, Kodi makes it easy to sync and share your library over your network.
The official UPnP sharing guide breaks the process down into five simple steps.
It takes just a minute to hook your Kodi library up to your network and enjoy your media from anywhere in your home.
What Can Kodi Do with Add-Ons?
Add-ons, or plugins, transform Kodi into a true media management powerhouse.
From changing the software’s appearance to syncing your library to accessing new content, plugins can totally alter your Kodi experience.
Most plugins are developed by third parties and aren’t endorsed by Kodi. With that said, they open up so many possibilities that they’re definitely worth trying out.
Kodi comes with a very attractive default theme, but you’re by no means limited to it.
Just download a new skin from the Kodi skins library or a third-party site and change the app’s look in seconds.
Whether you prefer light themes, dark themes, colorful backgrounds or monochrome getups, there’s a skin for you.
Feeling intrepid? You can even design your own Kodi skin from scratch and get exactly the look you desire.
Kodi Streaming Plugins
Until recently, Kodi didn’t support files with digital rights management (DRM). This prevented it from working with streaming services like Hulu and Spotify.
But recent updates have enabled DRM support. And that means that you can now use Kodi to access your favorite streaming services.
The Chrome Launcher Kodi plugin is a must-have for streaming video. It lets you view websites in Kodi as if it were a web browser.
Just install the plugin and navigate to the site of your choice: Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Crunchyroll, you name it. If you can get to it in a web browser, you can get to it in Kodi.
Then set a few preferences (like fullscreen and playback modes) and you’re all set!
If you’re a Spotify user, there’s good news for you, too! The unofficial Spotify plugin will let you stream your favorite playlists and albums from Kodi.
Use another streaming service that’s not accessible via a web app? Try searching for “[streaming service name] kodi” to see if there’s a plugin for it.
And if you’d like to broaden your streaming horizons, try using Kodi with a VPN. It’ll let you change your location and access geo-restricted streaming catalogs from Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer and more.
We’ll go over how to use a VPN with Kodi later in the article. It’s definitely something to consider if you’re a fan of international media and want to view it with Kodi.
Kodi Live TV Plugins
Kodi has a built-in program guide and DVR function, but you’ll need a third-party add-on and additional hardware to actually view any live TV.
That’s because Kodi itself can’t receive TV signals. Thankfully, there are many plugins that integrate with various cable boxes and TV tuners.
Kodi recommends NextPVR, which works in conjunction with USB or HDMI TV tuners to pick up local stations. These include CBS, ABC, FOX, NBC and PBS.
Viewing cable channels is trickier and may require you to have an existing cable subscription. Some individual channels have their own plugins, while others are nonexistent on Kodi.
Alternatively, some cable providers let you rent a CableCARD rather than a set-top box. The CableCARD plugs into a device like the HDHomeRun PRIME 6, which in turn connects to your router.
If you can obtain this equipment, you can use a plugin to watch all of your live cable channels on Kodi.
Different devices need different plugins. SiliconDust, maker of the HDHomeRun PRIME 6, provides its own Kodi plugin for free.
You might be able to find some of your preferred channels on Pluto TV.
This free Kodi plugin lets you legally watch CNN, Logo, FOX Sports and more. There are also dedicated channels for shows like Doctor Who, assorted movies and even music.
Kodi Movie and TV Plugins
If you don’t need live TV but still want to stream individual movies and TV episodes on-demand, these plugins are for you.
Before we continue, a warning: these plugins are only legal to use when streaming public domain content. They may enable access to copyrighted content, but in many jurisdictions, viewing it would be illegal.
So use these plugins wisely and at your own risk. We do not endorse the use of these plugins for viewing copyrighted materials.
With that said, these plugins are extremely popular for watching free movies and TV shows.
Exodus is perhaps the most famous Kodi plugin of any variety. It lets you browse and stream a massive library of movies and TV shows on-demand for free.
You can browse by genre, view the latest releases or search for a specific film or TV show. Chances are, you’ll find what you’re looking for.
The Magic Dragon is another Kodi plugin that works similarly to Exodus. Its installation process is a little more convoluted but unlocks a huge library of content.
If you decide to use these plugins, we highly recommend using a VPN as well.
We’ll discuss VPNs later in the article as well. Basically, they add an extra layer of security that prevents your internet activity from being monitored.
Copyright enforcement can be extremely harsh and you don’t want to be on the receiving end of it. A VPN will keep your Kodi activity hidden from your ISP and any copyright trolls on the hunt for their next victim.
Kodi Gaming Plugins
No, Kodi can’t run the latest Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty. And it won’t let you join a game of Overwatch online, either.
But as of Kodi version 18, an exciting new feature is supported via plugins: game emulation.
Retro games are all the rage. Games for Nintendo 64, GameBoy Color, Atari, Sega Dreamcast and more are making a comeback in emulated form.
And now, you can run them all on Kodi.
Browse the Kodi Wiki’s list of gaming plugins and install the ones that strike your fancy. Plugins are available for vintage consoles as well as individual games like 2048, Cave Story and Quake.
And because Kodi supports gaming controllers, playing the games will feel as natural as it would on the original consoles.
Kodi Remote Syncing and Sharing Plugins
It’s easy to share your Kodi library over your local network without installing any plugins.
But what if you’re going away and want to watch a movie from your library on your trip?
The Emby plugin for Kodi lets you share your library over the internet. Just install it and follow the instructions to access your Kodi media from anywhere.
Kodi Lighting Plugins
If you’ve jumped on the smart home bandwagon, you can enjoy another neat Kodi feature: lighting integration.
With the Kodi Hue Ambilight plugin, you can control your Philips Hue bulbs from the Kodi app. You can also have them automatically adjust depending on your media viewing activity.
Want your lights to dim movie-theater style when you play a movie? Or make screen time easier on the eyes by matching your lightbulb color to your screen color?
Well, the plugin makes that easy as can be. It’s a neat, unexpected feature that elevates your Kodi experience to the next level.
What Can’t Kodi Do?
As we’ve seen, Kodi is a powerful program that’s made even more powerful by plugins.
But, like all software, it has its limitations.
There are a few things you simply can’t do with Kodi — at least, not yet. If you require any of these features, Kodi might not be right for you.
No True Roku Support (But There’s a Workaround)
The Roku is an inexpensive and versatile little streaming box. It’s wildly popular among cord-cutters.
But unfortunately, Kodi can’t run on it.
Rokus simply don’t have the necessary hardware and can’t be hacked to install a Kodi-based OS like LibreELEC.
There is a way to stream your Kodi library from your Roku, but it’s not a true Kodi installation. Rather, your Roku can mirror the screen of a computer or phone that’s running Kodi.
On your Roku, go to Settings > System > Screen Mirroring and select Screen Mirroring Mode. Select Prompt.
Then launch Kodi on your device of choice and enable mirroring on that device.
On Android, go to Settings > Display > Wireless Display and select the Roku.
Windows users can swipe the right edge of the screen, then select Display > Project > Add a Wireless Display. Select the Roku, then go to Display > Project again and enable the Roku.
Your Roku display will now mirror that of your phone or computer, letting you use Kodi as if it were on your Roku. It’s not a perfect solution, but if you want Kodi on your Roku, it’s your best bet.
To watch Kodi on your Roku safely, we recommend using a VPN. Your Roku won’t prevent any prying eyes from monitoring your Kodi activity and trying to nab you for copyright violation.
VPNs can’t be installed on your Roku, so you’ll need to use your computer, phone or router instead. We’ll talk more about this process later in the article.
No Easy Full Cable Experience
With the right add-ons, you can access many of your favorite cable channels live via Kodi.
If you supplement those with on-demand episodes and your own files, you can come close to replicating the breadth of cable TV.
And if you’re an existing cable subscriber, you can watch any cable channel through Kodi. You’ll need a special card from your cable provider and some pricey equipment, but it can be done.
But if you want to flick through hundreds of live TV channels without a cable subscription, Kodi isn’t for you.
Kodi requires more setup than traditional cable TV and often necessitates more legwork to find your desired shows. Don’t expect the full channel-surfing experience from it — that’s still exclusive to subscription cable.
No Super-Simple Setup
Installing the core Kodi software is no trickier than installing any other program. But getting the most out of it requires a bit of technical know-how.
There’s a moderate learning curve to Kodi, especially when it comes to installing plugins. You’ll need to be comfortable downloading Github repositories and doing basic networking to succeed.
If you don’t have the time or knowledge for the setup process, Kodi might not be for you.
Is Kodi Safe?
Clearly, Kodi holds a lot of appeal for anyone with a digital media collection. But is it safe?
As long as you download Kodi through official means, the core program is completely safe.
Kodi is open-source, allowing developers from around the world to ensure its safety.
But third-party plugins may be a different story.
Many third-party plugins are also completely safe, without anything malicious going on under the hood. But some may include malware or other undesirable code.
In 2018, nearly 5,000 Kodi users were infected with crypto-mining malware via three Kodi plugins. It’s estimated that the malware creator made nearly $7,000 from this attack.
Other Kodi malware has stolen Netflix usernames and passwords, WiFi credentials and even 1.5TB of data.
