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 AFTVNews.com 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 https://forums.plex.tv/t/hdr-metadata-passthrough-plex-htpc-for-windows/794358 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!