THERE HAS been much debate lately about the legality, or otherwise, of so-called Kodi Boxes - miniature PCs that connect to your television set and allow you to watch videos stored on your home network and - controversially - other networks entirely.
If you don’t frequent the bargain basement stalls of your local market or the electronics section of eBay, this discussion may have passed you by, but the increasing popularity of the platform, and the likelihood of several court cases this year, may plant it finally on your radar. In which case, it’s worth knowing what a Kodi Box is, and whether the ownership of one is something to which you might aspire.
The term itself is misleading, since no-one actually manufactures anything called a Kodi Box. Traders, many of the Arthur Daley variety, have coined the phrase to describe any old box containing the essential innards of a PC, on which they have themselves installed a piece of media management software called Kodi.
Kodi is a clever program that not only plays movies, TV shows, photos and music, but also indexes them - matching content it finds in your collection with online information about plot, artistes and directors. It also connects to sharing sites such as YouTube and the BBC iPlayer, and serves everything up in a visually appealing interface, which you can navigate with a remote control.
There are versions of Kodi for Windows, Macs, Android and Apple phones and tablets. You can download it for free from the Android and Windows stores, and from Kodi’s own website at kodi.tv. All of which ticks the old advertising boxes of being legal, decent, honest and truthful.
However, Kodi has developed an unwanted association with those Arthur Daley boxes, most of which bear unfamiliar brand names and emanate from factories in China. The boxes themselves, although they vary enormously in features and reliability, are useful pieces of kit and sometimes even run Windows as well as the Google Android system that also powers your phone.
The trend in the last year has been to advertise and supply these boxes for the express purpose of running Kodi. What’s more, they are often bundled on sites such as eBay, with “unofficial” Kodi add-ons that can stream content you would normally expect to have to pay for... premium sports, movies and pay-per-view TV shows, for instance.
eBay sellers in particular are fond of using the phrase “fully loaded” to further describe their Kodi Boxes, from which customers can infer the presence of a complete set of these unofficial plug-ins.
But - and this is where the courts come in - it is plainly not legal to steal content, and besides, there is no guarantee that the outlawed Kodi add-ons will actually work. It remains to be seen whether their sale is against the law, or merely their use.
Don’t let me put you off trying Kodi itself, though. Even on a laptop or tablet it’s a revelation - and on a mini-PC hooked up to your TV it’s a game-changer. If you have an Amazon Fire device already plugged into your telly, you can install it right there, to complement its built-in functions. Even a cheap Google Chromecast stick can be made to run Kodi, with only a little fiddling.
Used wisely, a piece of software as powerful as this really does, as Arthur Daley himself might have said, make the world your lobster.