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Bitstreaming HD Audio, Dolby Atmos, Mac, Windows, Plex and Kodi

virtualrainvirtualrain Members Posts: 75 ✭✭

Hey all, digital audio for HT is a bit of a mess. I'm a long time user of Plex Sever and HT on a Mac Mini. As some of you may know, OS X simply does not support the bitstreaming of HD Audio like True HD or DTS-MA. While Plex can decode the audio itself and send it along in a PCM stream, this will ignore any meta-data and has no hope for Atmos support.

I understand Plex on Windows can bitstream HD Audio like TrueHD and DTS-MA. So, I'm considering switching to Windows.

I understand that Kodi can even bitstream Atmos TrueHD sound tracks as of about January.

I believe that's because FFmpeg started supporting it around then.

What are the requirements for Windows version, Hardware, etc. to do HD Audio bitstreaming?

Where is Plex for Windows at with respect to Atmos TrueHD support? Should I also be considering a switch to Kodi?

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Comments

  • the_shoethe_shoe Members, Plex Pass Posts: 27 Plex Pass

    You'll need a more recent Mac Mini (very recent) as the drivers provided by Apple as part of Bootcamp are repackaged drivers from the video card manufacturer. So determine what video chipset is in your mac mini, then check the manufacturers web site to see if they support the formats you need.

    I'm still surprised the Core Audio drivers in OSX don't support bit streaming, but that's Apple for you.

    I run Windows 7 on the latest version of the Mac Mini, but I still decode to LPCM since I'm feeding the input into my Oppo BDP-105 HDMI input. Unfortunately that input does not support HD audio formats but does support LPCM up to insane sample rates, channels, bit depths. Go figure. There's always something in the chain that lets me down. But the Oppo video/audio hardware is top notch and until I have the room primed for Dolby Atmos, the speakers, and the next upgrade (4K TV, next Oppo player), I'll be fine with LPCM.

    I've been considering a switch to Kodi simply because unlike Plex, Kodi on native OSX will put the audio output in exclusive mode and adjust it to match the source bit depth, sample rate, and channels. plex will not (on OSX) so I run it on windows.

  • virtualrainvirtualrain Members Posts: 75 ✭✭

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    If OS X is out of consideration, and baring any surprises with 10.11 it looks like that's the case, then hardware options open up a bit... could use a Mac Mini or a NUC. I'm inclined to keep my current 2012 Mac Mini with OS X as my Media Server, and just get a cheap NUC running Windows for playback.

    I think Kodi is probably in my future as well, since I want to be able to bitstream TrueHD with the Atmos stream intact and it looks like only Kodi can do that. Although I don't know if Kodi will like having my media on an OS X system. Need to look into that.

    I think I'm too bleeding edge for Apple and Plex.

  • the_shoethe_shoe Members, Plex Pass Posts: 27 Plex Pass

    NUC would work with the right hardware. Kodi should not care if media is on OSX. OSX can support SMB, AFP, and NFS for sharing drives (I mount from Ubuntu to Windows using SMB; same for when I mount the disks on OSX).

    Apple simply won't support HD audio codecs. Sucks. But then you'll note that no streaming service (that I am aware of) supports HD audio either. itunes quality blows compared to bluray and HD audio content.

    Plex media server is great; PHT on the other hand is falling woefully behind Kodi. But it still pretty damn good. Note Kodi 15.0 seems to have a lot of bugs. I'm waiting for at least 15.1 before I start messing with it on OSX again.

  • virtualrainvirtualrain Members Posts: 75 ✭✭

    Thanks again... the more I look into this, the more I think OpenELEC (Kodi+Linux) on a NUC is the ideal player.

  • virtualrainvirtualrain Members Posts: 75 ✭✭
    edited August 2015

    Never mind.

  • Dwain MDwain M Members, Plex Pass Posts: 344 Plex Pass

    Yes plex home theater is poor if you ask me. Most of the other apps are really good but not this one. Maybe it will be updated be updated again before 2020. I have never seen a software with such poor ui choices and I really wish using plex with kodi was nicer.

