Setting up a 4K Kodi box with sndio on FreeBSD

Tested on FreeBSD 13.0-RELEASE

Overview

Everyone needs a break sometimes. In my case, I find myself watching videos and listening to music frequently, and sometimes I’d rather play media over speakers than headphones (they’re a different experience, with pros and cons to each).

I’m aware there are Linux distributions that provide a decent out-of-the-box experience with Kodi. The one that comes to mind is LibreELEC. I’ve used it before, and I’d say LibreELEC would suffice for the average person.

However, I strongly prefer to have control over how everything functions, even if it requires some initial setup. What really matters to me is how pleasant it is to extend and maintain a given system. In my eyes, setup is the short game and maintenance is the long game.

I also have gripes with the implementation. If I don’t have the last word in how a system works, then I’m typically disinterested because it means I’ll have a harder time fixing it if something goes wrong. Given these factors, I set out to create my own entertainment center that met my specific needs on a Latte Panda Delta.

Installation

For the sake of brevity, I won’t cover the process of installing FreeBSD in depth. It’s well-documented elsewhere, and I’m not doing anything out of the ordinary during this phase.

Here’s the short of it:

  1. Obtain an installation image for amd64.

  2. Verify the image’s checksum and GPG signature. Without this, there is no assurance that the installation image is from the source it claims to be and that it hasn’t been tampered with.

  3. Flash the image to a USB drive.

  4. Boot from the USB drive and go through the installation procedure.

After installation

This is where it starts getting more specific. I’m a really big fan of sndio, so I use ports instead of packages because Kodi isn’t built with sndio support by default. Admittedly, this makes the post-installation phase much more tedious.

Log in to the freshly installed FreeBSD box and follow along.

Setting up power management

Enable and start powerd(8) for power management. In theory, it will lower power consumption when the entertainment center isn’t doing much.

# sysrc powerd_enable="YES"
# service powerd start

Creating make.conf

To get it out of the way before compiling anything to ensure changes are immediately effective, set up make.conf(5).

To keep things up to date, my make.conf is available and managed by git, but please do not copy it blindly. It specifies everything needed to compile against sndio, LibreSSL, and Intel Quick Sync Video.

Checking out source code

Checking out the ports tree

See the FreeBSD handbook entry on ports for more details.

# portsnap fetch extract

Installing portmaster

Install a ports management tool. For the purpose of simplicity, I’ll choose ports-mgmt/portmaster here. ports-mgmt/poudriere is also good and what I use these days, but teaching how to use it here is out of scope. portmaster gets the job done.

# make -C /usr/ports/ports-mgmt/portmaster install clean

Checking out FreeBSD’s source code

Install git, as it’s needed for checking out the source tree. I like the git-tiny flavor.

# portmaster devel/git@tiny

Check out the source tree. This is required for building graphics/drm-kmod.

# git clone https://git.freebsd.org/src.git -b releng/13.0 /usr/src

Odds and ends before compiling Kodi

Installing needed tools

I like to install a couple of tools to make myself comfortable before building Kodi. In particular, I find sysutils/tmux to be essential, because one can detach from a tmux session and log out while portmaster is building, then later log in and reattach to check on the build.

I definitely recommend security/doas as a simple method of privilege elevation.

Consider installing a text editor and a shell in addition to the aforementioned tools, if desired. I like editors/neovim and shells/oksh.

# portmaster sysutils/tmux security/doas

Setting up doas.conf

If security/doas was installed, set up doas.conf(5). Since persistence is currently unsupported on FreeBSD, I add nopass for my own sanity.

# echo 'permit nopass :wheel' >/usr/local/etc/doas.conf

Entering a tmux session

This is important for the next part. This one-liner checks to see if the current user has a tmux session currently open. If not, it first tries to attach to an existing session, and creates a new session if that fails.

$ [ -z "${TMUX}" ] && { tmux attach || tmux; }

Compiling Kodi

Using portmaster to compile ports

Alright, it’s finally time to compile Kodi.

Note: if ports configuration isn’t desired beyond what’s already specified in make.conf, prepend BATCH=1 to the below command. I recommend at least looking over the options available for multimedia/ffmpeg and multimedia/kodi with make config.

Remember to install packages needed for Hardware video acceleration. In the Latte Panda Delta’s case, they are multimedia/libva-intel-media-driver and multimedia/libvdpau-va-gl.

# portmaster audio/sndio graphics/drm-kmod multimedia/libva-intel-media-driver multimedia/libvdpau-va-gl x11/xorg misc/unclutter-xfixes multimedia/kodi multimedia/kodi-addon-inputstream.adaptive

After giving permission to portmaster to build everything, detach from the tmux session (CTRL-b d is the default binding. Alternatively, create a second window with CTRL-b c and issue tmux detach). Then, kill the SSH connection and take a fifteen minute break or so.