Stick with well-vetted plugins and you’ll likely be just fine. Plugins from the official Kodi site and ones with many user reviews are your best bets.
And always run antivirus software on all of your devices, whether or not you use Kodi on them. It’s the only way to avoid malware infections that could devastate your data.
Is Kodi Legal?
Kodi itself is 100% legal.
The basic software is simply a media organizer and player. It doesn’t come with any media and therefore doesn’t violate any laws.
But some third-party plugins can be used for illegal purposes. Watching a copyrighted movie through Exodus, for example, is not legal.
Your ISP can see everything you do online, including the media you stream with Kodi. If you illegally watch copyrighted content via Kodi, you can expect to get in trouble for it.
The MPAA estimates that, of approximately 38 million Kodi users, 26 million (or nearly 70%) use add-ons to pirate media.
It’s clear that the powers that be are worried about Kodi, and are monitoring it closely. So choose your add-ons wisely, and take precautions if you elect to use any sketchy ones.
Should I Use a VPN with Kodi?
Using a VPN for all your internet traffic is highly recommended, no matter what you’re doing.
But if you use Kodi for potentially illegal streaming, a VPN is an absolute necessity.
Why Do I Need a VPN for Kodi?
A VPN’s powerful encryption will prevent your ISP from seeing what you’re doing online. That includes anything you do within Kodi as well.
Why does this matter?
Well, it might not… unless you’re using a plugin like Exodus that lets you stream copyrighted content for free.
As we discussed earlier, copyright owners are well aware of these plugins and their illicit uses. There’s no doubt that they’re on the hunt for copyright violators using Kodi.
A determined copyright enforcer could set up a plugin of their own and collect IP addresses of its users. Then it’s a matter of contacting the ISPs associated with those IPs and obtaining users’ information.
Then, surprise! You get a nasty warning letter from your ISP — or worse, a letter demanding thousands of dollars.
But a VPN eliminates this risk. Since your ISP can’t see what you’re doing, they can’t rat you out to copyright owners.
And because your IP address changes with a VPN, sneaky copyright trolls won’t be able to trace any illegal streaming back to you.
Additionally, a VPN lets you alter your location so it appears as though you’re browsing from elsewhere. This can enable access to geo-restricted streaming content.
BBC iPlayer, for instance, is only available in the UK. But changing your VPN location to the UK can allow you to access it from anywhere via the iPlayer WWW Kodi plugin.
How to Set Up a VPN on Kodi
If you’re running Kodi on your computer or mobile device, no special setup is needed.
Just follow your VPN provider’s instructions for setting up the VPN client. Once you’re done, all of your internet traffic will be protected, including Kodi.
But if you’re using Kodi on another device, like a streaming box or smart TV, consider installing the VPN on your router instead.
Many VPN apps don’t work well on these devices, and some providers don’t offer compatible ones at all.
In those cases, a router VPN is your only option.
The majority of VPN providers allow router setup and provide configuration guides. Once it’s set up, the VPN will protect all network traffic from all devices.
That means that you can safely run Kodi from any device on your network. Nobody but you will know what you’re doing, and you’ll get access to international content, too.
Free vs. Paid VPNs for Kodi
You’ve got a lot of VPN options, both free and paid.
Kodi is free and so are many of its plugins, so it’s understandable if you’d prefer the free VPN, too.
But we strongly advise against using a free VPN if you can avoid it.
For starters, you typically can’t use free VPNs on your router. If you use Kodi on a smart TV or streaming box, you’re unlikely to find a compatible free VPN.
Free VPNs also tend to have poor encryption and security. They often use outdated, easily-hacked VPN protocols and can leak your IP address, defeating the purpose of a VPN.
And free VPNs are frequently mired by poor speeds and limited (if any) server choices. All of this results in an unenjoyable Kodi experience.
It doesn’t cost much to get a quality VPN — usually around $10 a month if you pay month-to-month, and as little as $3 a month if you prepay.
That’s a small price to pay for the much-needed security and versatility of a quality VPN. It’ll keep you happily using Kodi no matter which plugins you install.
The Best VPN for Kodi
When picking a VPN for Kodi, look for three things: router support, good speeds, and solid encryption.
NordVPN is a fantastic VPN for Kodi. Its Kodi page explains why: excellent server locations and secure encryption.
Additionally, NordVPN can be installed on many routers and boasts some of the world’s highest VPN speeds. You have thousands of servers to choose from, which means a world’s worth of new content — hello, Japanese Netflix!
We also recommend IPVanish, which also offers extensive Kodi support.
Its Kodi VPN setup guides for every OS cover everything you need to know about using a VPN with Kodi.
