What is Kodi? Everything you NEED to know about the TV streaming app

Kodi is an amazing streaming app. Here's what you should know

Curtis Moldrich
13 Nov 2019

If you're trying to build the ultimate home theater system, all the hardware in the world can't do you justice without some excellent software to go with it. Thankfully, as many consumers know, there's a one-stop shop if you're looking for the best way to watch movies and TV shows, listen to music, and catch all of your favorite sports, Kodi is the app for you.

Kodi is free open-source software, designed with home entertainment in mind, and it's been around for nearly two decades. Although it was originally designed for the Microsoft Xbox—thus its original title, Xbox Media Center (XBMC)—it's continued to evolve and grow far beyond its original platform. The team behind Kodi has built a community of their own, made up of fans and developers alike.

Unlike other streaming software companies like Android TV or Plex, Kodi is managed by the non-profit XBMC Foundation, and it's constantly being modified and upgraded by countless scores of coders and developers around the world. Since being created in 2003, Kodi has been shaped by more than 500 software developers and more than 200 translators. That means you can now customise Kodi by installing addons or builds, and they're totally free.

Kodi isn't just built for computers, either. It works on nearly every gadget in your house, from a smartphone to an Amazon Fire TV Stick. To prove it's totally customizable and intuitive, we've got guides on everything from the best Kodi boxes and Kodi addons to the best Kodi skins and VPNs.

Please note that many addons contain content that isn’t officially licensed and accessing such content could be illegal. In short, if the content is free, but looks too good to be true, then it probably is.

A word of caution: Before we go into the finer details, we should probably warn you that anything you stream on Kodi is visible to both your ISP and the government, which could put you in legal hot water. The only surefire way to combat this is to connect to a good VPN service whenever you use Kodi. While there are many free and paid-for VPN services, the only one we wholeheartedly recommend for use with Kodi is ExpressVPN

Apart from being the fastest VPN we've used, ExpressVPN has also completed an independent audit to prove that it doesn't log or store any identifiable user data. It has 24/7 online customer support who are ever-willing to help you set up a VPN on your Kodi device and a single subscription covers five devices. The service also has a generous 30-day no-questions-asked moneyback guarantee, so you really have nothing to lose. Even better, our readers get 49% off when they subscribe to the one-year plan.  

So what is Kodi?

Everyone has to start somewhere with Kodi, so don't worry if you feel in over your head. The Kodi community is super helpful and reliable for troubleshooting, but if you're curious how Kodi works, we've got you covered.

What can you watch on Kodi?

Kodi turns any computer, smartphone or tablet into a digital set-top box or streamer, giving users the ability to stream files from the internet, a home network and local storage. Unlike other TV streamers such as the new Apple TV, Chromecast 2 and Amazon Fire TV Stick, Kodi isn’t held back by licensing or a curated app store, so it lets you download a range of community-made apps or addons, and watch whatever you like.

Kodi’s purpose-built UI also makes browsing through your content simple. The software features what its developers call a “10-foot UI”, meaning it can be read from a theoretical distance of up to 10ft away – and thanks to a range of built-in codes, users can browse videos, photos and podcasts quickly and easily. On smaller devices, Kodi offers a similar experience, but can be hooked up to a larger TV for big-screen viewing.

What’s compatible with Kodi?

Kodi is available on almost every device you can think of. The media centre software is easy to download, and compatible with OS X, Linux, Windows, Android – and even the Raspberry Pi microcomputer. For those using iOS, the process is slightly more complicated: iPhone users will need to make sure their phone is jailbroken before downloading it.

READ NEXT: If you’re interested in a streamer, but would prefer using an established, more popular alternative, read our comparison of the new Apple TV and the Chromecast 2

Is Kodi legal? 

You can learn more about the specifics of Kodi's legality in our Is Kodi legal guide, but in a nutshell:

Kodi, in its standard form running official apps, is not illegal, or what is called an "illicit streaming device."

For a device to become "illicit", it means it is used to watch shows and other content "without the copyright owner’s permission". This can be via hardware, software or watching it at a friend's house and includes via a smart TV, laptop, tablet or phone.

Illicit streaming devices are boxes or USB sticks you plug into your TV that have been adapted in some way to access content you haven't paid for, or hasn't been approved. 

Please note that many addons contain content that isn’t officially licensed and accessing such content could be illegal. It is the user’s responsibility to comply with all applicable laws in their country in regard to use. We do not condone and are not responsible for the infringement of any intellectual property or other third party rights and shall not be liable to any party as a result of any such content made available. In short, if the content is free, but looks too good to be true, then it probably is.          

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