[Alexa] Update on Playback Issues

alexa
voice-control

#1

UPDATE: 6/27/2018

We’ve released many patches since this was written to address various playback failures and scenarios. If you’re continuing to have issues please open a new thread. I’ll be closing this thread in a few weeks.


I wanted to take a moment to talk about some of the ongoing playback issues that we’re seeing in production and provide some updates on what we’re doing internally to address these issues. We’re actively working on two issues that are causing the majority of failures we’re seeing today.

Audio Streams abruptly stop.

This happens when Alexa aggressively buffers the HLS segments and then goes silent for awhile. A standard Plex client would send heartbeats to PMS to keep the session alive. We’re unable to query the Alexa player to get the required information. This means PMS eventually kills the transcode session because it times out. Internally we’re experimenting with sending adhoc heartbeats to your PMS while media is streaming to keep the transcode session alive. We’re anticipating this will be the first fix and will likely ship soon.

NAT Loopback.

This is a challenging issue because of how Alexa Voice Service interacts with your media server. In short your echo device only ever directly hits your server when it attempts to load a media stream. This is why all of the other features of the skill generally work when media playback fails. We don’t have enough information to know if your PMS is local to your echo device so today we just send the remote access address to your device. Internally we’re investigating ways to infer whether or not your echo device shares a network with your media server so we can intelligently support local and remote access connections. We don’t currently have an ETA on when this might be shipped but we’re seeing promising results internally with the experiments we’ve conducted.

1/30/2018

We shipped an update that will now send timelines on a regular schedule to the PMS playing media. This should result in tracks no longer ending prematurely.


#2

Thank you for the update… good to know, that work under the hood is done… now, if I could only use Plex via Echo devices at all… (German-based user)…


#3

@vanstinator said:
I wanted to take a moment to talk about some of the ongoing playback issues that we’re seeing in production and provide some updates on what we’re doing internally to address these issues. We’re actively working on two issues that are causing the majority of failures we’re seeing today.

#####Audio Streams abruptly stop.
This happens when Alexa aggressively buffers the HLS segments and then goes silent for awhile. A standard Plex client would send heartbeats to PMS to keep the session alive. We’re unable to query the Alexa player to get the required information. This means PMS eventually kills the transcode session because it times out. Internally we’re experimenting with sending adhoc heartbeats to your PMS while media is streaming to keep the transcode session alive. We’re anticipating this will be the first fix and will likely ship soon.

#####NAT Loopback.
This is a challenging issue because of how Alexa Voice Service interacts with your media server. In short your echo device only ever directly hits your server when it attempts to load a media stream. This is why all of the other features of the skill generally work when media playback fails. We don’t have enough information to know if your PMS is local to your echo device so today we just send the remote access address to your device. Internally we’re investigating ways to infer whether or not your echo device shares a network with your media server so we can intelligently support local and remote access connections. We don’t currently have an ETA on when this might be shipped but we’re seeing promising results internally with the experiments we’ve conducted.

You guys should just look into acquiring My Media for Alexa…might be the quickest way to keep people from looking elsewhere for their needs.


#4

@randalstroup said:

You guys should just look into acquiring My Media for Alexa…might be the quickest way to keep people from looking elsewhere for their needs.

Except it only works on these windows systems: Windows 8, Windows 10, Windows Server 2012 R2, Windows Server 2016, Windows Server Essentials 2012, Windows Server Essentials 2016 and not Win 7 or Server 2008R2


#5

I believe My Media also requires a local server too. Our situation is quite a bit more complex.


#6

@Sland12s said:

@randalstroup said:

You guys should just look into acquiring My Media for Alexa…might be the quickest way to keep people from looking elsewhere for their needs.

Except it only works on these windows systems: Windows 8, Windows 10, Windows Server 2012 R2, Windows Server 2016, Windows Server Essentials 2012, Windows Server Essentials 2016 and not Win 7 or Server 2008R2

“Only” you say? lol…AT LEAST IT WORKS…In any case, assuming this is true, I’m sure the Plex braintrust could find a way to extend its compatibility.