IPVanish supports router installation and provides over 1,000 VPN servers. Zero traffic logs and top-of-the-line encryption guarantee that your Kodi activity will never be exposed.
ExpressVPN is a premium VPN with thousands of servers and unrivaled speeds. And it’s proudly Kodi-compatible, too.
It’s a little pricey, sure, but its ultra-secure RAM-only servers, failsafe kill switch and military-grade encryption are well worth it. Plus, it’s got some of the best streaming performance in the VPN industry.
How Do I Install Kodi?
Depending on your device, the Kodi installation process ranges from easy-peasy to fairly involved. Here’s a quick look at what to expect.
Installing Kodi on Windows/macOS/Linux
It couldn’t be easier to install Kodi on desktop OSes.
Just download the appropriate installer from the Kodi download page, run it and follow the instructions. It’s just like installing any other program.
Windows users can also download Kodi from the Windows Store. This provides the added benefit of automatic software updates, so your version of Kodi will always be current.
Installing Kodi on Android
Simply search for “kodi” in the Google Play Store or follow this direct link to download and install Kodi on Android.
Grant the required permissions when asked and follow the instructions to set up the app.
This process works on all Android devices that can access the Google Play Store. If your device doesn’t have the Play Store, you’ll need to download the app directly from Kodi’s website instead.
Installing Kodi on iOS
You won’t find Kodi on the iOS App Store. If you want to install it on your iDevice, you’ll need to take a different approach.
If your device is jailbroken, installing Kodi is simple. You can find it in the Cydia app store that’s present on most jailbroken devices.
Just search for “kodi” in Cydia and follow the installation instructions. You’ll be set up in minutes.
But if you’re not jailbroken and can’t (or don’t want to) be, there’s another way to use Kodi on iOS.
You’ll need an iOS developer account and a computer running macOS. Essentially, you’ll be installing Kodi as if you had developed it yourself, circumventing the App Store.
Full instructions for this process can be found on the Kodi Wiki. But be aware that if you use a free iOS developer account, you’ll need to reinstall Kodi every 7 days.
Installing Kodi on Amazon Fire TV Stick
The Amazon Fire TV Stick runs on Android, but you can’t install apps from the Play Store on it.
You’ll need to work around it by using an Amazon app to download the Kodi app. Convoluted, yes, but effective.
To start, go to your Fire TV Stick’s settings and select Device > Developer Options. Then enable “Apps from Unknown Sources” and go to the Amazon Appstore.
Search for the app Downloader and install it. Then open it and have it navigate to “https://www.kodi.tv/download” (without quotes).
Scroll down until you see the Android icon, then select it. Then select the “ARMV7A (32BIT)” button and hit “Install.”
Kodi will now be installed on your Amazon Fire TV Stick. Launch it and use it just as you would on any other device.
Installing Kodi on Raspberry Pi
A Raspberry Pi is a great option for running Kodi. It’s inexpensive and can easily be connected to a TV, home server, network or anything else for media access.
If you have a regular non-smart TV, you can still use Kodi on it by hooking up a Raspberry Pi.
And by connecting it to your network, you can access your Kodi library from any of your devices.
Kodi can’t be run without an OS. You can outfit your Raspberry Pi with a supported Linux distro like Arch Linux or Raspbian and then install Kodi.
But it’s much easier to install a dedicated Kodi-oriented OS on your Raspberry Pi instead.
Each of these OSes has its own installation procedure. Follow the instructions for your OS of choice and enjoy!
Just be sure to buy a suitably-sized microSDHC card for your chosen OS and any media files you want in your Kodi library. 64GB or more should be plenty for the average user.
From its humble roots as Xbox Media Player to its current fame (and, to some, infamy), it’s clear that Kodi is a force to be reckoned with.
Over its 17 years, Kodi has brought advanced media management to the masses. It’s also opened the doors for add-on developers to share even more content (of varying legalities) with the world.
And it’s done it all without charging a dime to its users.
You’ll definitely want to use a VPN with Kodi, especially if you install any unofficial streaming plugins. It’s better to be safe than sorry, especially with copyright owners becoming more aware of Kodi.
And depending on your chosen device, installation could be a bit tricky.
But once you’re all set up, Kodi is possibly the most full-featured media manager and streaming platform out there.
If you’re looking to organize your movies, keep track of your TV shows or discover new entertainment, give Kodi a whirl. It may not fully replace your cable and streaming subscriptions, but it can come pretty darn close!
Summary: Kodi is an all-in-one media organizer and player that supports hundreds of devices and thousands of plugins. From streaming live TV to watching movies on demand, Kodi can do it all.