Plex is getting voice-activated. The popular media player software maker just launched voice control through a new Plex Skill for Alexa-powered devices. That means you can ask Alexa via your connected Echo speaker, Fire tablet or Fire TV to play your favorite content from your Plex media library, without having to use a remote control.
For example, you could say, “Alexa, ask Plex to play ‘The Big Lebowski,’” or ask her “What’s on Deck,” or even have Alexa recommend something to watch, through the new voice feature. The Skill can also be used to play music from your media collection, if you use Plex to organize more than just your videos.
This is the company’s first step into home automation, and, as of launch, there are still a few limitations. For starters, it can’t actually play your music directly on an Amazon Echo speaker, Amazon Tap, or Echo Dot yet – but the company says it’s hoping to make that possible in the future.
It also doesn’t support playback of media from some Plex devices, including LG Smart TVs, Xbox 360 and Xbox One players, but that’s expected to change in time. Plex Cloud is not supported either, nor is voice control of the “Photos,” “Other Video,” and “Watch Later” sections in the Plex media player software.
Finally, you can’t use Alexa voice commands to navigate through the software menu by saying things like “up” or “down,” nor can you control video playback with actions like “skip forward” or “skip back.” (Just play and pause.)
Using Alexa with Plex is not as simple as adding support for something like Spotify or Pandora, which can be switched on via the Alexa mobile app with ease. Instead, it requires users to enable Remote Access for their media server in the software’s settings. (Settings > Server > Remote Access in Plex Web App.)
What this does, basically, is turn your spoken requests into API calls in Plex’s cloud services that will either retrieve information (like “suggest something to watch”) or control playback. But to what extent you can truly abandon the remote control in favor of voice commands will come down to which device you want to play your media on.
For example, on Android devices, like the Nvidia Shield, Plex can be launched and controlled when the app is running in the background. But on other devices, like Roku, the Plex app will need to already be open.
The setup process’ difficulty will also vary. Sometimes it will already be configured for you, or the automatic configuration will work, the company explains in its online documentation. But other times, users will have to get a bit more technical – such as by manually forwarding a port in their router.
Plex says that even if you can’t get Remote Access fully functional, it can still make voice control work via its Relay feature, but this won’t be the best experience.
Once everything is set up, the final step is to enable the Plex Skill in the Alexa web app. Here, you’ll also have to authenticate with your Plex account via your username and password.
Then, you’ll need to tell Alexa which Plex Media Server to use by default before you can start asking her to play movies and other content. This is done via the command “Ask Plex to change my default server,” which will return a list of devices for you to choose from. (If there’s just the one, Alexa will recognize that and will set it as the default for you.)
While not overly difficult for anyone who’s not technically illiterate, the setup does require more than the typical level of configuration. After all, most Alexa Skills can now just be turned on by voice, and then everything just works.
It also demonstrates the advantage of having a voice assistant built into the hardware and software all from the same company.
That’s why Alexa can do so much on Fire TV, for example. She can search shows, movies, actors, and genres, play the videos you want, rewind and fast forward, move in between episodes, and more. And she doesn’t just work with Amazon Video, but also with over 100 other streaming apps, like Netflix, Hulu, Vevo, HBO NOW, Showtime and others.
Siri on Apple TV works much in the same way, though with a smaller list of streaming apps.
And there’s not much setup involved there – voice control just ships with the box.
That said, Plex still has a loyal user base of 10 million, and is working to better integrate itself into cord cutters’ lives, as with this week’s acquisition of streaming news service Watchup. In time, it may introduce further voice control for its content, including one day, the extended features it plans to add through additions like streaming news and more.
In other Plex launches, technical users will be excited to learn that Webhooks support has also just been added for paying customers. This allows for things like home automation, Slack integration, Notifications, and more. You can nerd out on that feature here.