Once that initial fifteen minute break is over, SSH in and tmux attach to see if there were any errors encountered early on that need to be addressed. It’s tedious to wait several hours only to realize that portmaster wasn’t actually compiling anything for most of that time. Now it’s time to relax. Compiling Kodi and Xorg on a single board computer isn’t too speedy.

Reviewing installation messages

Review installation messages to check for needed interventions.

$ pkg query '%M' | less

Setting up a user environment for Kodi

Creating the kodi user

Create a separate user for Kodi (I named mine kodi, and will refer to this separate user as such for the rest of this article). Make sure to add kodi to the video group.

# adduser

If kodi wasn’t added to the video group during this process, no problem. This can be remedied like so:

# pw groupmod video -m kodi

After that, make sure to log in as kodi.

Creating .xinitrc

To initialize a graphical environment, we need to create /home/kodi/.xinitrc.

The xset commands are here to prevent interference with Kodi’s screen blanking mechanisms. unclutter ensures that the cursor won’t remain visible if idle (though the cursor is usually invisible during ordinary usage–it’s merely a fallback in case it does become visible. One common example is if a pointer device is accidentally bumped).

$ cat <<EOF >~/.xinitrc
> . "${HOME}/.profile"
> xset s noblank
> xset s off
> xset -dpms
> unclutter &
>
> exec kodi
> EOF

Starting X

From a console (not SSH), start X.

$ startx

If it works, log out of kodi and back in to the user with root access.

Starting Kodi automatically

Setting up gettytab

It can be helpful for Kodi to start automatically on boot. Some things are required for this to work: the first is that kodi needs to be automatically logged in. To address this, append some magic to gettytab(5).

# cat <<EOF >>/etc/gettytab
> # autologin kodi
> A|Al|Autologin console:\
>   :ht:np:sp#115200:al=kodi
> EOF

Editing ttys

Edit ttys(5) to match below.

# Virtual terminals
#ttyv1  "/usr/libexec/getty Pc"         xterm   onifexists secure
ttyv1   "/usr/libexec/getty Al"         xterm   onifexists secure

Ensuring X only starts in the correct TTY

As kodi, append this simple check to /home/kodi/.profile. Essentially, it makes sure X isn’t running and that it would start X in the correct tty before doing so.

$ cat <<EOF >>~/.profile
> if [ -z "${DISPLAY}" ] && [ "$(tty)" = '/dev/ttyv1' ]; then
>   exec startx
> fi
> EOF

Finally, reboot.

# reboot

Configuring the sound system

If everything is good, it’s time to configure the sound system. Set the default device with sysctl(8) if needed (inspect /dev/sndstat for a list of devices).

# sysctl hw.snd.default.unit=1 # needed for HDMI in my case.

Now, decide whether bit-perfect mode will be used or not and consult the relevant section below. Note that the “Sync playback to display” option in Kodi is fundamentally incompatible with bit-perfect audio, as it resamples both video and audio to match the refresh rate of the monitor.

Bit-perfect

To use bit-perfect mode, two sysctl tweaks are needed. Here, I use the first device, but be sure to check what device needs to be adjusted.

# sysctl dev.pcm.1.bitperfect=1
# sysctl hw.snd.maxautovchans=0

Not bit-perfect

I recommend changing hw.snd.feeder_rate_quality from its default of 1. According to sound(4), the default of linear interpolation doesn’t provide anti-aliasing filtering. I like to start from the highest resampling quality possible and lower the value if needed.

# sysctl hw.snd.feeder_rate_quality=4

Remember that regardless which mode of operation was selected, if tweaks made with sysctl are to be permanent, sysctl.conf(5) must be modified accordingly.

Note that sndiod is not needed in either case.

Staying up to date

Setting up cron to fetch updates nightly

Pull in updates every night at 03:00 per portsnap(8) and freebsd-update(8).

Note that neither portsnap cron nor freebsd-update cron apply updates. They only download updates.

# cat <<EOF | crontab -
> 0 3 * * * root /usr/sbin/portsnap cron
> 0 3 * * * root /usr/sbin/freebsd-update cron
> EOF

Updating the system and ports

When ready to update, issue these commands to apply changes to the ports and source tree, as well as binary updates to the base system (I add fetch just to be safe):

# portsnap fetch update
# freebsd-update fetch install
# git -C /usr/src pull

If freebsd-update fetch install installs any updates, graphics/drm-kmod needs to be rebuilt per the FreeBSD handbook.

# portmaster -f graphics/drm-kmod

Always check /usr/ports/UPDATING before upgrading any ports. Then, upgrade.

$ less /usr/ports/UPDATING
# portmaster -a

Reboot.

# reboot

Parting words

Overall, I’m quite happy with the way the entertainment center turned out. It’s involved in the beginning (in great part due to my specific desires/vision), but maintaining it isn’t so bad. I definitely feel more comfortable maintaining a *BSD system over a Linux system in the long term (particularly OpenBSD, but FreeBSD as well), so this setup works out well for me.

Eventually, I’d like to add in the ability to emulate and play games. For now, Kodi is enough to quell my boredom.

Additional resources