home theater

Albert: just what he needed in our home theater.

I got to wondering if home theater-themed pillow shams existed, because I didn’t want to spend a fortune, and we had some boring pillows.

Amazon has them at a very reasonable price.

It’s cheap to buy new pillows, too: Set of 4 – 18 x 18 Premium Hypoallergenic Stuffer Pillow Insert Sham Square Form Polyester

Previous decor-related posts: Sci-fi Saturday fun in the theater room, Night views of our media room, and Display LP cover art slideshow on Chromecast.

Previous Albert-related posts.


The official demo includes a tour of Plex’ “intergalactic headquarters”.
(No, Edward Snowden hasn’t gone to work there.)


The Echo Dot/Alexa, Amazon’s hands-free, voice-controlled device, recently acquired a new skill: Plex.

(Plex is a great, free way to make your own music/video content available on your smart TV, Roku, Amazon Fire, etc.)

I have worked with this skill quite a bit, but it doesn’t seem highly usable for me. Why?

  • You must already have a Plex app up and available for Alexa to control. If I have just used my Logitech Harmony remote to set up our Roku’s Plex channel, then the remote is a more straightforward way to make selections.
  • Even when the Plex channel is up on our Roku 3, Alexa occasionally seems to be blind to its availability. A reboot of the Roku 3 is needed to get Alexa to “see” it. (It may be more a problem with this model of Roku than with Alexa.)
  • If you have more than one Plex Media Server (we do), it’s time-consuming to get Alexa to switch servers. You must listen to a numbered list of available servers before you can respond.
  • Voice control generally works OK for movies. For TV shows, I rarely would remember the specific season and episode number. With a physical remote, you don’t need to recall anything; it’s browsable up there on the screen.
  • Asking Alexa for suggestions, or to shuffle music by an artist, or to play something new works fairly well. But it frequently takes me more than one try to get Alexa to play a specific album. Often, only one song is played from the album (maybe an Alexa bug).

The Alexa Plex skill will likely improve; this is the initial roll-out.

Note: when Alexa is controlling Plex, the music or movie sound issues from the device running the Plex app (e.g., smart TV, Roku), rather than from the Echo Dot. That’s fine if your Echo Dot is located close enough to you.

Alexa plugged into our sound system

But if your Echo Dot is plugged into a sound system playing non-Alexa sound, the Dot may be too close to the speakers for Alexa to understand without you yelling the entire command. (When Alexa herself is playing internet radio, merely the word “Alexa” gets her to mute the sound so she can hear the command.)

Then, you probably would need to use the sound-switching tactic I described in a previous post, Amazon Echo Dot as a stereo component. Or use a long cord to get the Echo Dot away from the speakers and closer to your voice.

Or, get another Echo Dot to sit within arm’s length, and change its wake word to “Echo”, “Amazon”, or “Computer”. They only cost $50.

However, two talking devices in the same room might give you app-o-Plex-y 🙂 .

“A-Plex-a” is cool and fun, though impractical for my everyday use.

If you are a Plex and Alexa user, do go ahead and try it; the price is right: $0.

Alexa Voice Commands for Plex

Amazon Echo Dot, aka Alexa, “thinking” in our theater room.

The Amazon Echo Dot with Alexa does many fun and useful voice-controlled things, including playing Jeopardy! and Seinfeld trivia, or giving you the local weather. You can place one anywhere you have an AC outlet, and you can have them in different rooms.

But instead of using it as a standalone device, I plugged one into our theater room sound system (with a 3.5mm plug to RCA stereo cable).

Our receiver must be on and set to the proper input to hear Alexa speak or play. I leave it on most of the time so I can call out any Pandora station or Tunein radio station (“Alexa, play Jazz 89.5 on Tunein”), or put on an environmental sound (“Alexa, play thunderstorm/rain/ocean sounds”).

(Most local stations are available via Tunein, including my favorites, KWGS 89.5 HD1-Public Radio/HD2-Jazz.)

You can also tell Alexa to set a sleep timer to turn off your sounds in an hour, or whatever time period you want.

I like this so much, it is now my primary way to listen to radio in our theater room. The data usage is negligible even on our second-from-the-bottom tier of Cox internet service (“Essential”: 1024 GB/month data usage, 15 Mbps max download speed).

I don’t need the receiver to be on to voice-control our home automation, though I prefer to hear her feedback, in case there is a miscommunication.

These features alone have made the Echo Dot well worth the price for me.

One hitch: if we are listening to non-Alexa music or TV sound at a decent volume, we would have to yell to get a command through to Alexa, due to her proximity to the speakers. (When Alexa herself is the sound source, she quiets it down once she hears the word “Alexa” spoken.)

To avoid yelling, mute the receiver (though you wouldn’t hear Alexa’s response), or temporarily switch the receiver to Alexa’s input.

Since I use a Logitech Harmony remote, I built soft buttons into every “Activity” so I can easily switch to Alexa’s sound briefly, then switch back to the sound input we are currently using (e.g., “InputTv” for Activity “Roku”).

Harmony remote “Activities” screen / Roku “Activity” detail: custom receiver sound input buttons

Amazon Echo Dot, aka Alexa, aka "Computer" in our theater room.

Amazon Echo Dot, aka Alexa, aka “Computer”, responding to my voice command in our theater room.

Among its many talents and skills, the Amazon Echo Dot device allows you to voice-control a number of smart home systems, notably, Philips Hue.

But we already have X10 home automation devices, which are not supported by the Echo. (See the X10 section of the TTM aStore.)

There is a way to get Alexa (Amazon’s virtual personal assistant, who inhabits the Echo Dot) to accept X10 voice commands to turn lights, fans, and coffee makers on and off. I’ve done it.

See the 35-second video at bottom of page; read more below.


HA-Bridge is free software that emulates the Philips Hue light system.

When HA-Bridge is installed on a computer, it tricks Alexa into thinking she is “seeing” and controlling a Philips Hue light that is actually a different brand of device, such as X10.

The computer also needs a CM15A USB Transceiver Module (or the like) to communicate with X10 devices. (I already had a CM15A plugged into a Windows 10 PC so we could use the X10 Commander app on our smartphones.)

I could have installed HA-Bridge on one of my Linux-based Raspberry Pi computers (see Corey’s Write for a procedure), but I preferred not to disturb the existing arrangement on our Win 10 computer.

Luck was with me. Just last month, Tuicemen wrote a Windows-based program, Alex10, that uses HA-Bridge (included) to talk with Alexa. It is also more user-friendly than HA-Bridge. So Alex10 was the way to go. (Tuicemen deserves a PayPal tip for his good work if you use it.)

I won’t go into further technical detail about how to do it, but here are the resources I used:

Tuicemen’s Alex10 page

Tuicemen’s Alex10 Forum

Tuicemen’s Alex10 thread on the X10 CommunityForums


Yesterday was our first sci-fi Saturday with voice-controlled lights.

When I say “Computer: turn on Movie Time”, our assorted decorative and house lights come on. (I selected the name “Movie Time” and the lights to be activated in the Alexa Android app.)

Then, when I say “Computer: turn off theater lights,” the house lights go down, and the show can begin.

When I say “Computer: make it so” in my best Jean-Luc Picard voice, Alexa (renamed “Computer” last week) is pre-programmed to respond “Aye, aye, Captain.”

See it in action in our house: