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Are “jailbroken” Amazon Fire TV devices for real or completely bogus? Our guide will call it like it is and explain how you can safely, and legally, get Kodi on Fire TV to stream personal media and online video to your big screen TV.
We’ll start with an overview of Amazon’s Fire TV and Kodi. Then, we’ll explain how to get Kodi running on your Fire TV. Finally, we’ll explain why you shouldn’t buy bogus “jailbroken” Fire TVs. (Spoiler: You could expose your home network to malware and may be breaking the law).
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What is Fire TV?
Amazon created the Fire TV product line to compete with the Apple TV, Google Chromecast and Roku streaming media boxes. With Fire TV, you get access to more than 500,000 movies and TV shows from Amazon Prime, Hulu, Netflix and other streaming services.
Naturally, the Fire TV integrates with Amazon’s Prime service. Prime members can access all of their streaming benefits including Prime Video and Prime Music.
Amazon has also integrated its Fire TV products with the Amazon Alexa system. You can use your Amazon Echo or the Alexa Voice Remote that comes with each Fire TV product to search for content and control playback.
The Fire TV is a small streaming box that supports a host of premium features. It can handle 4K resolution, high dynamic range and 60 frames-per-second video streams as well as Dolby Atmos surround sound. You can also attach a high definition TV antenna to get dozens of free, local TV stations. Amazon prices the Fire TV at $70 and bundles it with an HD antenna for only $5 more.
Fire TV Stick
The Fire TV Stick is a small device that plugs directly into your TV’s HDMI port. It connects to your home Wi-Fi network and can handle 1080p high-definition content. With a $40 sticker price, it is an easy way to get started with streaming video.
Fire TV Edition Smart TV
Available in sizes up to 65 inches, the Fire TV Edition Smart TV uses the Fire TV system as its smart TV interface. The screen supports up to 4K UltraHD resolution, but not high dynamic range video. Prices start at $449 for the 43-inch version and go up to $899 for the 65-inch TV.
What is Kodi?
Kodi is a media player app that is optimized for a TV screen. It got its start as a grassroots effort to turn Microsoft’s original Xbox game console into a home theater device. Its built-in features and powerful extensions make Kodi a very capable part of a home entertainment system.
Kodi’s developers have ported Kodi to Linux, Mac OS, Windows, iOS, as well as the Android operating system at the heart of the Fire TV.
Add-ons let you add new features and services to your Kodi system, sort of like apps. (Kodi was created before modern smartphones made “app” part of everyday language.) Some add-ons extend Kodi’s features by adding, for example, support for game controllers or providing album cover art.
Some of the most popular add-ons let you stream internet-based content through your Kodi system. Sci-fi channel Comet, Food Network Canada and Sky News are just some of the streaming video add-ons you can get.
Few of the add-ons are official. They are the creations of individual programmers. Kodi’s developer support makes it relatively easy to create add-ons that point Kodi at an internet source and pull its content to your TV. Kodi can even handle the log-in process for some subscription services.
This unofficial, fan-based approach has advantages and disadvantages. On the positive side, you can find a huge range of content in Kodi’s catalog. There are nearly 400 video add-ons alone. The downside is that when a streaming site makes changes, its Kodi add-on may not work anymore.
Kodi is legal
There is nothing illegal about Kodi itself – it’s just a media player, after all. Add-ons themselves are perfectly legal as well. You can think of them as customized web browsers that access the same video feed you would get on your computer but in a format that is TV-friendly.
The trouble comes when add-ons point Kodi at sources of pirated movies and TV shows. At that point Kodi itself isn’t illegal, but the people using it may be breaking the law. Think of it like this: owning a rifle and using it at a firing range or out hunting are all perfectly legal and acceptable. Using a rifle to hold up a video store because you don’t want to pay for Game of Thrones is not.
Kodi does not allow pirate add-ons into its repo so you can be pretty confident that any add-on you get directly from Kodi stays within copyright laws. Many third-party repos, however, don’t set any standards, turn a blind eye to piracy or actively support it. They let Kodi users install add-ons to get “free” movies, TV shows and music.
“If you post in our forums or social channels about a pirate add-on or streaming service not working please expect ZERO sympathy or support…. less time spent on self-entitled whiny people means more time writing great code and having fun.”
Installing Kodi on Fire TV
You can access your personal media library through the Fire TV by adding Kodi to it. That also gives you access to Kodi add-ons for video streams that Amazon doesn’t provide.
