Plex

All posts tagged Plex

If the thought of losing MSNBC and/or Fox News is stopping you from cutting the cable, here is one way to watch for free.

This way involves running free Plex Server software on your PC, and manually adding Plex channel plugin software for cCloud.

cCloud TV is a free cloud-based social IPTV service.  All IPTV links are submitted by users.

If you set it up right, you can watch these two news channels and more on your phone, tablet, PC, or Roku box.


Caveats:

cCloud has no control over the streams listed there, so there are no guarantees they will work indefinitely, but they are updated periodically. You might occasionally need to look for new links to the streams you like in cCloud.

This is only a high-level set of instructions, so you need to be pretty comfortable with Windows and fooling around with software, but if you succeed, it’s a nice feature to have.


First, sign up at plex.tv. Download and install the free Plex server software on your PC.

Plex offers a number of free “channels”. Check them out, however, note that they are not streams but collections of videos. Well worth trying if you have a yen for some HGTV or Food Network, like my wife does on Saturdays.

However, the Plex channel you want is called cCloud, and it is not available in the Plex repository.

Download cCloud Plex plugin software here: https://github.com/coder-alpha/CcloudTv.bundle

Extract the zip file downloaded from github to the Plex Media Server plugins folder on your PC;

On Windows 7, 8, and 10, the folder is located here:

C:\Users\[Your Username]\AppData\Local\Plex Media Server\Plug-ins

Then restart the Plex server, or reboot.

More about cCloud for Plex here:

https://forums.plex.tv/…/rel-ccloudtv-channel-iptv/p1

cCloud has MSNBC and Fox News streaming links among others (many of them require high bandwidth, but these two do not).

Save bookmarks to them within cCloud.

You can watch them on Plex via your browser.

Or, get the free Plex app on your phone and watch there.

If you have a Roku, add the free Plex channel and click your way to your cCloud bookmarks.

I tried it with Chromecast, and got a message about insufficient bandwidth, but it might be a cross-domain issue in reality.

On Facebook, my brother Alan just posted a YouTube of violinist Stephane Grappelli and guitarist Diz Disley with the comment, “Maybe the ultimate Sunday ‘morning’ music for me.” This sent me on a quest yesterday.


Still have it.

One evening in 1979, on or after April Fool’s Day, I tuned in KWGS on my “new” 1969 Sony ST-80F AM/FM stereo tuner and happened onto some great acoustic jazz.

I fired up my reel-to-reel tape deck to capture it.

It turned out to be Grappelli and Disley, plus David Grisman doing the music he wrote for “King of the Gypsies” (1978) with Grappelli and Tony Rice. All but Grappelli were unknown to me at the time.

By June 2, 1984, I had transferred what I had recorded to cassette, editing out the between-song patter.

After seeing my bro’s Facebook post, I listened to my tape again and wondered if that radio show might be available anywhere. No luck commercially, then I found this blog post:

http://arizjones.blogspot.com/2011/03/stephane-grappelli-4-25-1978.html

An entire show was there for download, archived as two .rar files. The description sounded like what I taped:

This is a real nice recording with David Grisman and Tony Rice on the last five tracks.

Stephane Grappelli Group
04/25/1978
Great American Music Hall
San Francisco, CA
Soundboard > NPR radio

John Etheridge – guitar
Brian Toff – bass
Diz Disley – guitar
Stephane Grappelli – violin

Comparing it with my partial recording, the songs, arrangements, and ambience are the same, but the solos are different. Amazing to find an entire show from the same tour.

(By the way, according to Gary Chew, then Station Manager, KWGS’ first broadcast programming from NPR was in early December 1977.)

I used free 7-Zip to extract the 320 kbps .mp3 files from the .rar files.

I retitled each .mp3 with the song name. With free Mp3tag, I gave all the tracks the same Album Artist and Album name (these are key tags for Plex). I added track number tags and brief comments about content.

Mp3tag view after I finished. (Click  to enlarge)

Next I moved all the .mp3s into an “album” folder under a Stephane Grappelli folder for my Plex system, conforming to its naming and organizational conventions. Added art to Plex from the internet.

Live Stephane Grappelli 1978 NPR radio show now on my Plex system. (Click  to enlarge)

Now I can stream it to browser, smartphone, Roku or the Raspberry Pi.


Maybe my frequent playing of the tape in 1979 stuck in my brother’s mind, the sound having seeped through his bedroom wall. I like the result of this 38-year boomerang.

Detail of the “album”. (Click  to enlarge)


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

Browser view. I was able to fix the database’s misspelling in Track 3’s title with Mp3tag. (Click to enlarge)

I probably was drawn to listen to the original “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” soundtracks this week due to my last few posts subconsciously reminding me of that 1964 spy show’s gadgetry.