  • virtualrainvirtualrain Members Posts: 75 ✭✭
    edited August 2015

    The Plex devs have clearly prioritized server functionality and transcoding for playback on as many devices as possible, without focusing on making playback awesome on any platform for video/audiophiles. Plex is just trying to be too much. I never playback media on anything other than my home theater so most of the development Plex has been doing over the last several years is not advancing my viewing experience at all. At least Kodi is focused more on playback capabilities. And with Emby offering a solid server/transcoding product, it seems Plex is actually not the best at anything. You get a superior viewing/listenting experience with Kodi and the same or better media server capabilities with Emby. What's is Plex's differentiator?

    EDIT: can you tell my days with Plex are coming to an end? ;)

  • Dwain MDwain M Members, Plex Pass Posts: 344 Plex Pass

    I am in the same boat. I have Emby installed with the Kodi addon and that works perfect. Emby also supports Live TV. The differentiator is the mobile apps by Emby. Maybe in time they will become better at that.

  • tripplesixtytripplesixty Members, Plex Pass Posts: 78 Plex Pass
    edited August 2015

    Plex may not be as customizable as Kodi or have as many options and skins but it is a fully featured client. I'm running Ubuntu Linux 15.04 on a mac mini with PHT installed, it supports all HD codecs, bit accurate audio for all my music with little to setup headache. I even have my harmony smart hub & simple remote paired via bluetooth for super fast navigation (way better than IR).

    The simple thing is that you need know a little bit of the back story on how the audio engine in PLEX/Kodi is built (http://kodi.wiki/view/AudioEngine). To get HD audio working in PLEX you have to edit the plexhometheater.sh lanching script to include export AE_ENGINE=SOFT. This will configure plex to use ALSA and ignore PulseAudio (your desktop audio mixing daemon that does not allow HD codecs to be passed through). Once you have this set you can configure the correct audio sink for audio pass through. If you really want to get into it you can start messing around with ALSA configurations, creating custom upmixing, downmixing patterns for your home setup http://alsa.opensrc.org/Low-pass_filter_for_subwoofer_channel_(HOWTO)

    If you really care to look, go checkout the plex home theater github page which you can see has a number of commits for bug fixes over the past few months (https://github.com/plexinc/plex-home-theater-public). This is their public github so any new feature development will probably be done behind closed doors. We may see another merge of Kodi into PHT at some point as to pick up all the bug fix patches.

  • virtualrainvirtualrain Members Posts: 75 ✭✭
    edited August 2015

    @tripplesixty said:
    Plex may not be as customizable as Kodi or have as many options and skins but it is a fully featured client. I'm running Ubuntu Linux 15.04 on a mac mini with PHT installed, it supports all HD codecs, bit accurate audio for all my music with little to setup headache. I even have my harmony smart hub & simple remote paired via bluetooth for super fast navigation (way better than IR).

    The simple thing is that you need know a little bit of the back story on how the audio engine in PLEX/Kodi is built (http://kodi.wiki/view/AudioEngine). To get HD audio working in PLEX you have to edit the plexhometheater.sh lanching script to include export AE_ENGINE=SOFT. This will configure plex to use ALSA and ignore PulseAudio (your desktop audio mixing daemon that does not allow HD codecs to be passed through). Once you have this set you can configure the correct audio sink for audio pass through. If you really want to get into it you can start messing around with ALSA configurations, creating custom upmixing, downmixing patterns for your home setup http://alsa.opensrc.org/Low-pass_filter_for_subwoofer_channel_(HOWTO)

    If you really care to look, go checkout the plex home theater github page which you can see has a number of commits for bug fixes over the past few months (https://github.com/plexinc/plex-home-theater-public). This is their public github so any new feature development will probably be done behind closed doors. We may see another merge of Kodi into PHT at some point as to pick up all the bug fix patches.

    As far as I know, if you want Atmos support, PHT is out. It doesn't include the latest FFmpeg which supports Atmos. Kodi does support this. It took years for PHT to support HD audio, I expect it will me many more years before they support Atmos (and the upcoming DTS:X).

