Plex Amp Sonic Sage Adds ChatGPT AI Music Recommendations

In my latest video I dive into the world of AI-powered music discovery with the Plex Amp player and its new “Sonic Sage” feature. Sonic Sage uses ChatGPT to deliver playlist recommendations.

Here’s how it works: Sonic Sage interfaces with OpenAI’s GPT model. To get it running, you’ll need an API key from the OpenAI platform. There is a small cost for using this key but I’ve found it to be minimal. So far I’ve only racked up about 5 cents of cost for well over 20 queries.

Once you’ve enabled Sonic Sage, it lives right inside the search icon on your Plex Amp app. ChatGPT uses your queries to generate music recommendations. You can ask it for anything, from general genres to very specific prompts. For example, you could ask for “high energy, lesser-known female rockers from the last 20 years”, and Sonic Sage will whip up a playlist to match.

The AI’s recommendations are based on how you word your prompts. While it’s not perfect at always getting things right, it does a pretty solid job of delivering great music to match what you’re looking for. The only drawback I’ve noticed so far is that these AI-generated playlists can’t be saved, but I’m sure this could change in the future.

This feature works best with a very large personal library or with Tidal, a subscription music service that integrates with Plex and Plex Amp. Tidal costs $8.99 a month if you subscribe through Plex and delivers all of its music as CD quality lossless FLAC audio. I covered the Tidal integration in a previous video.

In my view, Sonic Sage adds an interesting new dimension to Plex Amp’s already awesome music discovery capabilities.

Turn Your Lights On and Off with Plex Webhooks

For this month’s sponsored Plex video, I delved into the webhooks feature that’s part of your Plex Pass subscription.

Webhooks fire off data to a specified URL when specific events happen on your Plex server, such as adding new content, pausing, or playing media. Some of the applications that can listen for these webhooks include IFTTT, Zapier, Home Assistant and Homebridge.

Although it might be slightly complicated to set up, once you have it figured out it can do some cool stuff. In the video I demonstrate how I connected my Plex server with Homebridge, allowing my lights to turn on and off automatically based on hitting the play and pause button.

I also slightly modified some code in the Homebridge Plex plugin I was using to look for a Plex “scrobble” event that fires off whenever the credits are reached or 90% of the content is played. This will turn my lights on right when the end credits start rolling most of the time!

Overall, webhooks in Plex open up a world of possibilities for integrating your Plex server with your smart home system. While it may be complicated to set up initially, the end result is a seamless and enjoyable viewing experience.

Plex Adds End Credit Detection to the Plex Media Server

My monthly sponsored Plex video this month does a deep dive into the new Plex end credit detection feature. You can watch it here.

On TV devices the end credits will zoom out into a small box and Plex will present some additional content options to watch next. Clicking the remote will return the end credits to full screen if you want to watch them in full.

End credit detection will also know when content appears after the credits finish rolling. In that instance you’ll have the option to click “skip credits” and be brought directly to the post credit scene.

Credit detection is CPU intensive so you may want to have this take place during your server’s maintenance window. Plex has set up a cloud database to speed the process along, so if your file is in the database your server will download the credits location from Plex vs. having to run a full analysis. Your Plex server will also trigger a “watched” flag that fires off right when the end credits begin.

See more, including configuration options, in the video! Thanks to Plex for their long standing support of the channel!

All About Plex Subtitles

This month’s sponsored Plex tutorial dives into a frequently requested topic: subtitles.

I will confess that I am not a frequent subtitle user but I know that many of you out there use them quite frequently. One of the challenges of subtitles is getting them to work in a way that won’t trigger a transcode.

Many of us use Plex as a way to store our Blu Ray movie library on our server for convenience. And typically Blu Rays use the PGS subtitle format which are essentially image files that Blu Ray players overlay on top of the video being played. So if you are ripping Blu Ray files and including subtitles in that rip you’ll have those PGS files embedded inside the MKV file you’re using.

The problem with the PGS format is that very few streaming players support them natively. In my testing I’ve found only the Nvidia Shield TV and Apple TV support that. All of the other players I tested triggered transcoding to bake in the captions before sending the video to the client.

The most compatible solution I’ve found are SRT formatted files. These are essentially ASCII text files with time stamps that most players support natively without the need for an additional transcode. Plex Pass users can search for and add SRT files in the Plex interface using the database right on the content playback page. If you don’t have a Plex pass you’ll have to hunt down those files yourself.

Finding subtitles can be tricky as lengths vary from one version of a film to the next. As studios re-release old films on different formats sometimes things don’t line up or like in the case of Star Wars they change a few things here and there that ultimately impact the timing of dialog. Plex does have a subtitle offset feature that we’ll cover in a future video to better align dialog.

