Streaming services on LibreELEC 9.0 with Kodi 18.0

Netflix

For Netflix on LibreELEC you have to enable the repository first. Download the repository.netflix-1.0.1.zip file (the version available at the time of the test) from the kodinerds repository [9] and copy it over the network to your Kodi Rasp Pi. Select the gear menu and Add-ons | Install from zip file to enable the package source in the home folder. You might have to allow the installation of add-ons from unknown sources first; a prompt to this effect will appear automatically.

You can then install the Netflix add-on in the gear menu with Add-ons | Install from repository | Netflix add-on repository | Video add-ons. In the settings, you must enter both the login and password for your Netflix account. If you launch Netflix from the Add-ons menu, you can browse through the provider's digital video library (Figure 7). However, as soon as you play a video, error messages appear: The system requires the InputStream Adaptive add-on, which can be found in the add-on manager under Videoplayer InputStream Add-ons.

Figure 7: In the Kodi 18.0 announcement, the developers claimed that the media center supported streaming services such as Netflix. However, integrating them still requires a great deal of manual work. (Note: Some shows shown here might not be available in your country of origin.)

The next time you try to play a Netflix video, Kodi complains about the lack of the Widevine CDM library it needs to decrypt the DRM-protected video streams [10]. For legal reasons, LibreELEC is not allowed to integrate the library directly into the system or keep it in its own package sources. Instead, a wizard jumps in to download a suitable Google Chrome OS image [11] and extract the ARM version of the library from the image. The process on an RPi3B+ takes about a quarter of an hour and requires 2GB of free disk space.

Finallly, LibreELEC plays Netflix videos. However, the computing capacity of the fastest current RPi3B+ model is not sufficient to play the videos in full HD (1080p): Playback is interrupted frequently or stops completely at intermittent intervals. However, the playback resolution cannot be changed from within the player and is only possible by configuring the InputStream Adaptive add-on (Add-ons | My add-ons | VideoPlayer InputStream | InputStream Adaptive). In the Max. Resolution general decoder and Max. Resolution secure decoder fields, enter the value 720p. The Netflix videos then play on the RPi3 with virtually no jerkiness (Figure 8).

Figure 8: After installing the Netflix add-on, the InputStream extension, and the Widevine library for decrypting streams, the system plays Netflix movies reliably.

Amazon Prime Video

Amazon Prime is now also slightly better integrated into LibreELEC – even if you still need to indulge in a great deal of manual work. Just like the Netflix add-on, the Amazon counterpart also needs the InputStream extension and the Widevine library. Here, I assume that you have already experimented with Netflix and have already installed both extensions.

Setting up the Amazon add-on again requires a number of intermediate steps: First, select Add-ons | Install from repository | All repositories | Add-on repository and then Kodinerds add-ons [12] from the gear menu.

From this package source you can now enable Sandmann79s Repository from Add-ons | Install from repository | Kodinerds add-ons | Add-on repository. Sandmann79 is the pseudonym for a developer on whose work the integration of video services such as Netflix and Amazon is based. The additional repository finally lets you install the desired Amazon add-on under Installing from repository | Sandmann79s Repository | Video add-ons (see also the "Two Amazon Plugins" box).

Two Amazon Plugins

The Sandmann79s repository contains two add-ons for Amazon's streaming service: Amazon and Amazon VOD. The difference between the two variants is that the Amazon add-on (without VOD) maintains a local database, whereas Amazon VOD always loads all titles and menus fresh from Amazon. The database-supported version offers the advantage of faster browsing through Amazon videos after the initial fill. However, you do need to refresh the database regularly, which happens automatically with the VOD version [13].

With the Amazon add-on, you also need to enter your account login and password. The system does not save the data, but creates an individual token used for authentication against Amazon in the future. Like the Netflix add-on, Kodi lists the Amazon extension below Add-ons. After launch, you can browse the Amazon movie collection. In contrast to Netflix, Amazon playback is always smooth, but only at 540p and without the possibility of increasing the resolution (Figure 9).

Figure 9: Amazon Prime overhead in LibreELEC is similar to that for Netflix. However, Amazon restricts the quality of the streams to 540p.

Conclusions

At first glance, Kodi 18.0 appears to be a cautious update without many changes compared with its predecessor. Only if you take a closer look do you notice the many changes under the hood with the InputStream add-on. DRM-encrypted streams can now be played back, opening the door to streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon, and others. The Widevine decryption routine, however, reminds one a bit of playing video DVDs on Linux with libdvdcss [14]. From a technical point of view, it works, but don't expect either official support or ease of installation and configuration.

In terms of integrating games, Kodi continues to work consistently on developing the software into a comprehensive digital entertainment platform. In practice, it is not difficult to get old retro games from C64 times to run. However, documentation of the new functions is still missing. Moreover, help in the form of a games database would be ideal, so that game classics can be installed with just a few clicks. However, with a complex legal situation and unclear copyrights, such convenience remains pretty much a utopian dream.

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