    Plex developer priority has never really been focused on offering the best playback experience on any given platform, it's been more about providing a lowest-common-denominator playback experience on as many platforms as possible with a focus on the media server.

    EDIT: Of course, it's ok for Plex to have these priorities, but it's important for those of us interested in the videophile experience, to recognize this and not invest in, or wait for Plex to get around to supporting things like Atmos. Life is too short. :)

  • tripplesixtytripplesixty Members, Plex Pass Posts: 78 Plex Pass

    Just so you understand, Kodi does not support decoding Atmos in the way you might think, neither does FFMpeg or LAV filters. The patches in FFMpeg are there so that the decoder doesn't break when it finds an MLP stream containing Atmos correction information. At best FFMpeg drops this information and pushes the core MLP stream to the decoder. There is the option for the decoder to keep the Atoms stream if in the future the decoder can actually do something with it. This is however not supported yet. Afaik bitstreaming of atmos should work now that the bugs were fixed in ffmpeg and subsequently LAV Filters.

    You can see the commits and comments on the FFMpeg mailing list here:
    https://ffmpeg.org/pipermail/ffmpeg-devel/2014-September/163189.html

    Also PHT had these patches applied in April 2015, when the original patches were only sent to the mailing list for the FFMepg-devel branch in late sep 2014. Thats a pretty good turnaround time if you ask me.

    Patches for PHT can be found here:
    https://github.com/plexinc/plex-home-theater-public/blob/77ee642c19554fb629bd84a2f85fd54602cdb574/lib/ffmpeg/patches/0036-mlpdec-support-major-sync-headers-with-optional-exte.patch
    https://github.com/plexinc/plex-home-theater-public/blob/77ee642c19554fb629bd84a2f85fd54602cdb574/lib/ffmpeg/patches/0037-mlpdec-support-TrueHD-streams-with-an-Atmos-substrea.patch

    What you need to understand before you spread miss information is that these codecs are getting more and more complex and are extremely proprietary, and in some cases intentionally obfuscated. The reference encoders are typically closed source, and hardware manufactures usually license a reference decoder design directly from Dolby or DTS. All that information is typically not shared with the public or made open source. The developers of FFMpeg, Kodi, plex etc are working their **** off to make sure this media plays fine at home. These patches were created after disassembling a reference encoder.

    "The changes for the first patch are derived from a disasm of a binary encoder."

    The other major problem that extends to all platforms is that adoption rate is low and slow moving. While THD and DTS-HD MA have become more popular over the past few years due to wider hardware support, Atmos is making almost no headway. Not only does it require a very newer receiver / pre-processor but it requires up or down-firing speakers, which are rare and expensive. I'm betting I can count on my hand the number of plex users who have a true "Atmos Ready" sound system that's in a room that is acoustically designed for it. And for those people who are truly Atmos Ready, im sure their home theater is in the price range where they can afford to buy the bluray player/receiver to go along with the few Atmos movies they actually care to watch.

    None the less DTS X and Atmos provided a very slim marginal increase in sound quality at best, while they significantly increase the complexity to decode/stream. In an ideal world, yes I'd love to see the Atmos/DTS X symbol light up on my pre processor. In reality does it make a difference? Probably not in 99% of home theaters. I'm just happy that I can have 7.1 channel 24 bit lossless audio bit streamed to my receiver all with free software!

  • virtualrainvirtualrain Members Posts: 75 ✭✭

    @tripplesixty said:
    Just so you understand, Kodi does not support decoding Atmos in the way you might think, neither does FFMpeg or LAV filters. The patches in FFMpeg are there so that the decoder doesn't break when it finds an MLP stream containing Atmos correction information. At best FFMpeg drops this information and pushes the core MLP stream to the decoder. There is the option for the decoder to keep the Atoms stream if in the future the decoder can actually do something with it. This is however not supported yet. Afaik bitstreaming of atmos should work now that the bugs were fixed in ffmpeg and subsequently LAV Filters.

