What is Plex to you? Is it an app, a service, a platform? Where does it live? On your TV? Your phone? In the Cloud? Have you ever…spoken to Plex? I bet you have, if even briefly; something whispered under your breath, a tacit admission that Plex is more than just a machine. If you look even deeper, are you entirely sure you didn’t expect a response? I’d share some of my own dialogue here, but for now I think my choice words are better kept between me and that elusive little memory leak…
Anyway, until now the burden of anthropomorphizing your friendly media server has fallen squarely on you, the user. And while we’re sure you’ve done a wonderful job including Plex in the family photos and saving your server a seat at the dinner table, we think it’s about time we gave our creation a real voice. So we’re incredibly pleased to announce that Plex will be coming to life on all Alexa-enabled devices starting February 2, 2017, with the Amazon Alexa skill!
If you’re the proud owner of an Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, Amazon Tap, Amazon Fire TV, or Fire tablet, you’ll be able to dive right in. If you’re still on the fence as to whether to let Alexa into your life, let me share a few examples of how the new Plex skill can save you time, improve your marriage, and rescue you from up to dozens of mouse clicks every day!
A couple, curled up on the couch. Fresh logs on the fire, scent of pine in the air, warm blanket upon them and a dog curled up at their feet.
Confrontational Craig: I don’t think I can handle another episode of Arrow. I can literally feel my soul escaping through my eyes whenever I think about it. Literally.
Sensible Sarah: I’m pretty sure you mean figuratively. Anyway, what would you like to watch?
Craig: I dunno. What do you wanna watch?
Sarah: I dunno.
Repeat last two lines for 30 minutes.
Sarah: I know, let’s ask Plex! “Alexa, ask Plex to suggest something to watch!”
Alexa: You were right in the middle of an episode of Arrow. Would you like me to resume it?
Alexa: How about returning to something you haven’t watched in a while? Would you like me to put on the next episode of Celebrity Deathmatch?
Alexa: How about starting a new series? Would you like me to put on the first episode of Son of Zorn?
Confrontational Craig and Sensible Sarah look at each other. Eyes lock. Neither can find a reason to reject such a sensible proposal.
Sarah and Craig (in breathy unison): Sure!
Alexa (in her characteristic, optimistic tone): Okay, enjoy season one episode one of Son of Zorn: Return to Orange County!
February 2017 has been amazing so far; roommates Jenny and Sam are just finishing up preparations for their big Groundhog Day party. Their guests will start arriving any minute.
Sam: Well, I’ve got the champagne on ice, I’ve set out our finest meats and cheeses, and there’s glitter figuratively everywhere, but I still feel like something’s missing…
Jenny: Yeah, it’s awfully… quiet…
Sam: Of course! The music!
Jenny: I’d fire up Plex, but my phone was at like 5% so it’s allll the way in the other room charging for our Punxsutawney selfie…
Sam: …and I already hid the Apple TV remote; Klepto Dan is coming tonight and I don’t want a repeat of last year.
Jenny: Wait a sec… I forgot we’re living in the future! Alexa! ask Plex to get this party started!
Alexa: How about I throw on a recent favorite? Would you like to listen to some music by Sonny and Cher?
The familiar opening strains of I Got You Babe fill the air.
Sam: Much better!
Jenny and Sam (in unison): They say we’re young and we don’t know…
The Plex Alexa experience begins with a quick setup. First, tell Alexa to enable the Plex skill. Link your account and then ask her to “open Plex” to start using the skill. From there, you can have her ask Plex to play whatever media you like on any of your players. You can ask for suggestions, “ask Plex what’s On Deck,” and more! To learn more about the Plex Alexa skill, head over to https://www.plex.tv/alexa and enjoy the future!
Speaking of living in the future, we have another little treat for our Plex Pass users, because it turns out the Plex Alexa skill isn’t the only piece of Plex home automation goodness that we’re rolling out today. We’ve also added support for something in our media server called Webhooks. What is a Webhook, you might ask? Think of it as a way to have events in Plex affect the outside world. We’ve made it so that any media playback event or media rating event can trigger a webhook. If you’re into home automation, you know how cool and powerful this can be: dim the lights when you start a movie, or send a tweet after you finish an episode of Scandal. Working with other home automation tools, you can even have Plex turn on your A/V receiver or close your smart drapes automatically as you sit down for an evening of Plexing. You can find Webhooks in our latest v1.3.4 server release.
We’re really excited to see what our developer community comes up with, so if you want to read over the details, head to our documentation. We’ve also created three example projects to showcase how you might use the feature. (At this point in the blog you should picture me screaming “developers, developers, developers!” while standing on a chair, or throwing a chair, or something else chair-related.)
The first project is a simple little app which uses Webhooks to display desktop notifications for media playback, and allows using the media keys to control playback. I use it when playing music on my desktop in the web app, but you can use it across the house, or with a remote player. Or use it to keep tabs on what people are streaming from your server.
The second project is a fun one if you use the Slack chat app as we do (with employees spread across over 20 countries, how else could we live?). You host the project at Heroku, e.g., and then anyone who wants to play adds the webhook. Any media playback or rating shows up in a Slack room, which makes for a nice virtual watercooler for those of us who are media-obsessed.
The last project is a demonstration of how easy it can be to connect Plex to home automation gear. In this specific example, we use a Wink Hub and a Leviton smart switch to create a home theater environment where the lights turn off when video starts playing, and turn on again when playback ends or pauses. A photo can’t do it justice, but rest assured that Anna squeals in delight every time we start watching something and the lights turn off.
If all this sounds awesome, but you wouldn’t know a webhook from a left hook (hint: one is a lot more painful on the receiving end), we can help there, too! The Plex Pass Pro Installer program connects you, our users, to local A/V professionals whose job it is to help build home theaters and get everything connected. Read here for more info on how to get the ball rolling on your own home theater of the future.
We leave you with Barkley catching up on his favorite TV series.