A PGS Encoded Forced Subtitle

Another topic we covered are “forced” subtitles that only appear when another language is spoken. A great example of this is when Jabba the Hutt is speaking at the beginning of a Return of the Jedi. Force subtitles need to be enabled for playback like other types of subtitles and the same rules for transcoding apply here too – if you have a PGS encoded forced subtitle it’s going to force a transcode even if those subtitles are used for a very small portion of the film. These are the types of subtitles I use most often.

There is much more to cover on this topic but I have found SRT encoded subtitles to be the most compatible but also the least attractive. How they look will largely depend on how the client renders them. The good news is that because they are just straight ASCII text they are very easy to edit.

Subtitle Edit for Windows

I found a great open source (free) utility called SubtitleEdit that is extremely powerful for editing SRT files. It can even convert PGS to SRT. It only runs on Windows but there is a version that runs in a web browser on their site.

There is much more to cover on this topic. Definitely check out the video and leave a comment about what you’d like to see next!

New Plexamp Features: Guest DJ and NFC Tags

In my latest video we take a look at two new features recently added to Plex’s awesome music client called Plexamp. In full disclosure this piece was sponsored by Plex.

The first feature, Guest DJ, utilizes Plex’s sonic analysis feature that we covered in a prior video. The way it works is that it will look at the sonic fingerprint of the song you’re currently listening to and slip in other songs that sound similar.

What’s neat about how Guest DJ works is that it will continue to progress through the album or playlist you’ve selected. Some settings insert a single song others will do more. You can even veer off and have it keep suggesting sonically similar songs. If you decide to switch it off you’re back in control of what comes up next.

Plexamp also recently added support for NFC tags. These are very inexpensive devices that can be found on Amazon that allow small amounts of data to be written to them wirelessly. Plexamp can write a shortcut that can point at an album or playlist to the tag through its share sheet. Scanning the tag later will pull up Plexamp and bring you right to the album or playlist for playback. One use case could be attaching tags to your physical albums – scanning one can start playing that album immediately in Plexamp.

Plexamp requires a Plex Pass but is one of the many benefits of their subscription plan for Plex Pro users. See more Plex content on my channel!

Amazon Kills “Deep Linking” Impacting Plex, Reelgood, and Others on Fire TV

Over on AFTVNews my friend Elias Saba reported on a new development on the Fire TV platform that will impact Plex (affiliate link), Reelgood, Just Watch and other third party content search engines. Amazon reportedly will be disabling “deep linking” which is the practice of having one app link to content inside of another app. This topic is the subject of my latest video.

What this means is that if you’re maintaining a watchlist in Plex you can still maintain that list and find new content in the Plex database on FireTV, but Plex will no longer “drop you off” in another app to watch. You can, of course, use Amazon’s built in search which will continue to deep link into supported (paying) apps. This new Amazon policy mirrors a restriction Roku has had in place for its devices.

Why are they doing this? Because home screens and platform integrated search engines are a big business. Amazon and Roku can require providers to pay to be a part of search and/or get a higher position in query results. If you’re using a third party provider to find stuff to watch that impacts the bottom line. Those third parties apps can also charge for placement in their search engines which is a competitive activity.

Roku’s business model is no secret – most of the money they make from you using the device – not buying it. That’s why Roku and Amazon devices are so inexpensive. You can learn more in this video I made a little while back diving into Roku’s financial statements.

Like everything I do on this channel I went down a rabbit hole yesterday testing how deep linking works across all of the major platforms. Here’s how the others stack up:

Roku: No deep linking allowed but their built in search has good results (for now) that will deep link elsewhere.

Android TV / Google TV: Deep linking is still allowed but I’m finding that it’s broken for the most part. Linking into Netflix works ok but many other providers don’t seem to work reliably. Some deep links bring the user to the Google Play store even if the app is already installed.

Apple TV: Apple TV’s deep linking appears to work the best right now. Most of the apps I tested work through Plex and Reelgood. Apple TV is the most expensive box because the hardware isn’t as heavily subsidized vs. the other platforms making Apple less reliant on monetizing user activities.

All that said I still think third party watchlist apps are worth using to keep track of all of the great content we have available to us these days. You can see some prior coverage I did on those apps here.

Plex Watchlist Feature Update

My last video of 2022 is my monthly sponsored video for Plex! This month I’m revisiting the watchlist feature that we first looked at a few months ago. You can watch it here.

Watchlist is like a “to-do list” of the content that you want to watch, both on your local Plex server but also on other services. Plex will constantly monitor content offerings on other platforms and let you know where your favorite shows and movies can be seen.

What’s changed is that Watchlist now has its own position on the Plex sidebar (before it was integrated into the Discover feature). Another welcome change is that Watchlist will now keep track of individual episodes watched in a television series – before it would mark the entire show as watched even if a single episode was marked seen.