    You can see the commits and comments on the FFMpeg mailing list here:
    https://ffmpeg.org/pipermail/ffmpeg-devel/2014-September/163189.html

    Also PHT had these patches applied in April 2015, when the original patches were only sent to the mailing list for the FFMepg-devel branch in late sep 2014. Thats a pretty good turnaround time if you ask me.

    Patches for PHT can be found here:
    https://github.com/plexinc/plex-home-theater-public/blob/77ee642c19554fb629bd84a2f85fd54602cdb574/lib/ffmpeg/patches/0036-mlpdec-support-major-sync-headers-with-optional-exte.patch
    https://github.com/plexinc/plex-home-theater-public/blob/77ee642c19554fb629bd84a2f85fd54602cdb574/lib/ffmpeg/patches/0037-mlpdec-support-TrueHD-streams-with-an-Atmos-substrea.patch

    So does Plex support bit-streaming of Atmos enabled True-HD? If so, that's huge and I don't need to switch to Kodi... but I've not heard of anyone getting it to work.

    What you need to understand before you spread miss information is that these codecs are getting more and more complex and are extremely proprietary, and in some cases intentionally obfuscated. The reference encoders are typically closed source, and hardware manufactures usually license a reference decoder design directly from Dolby or DTS. All that information is typically not shared with the public or made open source. The developers of FFMpeg, Kodi, plex etc are working their **** off to make sure this media plays fine at home. These patches were created after disassembling a reference encoder.

    Absolutely true. No argument there. Hat's off to FFMpeg and Kodi for pushing the boundaries and keeping up with the latest-and-greatest state-of-the-art. Plex deserves a lot of credit for many different things, but IMHO staying on the bleeding-edge of playback is not one of them.

    I don't know how long I waited for Plex to support changing the display refresh rate to match the content FPS... it was long after XBMC had implemented this feature... one which was critical to a good viewing experience.

    None the less DTS X and Atmos provided a very slim marginal increase in sound quality at best, while they significantly increase the complexity to decode/stream. In an ideal world, yes I'd love to see the Atmos/DTS X symbol light up on my pre processor. In reality does it make a difference? Probably not in 99% of home theaters. I'm just happy that I can have 7.1 channel 24 bit lossless audio bit streamed to my receiver all with free software!

    I think this summarizes the Plex view of the world nicely. It's a wait-and-see, lowest common denominator type of thinking. XBMC and Kodi have always been a bit more bleeding edge.

    The home theater forums are buzzing with excitement over Atmos and DTS X and the impact on the experience is dramatic to many that have experienced it. In addition, Dolby's new up-mixer for 5.1 or 7.1 to including overhead speakers is apparently very compelling. I'm investing in ceiling speakers and an Atmos receiver... which is why I'm exploring my options for media playback.

  • tripplesixtytripplesixty Members, Plex Pass Posts: 78 Plex Pass

    @virtualrain said:
    So does Plex support bit-streaming of Atmos enabled True-HD? If so, that's huge and I don't need to switch to Kodi... but I've not heard of anyone getting it to work.

    AFAIK the correct patches are in place for it to work. Like I mentioned before you have to have the correct configuration setup with (on linux) ALSA, PulseAudio, the audio engine etc... But it can be done. I cannot test Atmos, my pre processor does not support it, so I can't say definitively.

    I don't know how long I waited for Plex to support changing the display refresh rate to match the content FPS... it was long after XBMC had implemented this feature... one which was critical to a good viewing experience.

    I've gone back and forth with this for a while. I've asked about kodi merges a number of times and yes it frustrates me that I get the same answer "itll happen when it happens". Plex does take its sweet time with pulling and features and fixes, but that's just the way its going to be until they grow in a size as a company.

    I have a few core criteria for a media center. Accurate frame rate, audio bitstreaming, working remote etc, and it's something that Kodi seems to embrace a little more than Plex does. Many of the plex clients just won't work for me in a home theater. I wont accept a solution that does not bit stream, I feel your pain, I really do. However I finally feel like we've reached a point now where PHT really meets 99% of needs of power user. There are a few corner cases like you've mentioned that may not be covered but some of the pros of Plex Home Server outweigh these few negatives in PHT.