#7

@vanstinator said:
I believe My Media also requires a local server too. Our situation is quite a bit more complex.

Yes, it does require a server…I’m not sure what you’re implying, it seems to be a similar product to Plex’s. While I concede your software/code is very likely quite a bit more complex and generally quite useful and powerful, and I certainly don’t understand the complexities of it all, my point is that the very negative reviews and copious frustrations being voiced by your customers do not look good. Clearly, people are struggling with integrating your product with their evolving media needs/demands, which is not good for business. I was simply suggesting a potential work-around that might be a band-aid, perhaps temporary, for the current blood-letting. Perhaps taking a step back for the sake of “simplicity” and functionality isn’t a terrible idea.

Has there been much progress this week? Any ETA for a new rollout?


#8

@vanstinator said:
I wanted to take a moment to talk about some of the ongoing playback issues that we’re seeing in production and provide some updates on what we’re doing internally to address these issues. We’re actively working on two issues that are causing the majority of failures we’re seeing today.

#####Audio Streams abruptly stop.
This happens when Alexa aggressively buffers the HLS segments and then goes silent for awhile. A standard Plex client would send heartbeats to PMS to keep the session alive. We’re unable to query the Alexa player to get the required information. This means PMS eventually kills the transcode session because it times out. Internally we’re experimenting with sending adhoc heartbeats to your PMS while media is streaming to keep the transcode session alive. We’re anticipating this will be the first fix and will likely ship soon.

#####NAT Loopback.
This is a challenging issue because of how Alexa Voice Service interacts with your media server. In short your echo device only ever directly hits your server when it attempts to load a media stream. This is why all of the other features of the skill generally work when media playback fails. We don’t have enough information to know if your PMS is local to your echo device so today we just send the remote access address to your device. Internally we’re investigating ways to infer whether or not your echo device shares a network with your media server so we can intelligently support local and remote access connections. We don’t currently have an ETA on when this might be shipped but we’re seeing promising results internally with the experiments we’ve conducted.

Any progress?


#9

I’ve wrapped up the patch for transcode failures and anticipate that ships quite soon. NAT issues is more delicate as we don’t want to make the experience worse than it is today. We’ve internally landed on a direction to make this better though and development is currently underway. I expect the first NAT related changes to be mostly silent as we’re going to deploy in pieces to monitor our error logging and ensure we’re moving in a positive direction.


#10

Will this also fix the issue for Direct Streaming for MP3s? I’m not sure if this falls under transcoding although the problem maybe the same - Plex Server killing the session.

Will you be announcing the update when it is issued rather than just letting Alexa update automatically. An announcement would be useful so that we know the issue should be resolved.


#11

@vanstinator said:
I’ve wrapped up the patch for transcode failures and anticipate that ships quite soon. NAT issues is more delicate as we don’t want to make the experience worse than it is today. We’ve internally landed on a direction to make this better though and development is currently underway. I expect the first NAT related changes to be mostly silent as we’re going to deploy in pieces to monitor our error logging and ensure we’re moving in a positive direction.

Thank you.


#12

@Geoff555 said:
Will this also fix the issue for Direct Streaming for MP3s? I’m not sure if this falls under transcoding although the problem maybe the same - Plex Server killing the session.

We silently enabled Direct Play for a few formats before Christmas. MP3s up to 320kbps should be included in that.

Will you be announcing the update when it is issued rather than just letting Alexa update automatically. An announcement would be useful so that we know the issue should be resolved.

Other than the aforementioned silent update we’ve been posting in the standard Releases group. I’m planning on doing that with future patches as well. Only reason we didn’t with Direct Play was we weren’t committed to keeping it in production at the time. We were gathering failure data after launch to see if it helped (it did).


