Plex

All posts tagged Plex


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

kodirecent

The new Plex beta addon for Kodi as seen on our 65″ TV. (Click to enlarge.)

Plex is a great free way to deliver local music/TV/movie content from your computer(s) to your TVs, smartphones, tablets, and browsers.

There are free official Plex apps on several of our media devices: Roku boxes, smartphones, and TiVo.

I have been using the unofficial PleXBMC addon with my $35 Raspberry Pi/OSMC-Kodi computer.

Now there is an official Plex for Kodi addon. It is still in beta, and is currently available only to PlexPass holders.

Preview it in the following series of screenshots.

They also show how I have organized for Plex my Windows-automated online recordings of the locally-produced weekend KWGS music shows (see the previous Cord-Cutting post). Details after the screenshots…

folksaladkodi

My Christmas recording of “The Folk Sampler”. I added the pix from KWGS’ and Mike Flynn’s websites.

folksaladkodi

Christmas “Folk Salad”. That is my own simple naming convention for the recordings.

allthisjazzkodi

Christmas Eve “All This Jazz”. The AAC+ format provides the best sound for the 56Kbps bandwidth.

swingonthiskodi

Christmas Eve “Swing On This”. Grabbed the nice background shot from the internet.


How to organize home-recorded radio shows for Plex:

I will demonstrate by adding my KWGS recordings of “Jazz Night in America” to Plex.

They are on my Windows Desktop in a folder called 1JazzNightInAmerica, with names like JNIA20150704.mp3.

For Plex, each .mp3 needs to be in a separate folder, so that Plex will see them as “albums”. We will name each folder the same as the .mp3 name. My simple naming convention allows them to be put in order by date.

Right-click an .mp3 in Windows Explorer, select “Rename” from the context menu, and use Ctrl-C to copy the show name. Then right-click on the leftmost space within the right pane of Explorer, create a New Folder, then do Ctrl-V to paste in the name of the show. Finally, move the .mp3 into the new folder of the same name. Do this for all the .mp3s.

jniamp3s-=========>>jniafolders

I created a new folder in Windows Explorer under “Music” called “Jazz Night in America (KWGS)” to be consistent with the naming of the other KWGS shows. (I configured Plex to look for new music in the Music folder when I installed it on this PC.)

Now I move one of the folders from 1JazzNightInAmerica into it.

Plex will detect it eventually, but to snap it up, I tell Plex to Update Libraries. Now I see an [Unknown Artist]/[Unknown Album] under “Recently Added Music”. I ignore it for now and go to my Music Library on Plex where I see a list of artists. Scroll down and find “Unknown Artist”. This will now be renamed.

Click the pencil icon for the [Unknown Artist] to edit. Type “Jazz Night in America (KWGS)” into the Artist slot. I copy and paste that same text into the “Sort Artist” field as well. You may, if you wish, add genre Tags (I selected “Jazz” and “Contemporary Jazz”).

You may also add a Poster image and a Background image for this artist. I usually look for official images associated with the show. You need only enter the URL of an image and it will be imported into Plex (but go ahead and save them to your PC as well for future use). I found a photo of host Christian McBride with his bass, and the JNIA logo to use as the background.

I now have a new “Artist” listed as “Jazz Night in America (KWGS)”. Click that artist icon. This artist has one [Unknown Album] so far. Edit the album by clicking the pencil icon on it.

The path to the .mp3 is visible under the Info tab. Copy the intended album name from the path, in this case, “JNIA20150704”. Paste it into both the Album and Sort Album slots under the General tab.

Click to enlarge.

(Optionally, you may also wish to add the same image you used for the artist Poster above; it must already be saved on your PC to do this. Plex uses it for display in some views if it is there. I found that if I added the image to this first album, Plex added it to the rest of the albums I added later.)

I now have a new Artist with one properly named Album to his credit.

At this point, I cut and paste the remaining folders from the Desktop folder into Music/Jazz Night in America (KWGS) folder.

I then tell Plex to Update the Music Library again. When complete, Recently Added Music shows a bunch of new [Unknown Artist]/[Unknown Albums].

You must edit each one, but it is easier this time. For Artist, just type in “Ja”, which will be sufficient to bring up a small list of matching artists from your library. Select “Jazz Night in America (KWGS)”. Click the Info tab and copy the name of this album (e.g., JNIA20150711) from the path, and paste it into Album and Sort Album under the General tab. Save Changes.

The latter process was a bit laborious, since I had so many shows already recorded. It’s not so much work if you are just beginning to record a weekly show.

Here is Mr. McBride and his shows. Now I can go to any of my devices with Plex and listen!

I hope this is helpful to someone, somewhere.

jniaplexview

Browser view of “Jazz Night in America (KWGS)” in Plex, with all the shows (“albums”) I previously recorded. All are now available to my Plex apps on Roku, smartphone, TiVo, Chromecast, Raspberry Pi. (Click to enlarge)

Background: Clark Gibson TCC Jazz Festival 3/25/2016

Background art: Program for Clark Gibson’s appearance at the TCC Jazz Festival, 3/25/2016

I’d been hearing tunes from this CD, “Bird with Strings: The Lost Arrangements” by Clark Gibson + Orchestra, for months on “All This Jazz” (KWGS 89.5, 9 pm-midnight Saturdays).

The host, Scott Gregory, announced a few weeks ago that Clark would be playing a concert at TCC Southeast campus.

Great job by Clark, director Reid Bennett, and the TCC Orchestra and Band. Clark is such a nuanced, unbounded player. I bet Charlie Parker (the “Bird” of the CD title, one of the progenitors of bebop music in the 1940s) would have loved it, too.

Of course I bought the CD. (Onstage, he mentioned it has been in the top 50 nationwide.)

These days, I regard the physical CD as a backup copy with liner notes, and a souvenir when autographed, like this one. Seems like way too much work to actually put in CDs(!)

Windows Media Player automatically ripped it into mp3 tracks (320 kbps for maximum quality).  In my setup, it is then added to Plex when you update the media library.

Above is a screenshot of our theater room TV. The album art was retrieved by Plex automatically. But there was no background art in the database. Luckily, I had the concert program.

I scanned it, but it was in vertical rather than horizontal format, as needed for a Plex background. I used free image software IrfanView to halve the vertical dimension, and allow the image to be compressed (unchecked the “Preserve aspect ratio” box when resizing).

You can see the result after I added this image as the background. A nice reminder of the show every time I play the album.