In the video I also show you some useful tips and tricks for searching for content and adding it to the list along with filtering options to help narrow down your choices.

This all works similar to Justwatch and Reelgood that we covered last year but the difference here is that it’s all tightly integrated into your Plex media library. You can even publish an RSS feed of your watchlist to integrate into other applications!

I have many hours of Plex content available on my channel that you can find on this playlist.

Amazon Fire TV Cube Firmware Update Fixes Some (but not all) Lossless Audio Passthrough Problems

In my original review of the 3rd Generation Amazon Fire TV Cube I said that Amazon’s top of the line streamer is not something I can recommend for enthusiasts due to issues with lossless audio passthrough in Plex and similar apps.

Enthusiasts running Plex typically stream rips of Blu-Ray movies with lossless audio tracks containing Dolby ATMOS True HD audio or one of the many flavors of DTS. The only name-brand box that does it perfectly is the aging Nvidia Shield so many enthusiasts were hoping that Amazon would offer something to meet that need as well.

And then I got a DM from my friend Elias Saba at who passed along this story about those issues being addressed in a firmware update. So, I bought another box (I sold my original one to a viewer) and posted this followup video to see if they got it fixed.

The good news is that Dolby TrueHD ATMOS audio is passing through correctly now. The bad news is that no flavor of DTS audio is passing through and it looks like Dolby Vision support for enthusiast media that was working before is no longer working. All of my titles defaulted to HDR10 even with an embedded Dolby Vision track. Dolby Vision continues to works fine in streaming apps which is probably 99% of this product’s audience.

I am going to hold onto my Cube though as it appears Amazon is trying to address this enthusiast need. As new firmwares come down I’ll continually test things to see if anything changes. Stay tuned!

New Video : Plex HTPC Overview

Each month Plex (affiliate link) sponsors a tutorial video on the channel covering one of the many, many features of their personal media server and streaming service. This month’s video is about Plex’s recently released an official Home Theater PC (HTPC) client for Windows, Mac and Linux. You can see my review of it here.

This app runs full screen right when loaded and replicates the living room interface experience found on smart TVs and set top boxes. Notable in this release is full support for lossless audio passthrough, client-side “tone mapping” to convert HDR content to a SDR color space on non-HDR displays, and the ability to switch a television into HDR mode for content that supports it.

HDR is a tricky beast with PCs and unfortunately the HDR here is more of a generic profile vs. one based on the metadata of the individual media files. It also does not support Dolby Vision.

Here’s a little more technical detail from the Plex team as to how HDR works:

HDR10: This works when using Windows. MPV creates a Rec.2020 swapchain in D3D11, which outputs to the display. There is a switch in HTPC’s settings to switch the display from SDR -> HDR when you play HDR content.

HDR10 with Static Metadata Passthrough: One of the users in the forums has done a writeup on how to use some of the more experimental features of MPV to do HDR10 with static metadata passthrough. So the maxCLL and maxFall values from the content are sent through to the display. See for more information.

So for the best experience I’d still stick with the most recent Nvidia Shield Pro (the 2019 version). But it’s nice to see Plex showing some love to their most technically inclined users looking to build out their own home theater PC experience.

New Video: Plex Hardware Transcoding on AMD Ryzen

Plex is a long time sponsor of the channel. Each month I produce a sponsored post on a feature of aspect of the product. This month we take another look at hardware transcoding of video content. You can watch my latest Plex video here.

In the past I’ve always recommended that people run their Plex servers on Intel hardware that supports Quicksync technology. Intel builds this into even their lowest end chips and it allows for nearly realtime transcoding of video to reduce bit rate and resolution on demand. For a long time that was about all Plex supported.

But recently a mysterious note appeared on the Plex hardware transcoding support page that indicated some limited support for AMD GPUs:

So I wondered.. Would this work on a Ryzen based Mini PC? It turns out the answer is YES! I took out the Beelink SER4 I reviewed few weeks back, installed the Plex Windows server on it, enabled hardware transcoding, and it started successfully transcoding a BluRay MKV file to a 1080p 8 megabit stream in hardware with minimal CPU utilization. The (hw) in the screenshot below indicates it’s running in hardware mode:

The Beelink SER4 is running with an AMD Ryzen 4800U processor with the latest AMD drivers. As Plex says “your mileage will vary” so I can’t say definitively if this will work on other AMD devices as well as it did here. But it is good to see hardware transcoding compatibility expanding.

Last year we tested it on the Macbook Air M1 and found that it was able to hardware transcode running the Intel version of the Plex server! Plex just announced an official Apple silicon version last week so we’ll give that another test in an upcoming video. Stay tuned!