#13

@vanstinator said:

@Geoff555 said:
Will this also fix the issue for Direct Streaming for MP3s? I’m not sure if this falls under transcoding although the problem maybe the same - Plex Server killing the session.

We silently enabled Direct Play for a few formats before Christmas. MP3s up to 320kbps should be included in that.

Thanks for the update.

Still not sure though if the fix that you are issuing soon will resolve the issue of play stopping when the MP3 is played via a Direct Stream? I would say 99% of my Direct Streams fail and all my Direct Plays play without a problem.

In order to fix this I have been converting the tracks/albums that were directly streamed into ones that would Play Direct. I’m hoping the fix will mean I can stop having to do this.


#14

Can you get me the XML of a file you’re having to convert? In theory DS shouldn’t ever be happening anymore. But the timeline fix will likely help you here. What’s probably happening is the transcode session is dying out while you’re listening.


#15

@vanstinator said:
Can you get me the XML of a file you’re having to convert? In theory DS shouldn’t ever be happening anymore. But the timeline fix will likely help you here. What’s probably happening is the transcode session is dying out while you’re listening.

I have attached 2 XML Files for 2 tracks from one album that required Alexa to Direct Stream. Both tracks failed during playback. I have also attached a screen shot of Plexpy showing these two tracks and you can see the “camera” icon for these two tracks - indicating a direct stream.

I have now “converted” these tracks and now they play by Direct Play. I think it may have something to do with the DC Offset on mp3’s which cause this to happen.


#16

Thanks. I’ll take a look and see why those are direct streaming. I can also say the timeline fix will be out very very soon. I’ll be testing it heavily this weekend in our staging environment. If all looks good it should be live soon after.


#17

Hi,

I am a new Plex pass user. It is my first post but maybe will help some people to recover frustrating Plex-Alexa.
After a few days struggling, I was finally able to recover Alexa + Plex working on Qnap (intel).

  1. uninstalled the newest version and installed the older version of Plex (Version 1.10.0.4523) from Qnap AppStore
    (the newest version broked Alexa functionality). After removing the app I have rebooted the system and rebooted again after installing the older version of an application.
  2. setup NAT on the router/modem (either DMZ or for me worked also NAT port forwarding. Might also work UPNP enabling then the router will open ports needed?
  3. setup locally some library to play.
  4. it is important to not use any VPN or other logical interfaces. When I had the connection through virtual switch enabled on NAS it also broked functionality of playing through Alexa ECHO!
  5. then enabled remote access in Plex and check if it is working green and no errors.
  6. then checked if it is working remotely using the mobile phone or better PC from the Internet using plex app.
  7. then disabled and enabled again Alexa skill. I authenticated using email not google/facebook since I also got some errors once I did google Single sign-on authentification some error about, not web application is not permitted by Google? Not sure if that helped too?
  8. Then my audio started works again on Alexa ECHO :slight_smile:

anyway upgrading to the newest version destroying setup!!

for the German-speaking. For using my native language I have used workaround solution, modifying titles of audiobooks to English name and using the command for Alexa: " ask plex to play .
That helped me to listen to my local audiobooks.

open questions:

  1. can you advice how is possible for Plex to remember the place where I finished listening to the audiobook? So I could continue from that place after resume? Is installing tract a solution?
  2. majority of my unofficial plugins (podcast, etc) not working? What is a good repository for that?
    I have installed WebTools.bundle from https://github.com/ukdtom/WTInstaller/releases/tag/1.2
  3. is it possible to use tvheadend as a TV server instead of HDHomerun?

Thank you.
BR,
Tomasz


#18

A release is deploying to the cluster right now that will address the timeline/transcode dying issue.


#19

I have just tested this, and I am getting the same mid-track playback stopping issues when transcoding flac on my Echo Gen 2.


#20

Can you upload a PMS log dump please? If PMS is killing transcode sessions while receiving timeline events there’s probably something else going on now.