Kodi has for years been one of the most popular media players and is often recommended when people ask for which multimedia solution to choose as it is available for multiple operating systems and a huge spectrum of devices. The majority of low-cost devices which are bought for the purpose of multimedia playback are equipped with an Android operating system where Kodi is often preinstalled or can easily be installed. Given that Android and Kodi are so widely used, one would think that combining them would be the ultimate multimedia experience. That’s not really the case and the experience can be somewhat mediocre when playback stutters and other problems occur. Fortunately, there are multiple alternatives to Android and one of the best is presented in this article – CoreELEC.
What is CoreELEC?
CoreELEC is a Linux distribution based on Kodi technology with the main purpose of being as light as possible, ideal for low-powered devices. It was forked from the widely known LibreELEC in 2018 and differentiated with a philosophy to make sure users get the best possible experience with the current status of hardware and software. With that in mind, CoreELEC on ODROID-N2 has shown to be a strong contender to be the best low-cost multimedia solutions to date. And with the support of the Enware package manager, it is capable of being a low-cost server in addition to a multimedia solution as seen later in this article.
Below is a list of the hardware used with some recommendations and more information.
- ODROID-N2 with 2/4 GB RAM
- 12V/2A power supply
- High Speed 4K HDMI 2.0 Cable (Type A-A)
- ODROID-N2 Case
- IR Remote Controller
- Micro SD card
- 8/16/32/64/128 GB eMMC Module N2
- Bluetooth Module 2
- RTC Backup Battery
- WiFi Module
As I wanted to use ODROID-N2 with CoreELEC as a home server using Entware in addition to multimedia usage, I chose 4GB of RAM. However, it’s worth noting that 2 GB is sufficient enough for most users. The same can be said about the eMMC module where 8/16 GB is more than enough for regular usage with Kodi. For the rest of the options, it depends on what you need and they all work as expected with CoreELEC.
CoreELEC was easily installed by following the installation guide at https://coreelec.org/. After inserting the flashed microSD and eventually unplugging eMMC before powering ODROID-N2 to make sure CoreELEC boots from the microSD card, in less than 2 minutes, CoreELEC was ready for usage. For increased performance, CoreELEC was installed to eMMC by running the command “installtoemmc” twice.
Setup of Kodi
The default settings after installation satisfy most users needs, yet there are still some settings which should get some additional attention. Let’s start with CoreELEC.
Two features which are heavily used are Samba and SSH. If enabling any of them, remember to setup or change credentials. For Samba, “Use Samba Password Authentication” was enabled with a strong password. For SSH, one can either setup a new password or simply insert a public key. SSH keys are the most secure and the fastest solution, so copying my public key into .ssh/authorized_keys achieved it. Lastly “SSH Password” was disabled as it was no longer needed.
Further along on the setup-list was System, where the two aspects Display and Audio were worth diving into. If your TV has any issues with specific resolutions or you want to switch to a lower resolution than your Kodi GUI, select your TV’s capable resolutions in Whitelist. Some people might find it tempting to change the GUI resolution to 4K instead of 1080p. The ODROID-N2 is more than capable of running a 4K GUI, but I want the most responsive and clean experience, so I left the GUI at 1080p. This won’t affect the resolution of the media played and should, therefore, only be considered if one wants higher quality posters.
Lastly was Audio and as I’m going to use an AVR (Audio/Video Receiver), I want my AVR to do the decoding to get the purest audio quality. My settings were based on Kodi’s quickstart guide (https://kodi.wiki/view/Audio_quickstart_guide).
As a Plex user, connecting all my Kodi devices to my Plex server was done in minutes with the add-on PlexKodiConnect (https://github.com/croneter/PlexKodiConnect/). For users who are not using Plex, setup the library by following Kodi’s guide for creating a video library (https://kodi.wiki/view/HOW-TO:Create_Video_Library).
The selection of add-ons has for years been one of Kodi’s advantages and people are frequently using them, me included. Further are some add-ons that I use frequently:
By visiting the following link (https://forum.kodi.tv/showthread.php?tid=329767) for installation instructions, Netflix is ready for usage. ODROID-N2 is powerful enough to watch Netflix in 1080p with DD+ 5.1 sound and subtitles.
Youtube can be installed from Kodi Add-on repository and with the add-on InputStream Adaptive, found in CoreELEC Add-ons, one can setup Youtube with 4K playback.
(Figure 7: Youtube in 1080p without a hassle. Same can be said for 4K.)
By using the samples at https://kodi.wiki/view/Samples, one is able to test most audio and video formats. The following is the current status as of July 2019 with passthrough enabled and ODROID-N2 connected to an AVR.
|AC-3 (DD)||Working||720p and lower 23-60 Hz||Working|
|E-AC-3 (DD+)||Working||1080p 23-60 Hz||Working|
|Dolby TrueHD||Working||1080p 3D HSBS/HTAB||Working|
|DTS||Working||1080p 3D-MVC||Not working|
|DTS-HD||Working||2160p 23-60 Hz||Working|
|DTS-HD MA||Working||2160p 23-60 Hz HDR10||Working|
|LPCM||Not working, a workaround is selecting 2.0 channels and enabling AC-3 transcoding||2160p 23-60 Hz HLG||Working|
|FLAC||Partly working, see LPCM||2160p 23-60 Hz Dolby Vision||Not working|
(Status of tested audio and video formats.)
To sum up, ODROID-N2 is more than capable of playback of Ultra HD Blu-Ray with HDR10 and Dolby Atmos / DTS-X. Even test samples which are 3 times the bitrate of the specification of UHD Blu-Rays (triple-layer - 128 Mbit) played flawlessly from a NAS.
Using ODROID-N2 with CoreELEC as a server Entware, which is a package manager with more than 2000 packages, can be easily installed by running the script installentware through CoreELEC. Entware packages were initially designed to run on low-powered devices such as routers and NAS and are, therefore, especially lightweight. Packages are installed with opkg install *Package name* and one can search for packages with opkg search NAME or opkg find NAME. As I want to use my ODROID-N2 as a server, some of the commands I ran are the following:
$ opkg install lighttpd mc youtube-dl netdataSome highlighted packages which are installed:
- Lighttpd - An open-source web server optimized for speed-critical environments
- GNU Midnight Commander (mc) - A visual file manager
- Youtube-dl - a program to download videos from YouTube and many more sites
- Netdata - a daemon providing real-time performance monitoring for Linux systems
One of the most underrated aspects concerning buying a single board computer (SBC) is the support, which causes the buyer to not account for the support of the SBC when they look at the price. The support of a SBC is extremely relevant to get the best possible user experience and this is one of the aspects were the ODROID-N2 shines. With great support over at https://forum.odroid.com/ and https://discourse.coreelec.org, one can ask questions for help and are often replied to from within minutes to a few hours. People over at the forums are eager to help and assist, which is important for the community to grow and the awareness around SBCs to increase even further.
To read more about using CoreELEC with the ODROID-N2, check out a review of the ODROID-N2 CoreELEC Media Center at https://www.cnx-software.com/2019/08/26/odroid-n2-coreelec-edition-media-center/.
Personally, I have an ODROID-N2 running CoreELEC and found it to be a fast and responsive media player. After reading this article, it will be clear to see why the ODROID-N2 makes such a terrific media centric device. Additionally, Hardkernel has even put together a package with everything you need to get up and running with CoreELEC on an N2, so you can see first hand how amazing this device is even easier at https://www.hardkernel.com/shop/odroid-n2-2gb-coreelec-edition/ or, for those in the US, at https://ameridroid.com/collections/new/products/odroid-n2-coreelec-edition.