Meet PuppetMaster.TV: The Media App Trying to Take on Kodi

Introduction

Kodi has become a de facto standard in the media streaming world. It uses a standard interface across many platforms and gives users a large amount of media to watch, both legally sound and gray, through a plugin interface. Kodi itself doesn’t provide any media, but acts as a standard for plugin media to connect with users. These interfaces can be skinned, although they aren’t designed specifically for any platform. This means users may see an interface that isn’t consistent with other apps and users may not get all of the platform’s features.

Kodi has been available on Android TV for a while, and that’s been good for users. They can use the app with a gamepad or remote control and watch media, but that’s about it. There’s no integration with Live Channels, or recommendations. The experience is entirely restricted to the app itself. Kodi’s reasoning has been ease of development. If every version of their app has the same features, then they don’t need to worry about spending time in different areas. This debate has caused a schism to form in their developer community, with one forking Kodi to form SPMC. The goal of that app is to bring more Android TV features to the app.

Kodi’s plugin interface is convoluted and hard for new users. While a small amount of content is hosted on a main repository, there’s many advanced settings for adding additional repositories and installing plugins from a file and a number of nuances that can require hours of your time to figure out. As the software started out in 2004, when the Internet was much different and newer, there’s plenty of workflows that today seem absurd. There’s plenty of opportunity to do this better, and that’s what the developers of PuppetMaster.TV are trying to do by redesigning the media center from scratch for modern computing systems and paradigms.

What is PuppetMaster.TV?

You can watch live video or browse related videos
You can watch live video or browse related videos

Like Kodi, PuppetMaster.TV acts as a middleman between you, the user who wants to watch content, and the content providers. Each of these plugins, called “puppets”, are groovy files which are loaded at runtime. There are a few examples of content which are coupled with the app, but it’s easy for anybody to insert their own puppet by entering a PasteBin URL. That will install the puppet and it will appear in your installed list. As a stark difference from Kodi, this app carefully follows the Leanback UI, providing a consistent interface for users and following Android TV best practices.

The app supports both live and on-demand video, giving you a selection of what you want. The included puppets also give users a good selection, from educational NASA feeds to Comic Vine. Although the number of puppets is currently small, the developer hopes that an open community will provide and share more puppets. In the meantime they’re working on adding more built-in sources and listening to the community on what content they want to see. Many of these puppets will seem familiar to Kodi users, and the developer has been using those central repository plugins as a reference.

Several live streams from NASA
Several live streams from NASA

Developing in this Groovy (similar to Java) format is on-par with Kodi’s Python-based plugins in terms of code length. However, PuppetMaster.TV allows content creators to supply richer data such as related content.

One thing the developer currently is unsure of is distribution. One method is to keep sharing Pastebin links, although there’s no good central place to share. One could do this through their message board. It could also be done through comments on the Play Store. Users could try out these puppets and upvote the ones that work the best. A subreddit was also suggested as a way to post third-party puppets. At this moment the developer is not interested in building a server for users to quickly search and find content in-app, but they’re working hard to make this app the best and listen to what users want.

What’s Next?

The developer is working on some upcoming updates that will make the app even better. They’re planning on improving media playback support in-app either by extending the currently used Google created ExoPlayer library or by moving to a different media player altogether. Additionally, live content would fit in great with Android TV’s Live Channels app. They’re currently exploring how to bring this content to Live Channels. This is, of course, in addition to supporting more content in the app overall.

It’s still early days for the app, but it feels smoother and more performant than Kodi (as Kodi occasionally stutters). Plus, it does a better job of conforming to Android TV’s interface with Leanback and navigation. Content is the big sticking point, but that’s something that will resolve itself as the app gains more users and developer support.

If you’re interested in trying this out for yourself, the app is free to install on Google Play. For developers, you can checkout the app’s GitHub repo which has several samples to get started.

Nick Felker

Nick Felker

Nick Felker is a student Electrical & Computer Engineering student at Rowan University (C/O 2017) and the student IEEE webmaster. When he's not studying, he is a software developer for the web and Android (Felker Tech). He has several open source projects on GitHub (http://github.com/fleker)Devices: Moto G-2013 Moto G-2015, Moto 360, Google ADT-1, Nexus 7-2013 (x2), Lenovo Laptop, Custom Desktop.Although he was an intern at Google, the content of this blog is entirely independent and his own thoughts.

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  • Miguel Fernandes (Muldy)

    Kodi runs on everything™… not just android

    • And that’s great for some, but they don’t cater to specific devices, leaving a less than stellar ux