The process is straightforward, but complicated by the fact that you can’t get Kodi from the Fire TV’s App Store. Amazon removed Kodi from the App Store back in 2015, claiming that “it can be used to facilitate the piracy or illegal download of content.” The Kodi team pointed out that any web browser can be used to facilitate piracy but Amazon didn’t listen.
The following steps will help you get Kodi up-and-running on your Fire TV. If you have trouble with this method, the Kodi wiki has several alternate installation guides you can try.
Get the apk
Before you start installing Kodi, you will need to get the internet address for Kodi’s latest Android file, called an apk. You should always download directly from Kodi or a mainstream app store like Google Play. This ensures you have the latest features and protects you from bogus versions of Kodi that could contain malware or tracking software.
Go to the Kodi download page and click on the Android robot. You will see two categories of download, Release and Nightly. The Release version is the one most people will want since it is the most stable. The Nightly version has the features in the middle of development so might be a little buggy.
You will also see multiple options within the Release category: 32-bit and 64-bit ARM as well as Google Play. The Fire TV uses a 64-bit ARM processor, so right click on that button and copy the link. You will have to manually type the link into your Fire TV, so paste the link into a word processor or text editor for reference later.
Enable developer mode
Next, you need to turn on your Fire TV’s developer settings. This lets you “sideload” apps that aren’t available in the Amazon Store. Start by opening the Settings screen on your Fire TV.
If you have a current-generation Fire TV or Fire TV Stick, navigate to Device -> Developer Options. On older versions of Fire TV, you may see it as System -> Developer Options.
Activate the following options: Apps from Unknown Sources and ADB Debugging.
Now you need an app that can download the Android files from the Kodi website. Go to the App Store on your Fire TV and install an app called ES File Explorer.
Open ES File Explorer and navigate to Tools -> Downloads. Select Add Bookmark and enter the web address for the Kodi Android file that you got earlier.
Open that bookmark. Answer “Yes” when asked if you want to open the Android file and again when asked if you want to install it.
Avoid “Jailbroken” Fire TV’s
Lately, there has been a wave of products offered on eBay and other marketplaces that offer “jailbroken” Fire TVs. These shady offerings have versions of Kodi pre-installed, often with add-ons that are not part of the Kodi repo.
In short, they are Kodi boxes intended to help people watch pirated content.
Hollywood so far has not been aggressive about prosecuting people who watch pirated content, preferring to target the sites that host pirated content as well as sellers of Kodi boxes. In the United States earlier this month, six movie studios – 20th Century Fox, Columbia Pictures, Disney, Paramount, Universal and Warner Bros. – as well as Amazon and Netflix have sued the makers of TickBox, a Kodi-based streaming device. The Hollywood Reporter posted the full legal complaint which says “What TickBox actually sells is nothing less than illegal access to Plaintiffs’ copyrighted content.”
Authorities in the United Kingdom arrested Kodi box seller Brian Thompson last year. This month a judge handed down an 18-month sentence. The prosecutor, quoted in The Guardian, said that while “Kodi boxes are not illegal per se” when you use Kodi boxes to gain unauthorized access to content “they become illegal”.
Pirate Kodi boxes and streaming from pirate Kodi boxes are illegal in Europe. With full support from Kodi, the European Union’s Court of Justice ruled in May that selling a Kodi box that links to pirated content is as much a violation of copyright laws as pirating that content. It also ruled that streaming pirated content is illegal. Some people (usually with no legal background) claim that streaming pirated content doesn’t violate copyrights because it does not make a permanent copy. The Court of Justice declared that unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content violates copyright laws.
Kodi box security risks
If the fact that sellers of “jailbroken” Fire TVs operate at the fringes of the law isn’t enough to scare you off, you should also consider that they may contain malware.
The final question you should ask yourself is “Why bother?” As demonstrated above, installing Kodi on a Fire TV or Fire TV Stick is really easy. If you have what it takes to use Kodi, then you will have no trouble sideloading Kodi onto a Fire TV. Paying somebody to do it for you just doesn’t make sense.
Buying one of these “jailbroken” Fire TV devices only makes it that much harder for the Kodi team to make their great software even better. Piracy is wrong and illegal. Do everyone a favor. If you want to run Kodi on a Fire TV, install it yourself and only use it for good.