    I haven't used emby so I can't speak to it at all. I like the idea that its open sourced but in the end I use the transcoding streaming enough remotely and have enough friends streaming from my rig that it's not worth switching. I'm happy with the most recent release of PHT and it seems to meet all my audio/videophile checkboxes.

  • virtualrainvirtualrain Members Posts: 75 ✭✭

    Perhaps I'll give Plex a try but I'm not Lunix guru and don't have a lot of time to fuss around. The perfect player for me may be Kodi with Linux integrated in a single package: OpenELEC. It may be close to "it just works".

  • tripplesixtytripplesixty Members, Plex Pass Posts: 78 Plex Pass

    OpenELEC is a good choice for set it and forget it... linux because of its nature does not always lend itself to easy one click installations. I had a good experience when I tried out OpenElec with plex. I'm comfortable with linux and that's what I use so thats why I've mentioned it above. I really cannot comment on PHT for windows or mac because I simply haven't tried them.

  • virtualrainvirtualrain Members Posts: 75 ✭✭
    edited September 2015

    Update... I'm still running Plex Server on my 2012 Mac Mini, but I recently got another Mac Mini... This one as a 2014 base Haswell refurb. I installed OpenELEC with Kodi on it... Pretty straight-forward and then installed the PlexBMC plugin so Kodi can access the Plex media store, and all seems good.

    Kodi is bitstreaming HD Audio, including Atmos out of the box!

    I'll report more when I've had more time with it.

    Ps. I'd still love to be using Plex Home Theater, but not about to install Windows, and it seems that PHT on OpenELEC has issues with 24fps and HD Audio...So sad. Wish the Plex guys could get their player issues sorted. :(

  • virtualrainvirtualrain Members Posts: 75 ✭✭

    Another update...

    So far, Kodi with PlexBMC is working very well. No complaints.

    In fact, another advantage I've discovered with Kodi is the ability to set the player to work with video levels (16-235) which means no more clipping of blacker than black and whiter than white and smoother gradients.

    Overall, the player in Kodi seems to be better in many ways than PHT. I strongly encourage folks interested in maximum audio and video quality to check it out. And with PlexBMC you can keep using Plex for your server!

  • pottypotsworthpottypotsworth Members, Plex Pass Posts: 123 Plex Pass

    Hi all,

    I've just purchased a Marantz SR5010 which supports Atmos, I have been trying to play around with some 7.1 Atmos movies that I have on Plex through my Macbook but the receiver doesn't display that it has received an Atmos signal. Am I reading correctly that this is due to a failure in OSX itself and no matter what i do it will never get the Atmos signal?

    I also tried with Kodi, and all the receiver picks up from that is a PCM signal, again on OSX.

    Thanks

  • virtualrainvirtualrain Members Posts: 75 ✭✭

    OS X doesn't support bitstreaming HD Audio regardless of player software. Plex HT also doesn't support HD Audio bitstreaming. Switch to OpenElec (Kodi on Linux) and you'll have full bitstreaming including Atmos.

  • pottypotsworthpottypotsworth Members, Plex Pass Posts: 123 Plex Pass
    edited October 2015

    @virtualrain said:
    OS X doesn't support bitstreaming HD Audio regardless of player software. Plex HT also doesn't support HD Audio bitstreaming. Switch to OpenElec (Kodi on Linux) and you'll have full bitstreaming including Atmos.

    Thanks for the reply, so just that i am clear...

    1) No matter what Plex do in the future, the PHT client on OSX will never support Atmos because of limitation in the operating system?
    2) I am not opposed to installing Linux on the Mini, but I have never done it before, can it be dual booted? Do you have a recommendation on the distro that should be used? I have a Mid 2011 Mac Mini.

    Edit: Just read this guide - http://www.howtogeek.com/187410/how-to-install-and-dual-boot-linux-on-a-mac/ - so just wondering what is the best Linux distro to use before I go ahead and try it.

    Thanks again.

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