Some time back, I bought the three U.N.C.L.E. soundtrack packages (2 CDs each) from Film Score Monthly. They were compiled by Jon Burlingame, who also wrote the detailed booklets included in each set. The scores by Jerry Goldsmith, Morton Stevens, Walter Scharf, Lalo Schifrin, Gerald Fried, Robert Drasnin and Richard Shores still sound great.

I can hardly stand to put CDs into a player at this point, preferring to rip them once to my Plex server for anytime, anywhere use with Plex apps in Roku, my smartphone, or the Raspberry Pi/OSMC. My mental set has changed, as when TV came in and altered peoples’ relationship to radio.

Plex Chromecast’d from phone app to the big system.

It’s especially difficult to physically handle these sets, as 2-CD jewel boxes seem prone to breakage and droppage. Also, the fat little booklets (important for full enjoyment of the music) do not enjoy being extracted from or replaced in the cases.

I had previously ripped these CDs with Windows Media Player, but the result was a mess. WMP’s tagging of the .mp3 files was inconsistent, possibly due to the sets being limited editions. This made them poorly organized under Plex.

By now, I know about Plex naming conventions, and use a free tool, Mp3tag, to add/change the tags embedded in each .mp3. So I was ready to try again.


The first problem is with Plex seeing each CD of the pair as a separate album. To solve it:

  • Rip the first CD of the set. Then open up Mp3tag and display the folder containing the .mp3 files. Mp3tag shows you a tag called “discnumber”.
  • Select all the tracks, make their discnumber=1 and save.
  • Do the same with the ripped tracks from the second disc, making those tracks discnumber=2.
  • Then you can move all the .mp3s into a single folder, and Plex will see it as a single album with 2 CDs.

In addition, Plex needed a couple of tags to be fixed:

The “Album” and “Album Artist” tags are key.

I had to experiment with the “Album” tag. Windows Media Player had tagged it “The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Vol. 1 [Original Soundtrack Album] Disc 1” (and then Disc 2), which confused Plex, even after removing the “Disc 1/2″ part of the tag.

Ultimately, in Mp3tag, I changed all the tracks to Album=”The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Vol. 1″ and Album Artist=”Various Artists”. The latter is a catchall solution for compilation albums, and soundtrack albums not entirely composed of tracks from a single artist.

Windows Media Player had also filed the album folder under Music/Soundtrack. To correspond with my retagging, I moved all the tracks to a folder I named “The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Vol. 1″ (same as the Album tag) under the already-existing Music/Various Artists folder.

Mp3tag revealed that the music already was tagged Genre=”Soundtrack”, which is good enough for my purposes, so I deleted the now-empty Soundtracks folder.

I repeated the above for Volumes 2 and 3.

Using Mp3tag free software to fix tags for Vol.3. I dragged the key tags into view. (Click to enlarge)

The album art Plex selected for each album was a bit grainy. If you can find (or scan) a higher-resolution version, you can edit the album in Plex and add the new art under “Poster”. I also added a landscape-oriented Background image of the U.N.C.L.E. logo for each album.

(FYI, most CDs rip correctly with no alteration needed. These were exceptions.)


Not yet content, I wanted to keep all the album booklets together for use while listening.

I repurposed a UPS mailer, printing and gluing on an image found via Google.

(I always wondered why Napoleon Solo’s badge was #11, while Illya was #2. No mystery about Mr. Waverly being #1. If Solo ever complained, maybe Illya pointed out in mock solace that “11” in binary is 3 in decimal.)

Back in the dot-matrix printer era (the 1990s), I printed out an excellent online U.N.C.L.E. TV episode guide, written by Bill Koenig. At that time, I went so far as to bind it into a homemade U.N.C.L.E. folder. With the new packet,  I have a dossier.

(This guide is available at SpyCommandFeatures.wordpress.com with additional articles about the show. I added a shortcut to my phone for even easier reference.)

Homemade episode guide and CD booklet folder


Heroes & Icons (Tulsa channel 41.4) has been playing “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” I have recorded all but 4 of the 105 episodes to hard drive with my Raspberry Pi/OSMC/Windows Media Center setup. The remaining 4 should be coming up within the next month.

My next project may be to remove the commercials and convert them to .mp4 format with MCEBuddy.


Previous U.N.C.L.E. research from Tulsa TV Memories:

The T-Town Affair

U.N.C.L.E., SAGE, SABRE, Strangelove & Tulsa: Connections

And, U.N.C.L.E. HQ in the TTM aStore