It’s been a LONG time (in Android years) and many of you have been VERY patient. I myself have been chewing on my lip, biting my nails (sometimes other people’s nails) and squirming in my seat in anticipation for this release. But now, just in time for the holidays – we are proud to announce version 2.0 of Plex for Android. This is a major release – packed with wholesome goodness that we think you’ll agree makes your Android devices even awesome than they already are.
And the crowd roars!!
Now… where to start? Despite all that’s in this release… THAT decision is easy…
By now you’ve probably heard of myPlex. If not – you need to run, not walk, to see what all the fuss is about. It changes everything. This release of Plex for Android brings you a fully featured myPlex experience. One of the things you’ll notice when you first browse on the new version of Plex is the new Home page. Here you can get to your Media Library, any Shared Libraries you may have, Recently Used Channels, your Queue and Recently Added items. These are all in nice new Horizontal Scrolling lists.
Many of our most ardent fans (and critics) have noted that Plex for Android doesn’t quite have all the features that our iOS app has. Now – truth be told – iOS and Android are a bit different BUT we’ve been working very hard to catch up with the iOS feature set (hey they had a strong head-start). We’re happy to say that as of this release we are at feature parity with iOS.
Here’s a rundown of the features you’ve been waiting for:
Is accessible on the home page by tapping the magnifying glass, opening the options menu or by hitting the search button. Search allows you to quickly find both online and library content.
Huh? Yes I can see those blank stares… “Stream Selection” is what we tech weenies at Plex call it, but you know it better as Subtitle Support and Audio Track Selection.
Yes, yes – I know many have been waiting quite some time for this one – especially that Anime crowd out there… You will find two new spinners in the details panel for videos. Simply tap the spinners to change the subtitle or audio settings and you’re off to the races.
Improved Direct Play
For those that have been paying attention – direct play – playing your media over the network directly to your device without transcoding – has been around for a while. We implemented Direct Play on Android a while back but it was a bit hard to get anything much to actually Direct Play on Android – which was lame. There have been improvements on both the client and server sides. Now that Direct Play on Android has been de-lameified – much, much more will play without transcode assuming your quality settings are set high enough to play the media items and that the media is supported by your android device.
NOW – for anyone keeping track – there are 695 devices Plex for Android runs on as of this writing – we’re certain that the media capabilities aren’t 100% correct for all devices. SO – if you think you know better than Plex that some of your media is Direct Playable on your device – you can opt to be given the “Choice of Direct Play” just before you play videos. This will cause Plex to Direct Play even if Plex for Android doesn’t think the stars are properly aligned (i.e. the codecs or containers don’t appear to be supported or the bitrates too high for the current quality/network conditions).
For those who are really brave – you can just have Plex always try to Direct Play your media by selecting “Force Direct Play”. Be warned – this is much like ‘going commando’ since Plex will always try to Direct Play – even if your bandwidth limitations seem to indicate that it is not possible to play your media… so if you find yourself getting pauses in your video (e.g. when you’re on 3G) – avoid using Force Direct Play.
Just remember – with great power comes great responsibility…
Direct Play is not always your friend
For all this talk of Direct Play – just keep in mind – when your device cannot handle a piece of media due to codec, container or bandwidth limitations transcoding is the way to go. Plex makes use of Http Live Streaming (HLS) for this purpose.
Plex takes an educated guess as to whether your device supports HLS natively – generally if your device has Honeycomb or beyond installed HLS is natively supported, otherwise it is not. If your device doesn’t support HLS that’s okay because Plex will automatically fall back to using the Secondary Player to play transcoded media.
Now, some vendors have cleverly enhanced the media subsystems on their devices. We for example were quite surprised to learn that Samsung modified the stock media subsystem on their S2 models and support HLS natively even though they aren’t Honeycomb devices. Many S2 users were out of luck for the couple weeks it took us to get hold of an S2 device and figure out what was going on. Wouldn’t it have been cool if you could just tell Plex that your device supports HLS? Well now you can!
On the other hand – some folks use mods to upgrade their tablets to Honeycomb for example and for that matter some devices just have unstable native HLS playback. If you’re experiencing video problems when Plex is transcoding – try turning this option off so that Plex will use the secondary player rather than the device’s HLS. We do exactly this for a ViewSonic G-Tablet that one of our guys has put a Honeycomb mod on…
Note that when you make changes to this setting you should temporarily set ‘Direct Play’ to ‘Disable’ so that when you play videos you know for sure that it’s being transcoded.
Improved Fallback Logic – with the improvements to direct play and better information about device capabilities – we’ve also solidified our fallback logic. When something fails to direct play – Plex will automatically attempt to use the secondary player. Those who’ve toyed with Advanced Settings in the past will note as well that we no longer have the “Media Player” setting. Plex will always try the System Player that comes WITH your device first and then choose a secondary player.
Here you have two options on most devices: Plex Player and Plex OpenGL Player (previously known as the “Alternate Player”). On devices with later versions of Android generally Plex will choose the Plex OpenGL Player. Note that this isn’t always the better choice – so if you’re running into trouble try playing with this setting. Lastly note that older devices didn’t have the support for necessary for the OpenGL player – so don’t panic when you don’t see it listed for those platforms.
Lights Out Mode – there’s a crowd of Tablet users out there that pointed out from the start that we don’t have lights out mode for playing video. You may no longer say that… note the lack of soft buttons below.
Improved Connection Logic – In addition to the huge connection improvements that myPlex brings – we’ve done a major overhaul of the connectivity logic in Plex. Past releases would run into troubles switching between networks and sometimes you’d have to go into Advanced Settings to ‘Flush Cache’ to get things working again. These acrobatics should no longer be necessary. It just works.
There are many more fixes in this release and no doubt some new issues as well. We trust that you will visit our forums to let us know as you find them!
To keep informed on the latest Plex news follow us on Twitter or Facebook. Or tune in to one of our blogs elan.plexapp.com for a wide array of Plex information or darrin.plexapp.com for mostly Android updates.