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May 10, 2009

Plex/Eight Released

First of all, happy Mother’s day to all the Plex moms out there! (Remember, Plex Dads, a new Plex release is not a substitute for flowers or a nice call.)

We’re very pleased to announce the first release of our stable Plex/Eight series. It’s been a long road, but we’re quite happy with the stability, especially given the massive amount of new functionality. You can download it here.

We’ve already started work on the Plex/Nine series, and you’ll be seeing lots of change between here and the official “1.0” release. We know what areas need the most work (the library, usability) and we have a few surprises up our sleeve which we hope you’ll enjoy.

We’d like to give a really, really big shout out to our growing community of plug-in developers. The response to the new Framework has been tremendous, the plug-ins are flowing in, and we’ve gotten great feedback from everyone. Thank you all very much! As promised, James and I are heads down on documentation and will have something for you to look at very shortly. We’re also working on some updates to the App Store to improve the “regionalization” which will make it easier for our users around the world to get to the plug-ins that work for them. A pox on content providers who limit the content to only certain areas of our little blue planet.

This release consists primary of bug-fixes, but we’ve added the usual treats. As Chuck Norris said, “Anything else would be less than civilized”.

  • NEW: Have you ever been annoyed by a video playing with subtitles even though the audio track is in your native language? Or having to look through all the 24 subtitle tracks in the MKV just to find the one in your language? Annoying, right? Plex/Eight auto-manages subtitles and audio tracks based on your language setting (i.e. the OS X language setting). For example, if your language is set to English, videos with English audio tracks won’t display any subtitles, whereas a foreign film will display English subtitles. If the language is set to Portuguese (Olá amigos!), an English film with lots of subtitles will auto-pick the Portuguese ones.

    Likewise, for those of you encoding dual 5.1/stereo tracks in your MP4 files, Plex will pick the AC3 track if the receiver is AC3-capable and the tracks have language tags.

    These options are both on by default, and they will not override per-video settings. Also, note that some video files don’t have language information for the audio and subtitle tracks. The code tries to be clever, but it’s not magic.

  • NEW: James whipped up a cool animation for the Now Playing screen. Those of you with Plasma screens can now rest easy. The animation triggers every two minutes. Drink some nice red wine and stare at the screen.
  • NEW: There are more and more of you using the Plex Media Server to stream your iTunes libraries to Plex, and a common request was to update the play counts and mark podcasts as viewed. In Plex/Eight, Plex now “scrobbles” plays to the Media Server, which updates the iTunes library (note that since it uses AppleScript, you’ll need to have iTunes running on the machine where the Plex Media Server is, and it will be started by OS X if it’s not). This feature is off by default, and you can enable it in the Media Server section of the preferences.
  • NEW: Anamorphic zoom mode. Falk Husemann submitted a patch to change the 16×9 zoom mode to work with projectors which have anamorphic lenses attached. You can read more about this sort of set up here. You can enable this new mode by setting <anamorphiczoom>true</anamorphiczoom> in your advanced settings.

And the fixes:

  • FIX: Sometimes album art didn’t show up in the Now Playing window.
  • FIX: Remote fanart (e.g. iTunes) wasn’t showing up.
  • FIX: Very slow start/skipping tracks for music. We made some improvements to the Media Server, and the ever-skilled jmarshall committed a nice related fix which we pulled. You won’t believe how much faster it is.
  • FIX: Speaking of performance, a big shout out to Jens Kleemann, who has been working for a while on analyzing and improving the performance of Plex. A few weeks ago, he told me that one of the main sources of the idle CPU usage was in some code that was locking and unlocking a mutex. He even sent over a patch that did less locking, and Plex took less CPU with the fix. Now this didn’t seem right to me, as a thread that is blocked on a mutex doesn’t consume any CPU. One night I looked over the mutex code, and I noticed a line of debug code that got the thread’s Mach port. I’d put this line in when I was trying to track down a threading issue *ages* ago, and it wasn’t used anymore. Except, as it turns out, it was responsible for consuming about a quarter of Plex’s CPU usage when idle. So a big thank you to Jens, and a big apology from me. Just think how many trillion of instructions your computers have executed for no good reason because of me. I might actually be responsible for global warming.
  • FIX: We’ve changed the thumbnailing code for photos to use a single thumb instead of four, by popular request.
  • FIX: Nikolas Stephan kindly submitted a patch so that Last.fm scrobbling works with tracks played from the Plex Media Server.
  • FIX: Nikolas Stephan also submitted a patch which allows selecting folders for the photo screensaver, apparently something which used to work.
  • FIX: We restart the Plex Media Server when we quit after 5.1 play (or upon restart after a crash). This is needed to work around a CoreAudio/WebKit issue, and you would have seen this issue as WebKit videos playing back without audio.
  • FIX: We automatically remove empty iLife sources, so if you don’t have Aperture, it won’t show up, for example.
  • FIX: GlimmerBlocker no longer prevents WebKit plug-ins from working.
  • FIX: The new wider list view works with the “hide thumbs” option.
  • FIX: Some SSA subtitles (e.g. Chinese) didn’t render correctly.
  • FIX: James made some fixes to background music; the volume level of the background music shouldn’t be quieter than regular music, and fixed a couple of problems with it not restarting properly. Also, it’ll fade out when starting a video.
  • FIX: The fonts have been fixed in the Now Playing window for the Original font set.
  • FIX: A possible crash in the Plex Media Server.
  • FIX: Better keyboard mappings for the Now Playing window and Mira (thanks to marklight!)
  • FIX: We pulled the latest IMDB scraper from XBMC (thanks to aaron and Jay for testing it out!) and this should fix it bringing down incorrect posters when the IMPA awards option is on.
  • We also pulled a good bunch of code fixes from XBMC. (No Aeon fixes, sorry.)

Next up will be a big release of new and enhanced plug-ins, and then back to work on Plex/Nine.

Today also happens to be Barkley’s forth birthday. We brought him to the beach for the first time since his injury around five months ago. He swam, caught a few waves, and then rolled around in the sand in pure delight.

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