How to setup Plex (and XBMC) for Surround Sound Audio

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Plex is probably the best app to easily stream media from your computer to the Amazon Fire TV. However, the app does have one major flaw. Currently, the video player built into the Plex app can only play surround sound from mp4 files with Dolby Digital (DD) 5.1 audio. It can’t play DD audio from mkv files and can’t play DTS audio at all. In this guide, we’ll show you how to setup Plex (and XBMC) to play surround sound audio from any file format.

In order to get surround sound audio from your Plex media, you need to setup Plex to use an external player. The player built into Plex is incapable of playing surround sound on the Fire TV. In this guide we’ll show you how to setup and use XBMC as a Plex external player, You don’t have to use XBMC, as any surround sound capable Android media player app will work. If you’re just interested in configuring XBMC correctly for surround sound, you can follow the first and third portions of this guide.

Before we get started, you should know that using an external player with Plex means Plex will be unable to track your file position or watch history. If these are important features for you, you can use Serenity for Android which is capable of syncing your Plex playback state while still using an external player.

First, Configure your Fire TV for Surround Sound…

  1. From the home screen, Scroll down to the “Settings” menu
    firetvscreenshot_20140712-190500
  2. Scroll right to “DISPLAY AND SOUNDS”
    (The menus may be slightly different for you depending on whether your Fire TV has received the latest software update)
    firetvscreenshot_20140712-190631
  3. Press select and scroll down to “Audio”
    firetvscreenshot_20140712-190847
  4. Press select and scroll down to “Dolby Digital Output”
    firetvscreenshot_20140712-190958
  5. Press select and enable one of the three options that correlates with how your Fire TV is connected to you audio receiver
    – “Dolby Digital Plus Automatic”
    – “Dolby Digital Plus over HDMI”
    – “Dolby Digital over Optical”
    firetvscreenshot_20140712-191240

 

Second, Configure Plex to use an External Player…

  1. Load Plex and select “Options” form the left side menu
    firetvscreenshot_20140712-180445
  2. Select “Settings” form the pop up menu
    firetvscreenshot_20140712-180455
  3. Scroll down and select “Device media profile”
    firetvscreenshot_20140712-180504
  4. Check off all of the 3 audio formats that your audio receiver supports. Then select “Media profile”
    firetvscreenshot_20140712-180518
  5. Select “External Player” from the popup menu
    firetvscreenshot_20140712-180524
  6. Select “YES” acknowledge that you’re fine with losing the ability to track watched status
    firetvscreenshot_20140712-180534

 

Third, Install and Configure XBMC for Surround Sound…

  1. If you don’t have XBMC installed, download and sideload it onto your Fire TV
    (Download the Android ARM version APK file, and use this guide to sideload it.)
  2. Launch XBMC from: Settings > APPLICATIONS > Manage All Installed Applications
    firetvscreenshot_20140712-192837
  3. In XBMC, scroll right and select “SYSTEM”
    firetvscreenshot_20140712-183706
  4. Scroll down and select “System”
    firetvscreenshot_20140712-183714
  5. Scroll down change the “Settings level” to “Advnaced”
    firetvscreenshot_20140712-183848
  6. Scroll up and select “Audio output”
    firetvscreenshot_20140712-183837
  7. Set “Number of channels” to match the number of speakers you have
  8. Set “Enable passthrough” (a blue circle means it is enabled)
  9. Enable Dolby Digital if your audio receivers is capable
  10. Enable DTS if your audio receiver is capable

 

Lastly, Play a Video in Plex…

  1. Launch Plex and start a video as you normally do
  2. Select XBMC in the “Play with…” popup
    firetvscreenshot_20140712-180607
  3. XBMC will automatically launch and begin playing your video.

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29 comments
  1. elmerohueso says:

    Or, skip needing 2 apps and just use XBMC with the PleXBMC addon.

  2. Fredrik Svedberg says:

    Wgat about subtitles. In my setup in plex i got so plex automcally selects swedish subtitles named as:
    movietitle.mkv
    movietitle.se.mkv
    So plex automaticly loads subs and show them. But with this solution xbmc player doent care about my local subs..
    And tha subtitle plugins in xbmc is a MESS.
    Any tips about that?

  3. Brian says:

    In my xmbc settings, i do not have options for advanced settings. when i go to audio output, the # of channels is grayed out and locked. how can i access this? I have set the other options described.

    I followed other instructions for setting up plex for external player, now when i play video i only hear the audio, i do not have any video coming through. any help with this issue would be appreciated.

  4. Man of La Mancha says:

    Doesn’t work. XBMC might say it’s outputting DTS or 5.1 or whatever else, but according to my receiver it’s only getting a 2.0 stream from the Fire TV, even when configured correctly.

    I’m pretty sure it’s not pushing what you think it’s pushing.

    • Man of La Mancha says:

      Correction: got it to work by going into the individual video’s playback audio settings and disabling then re-enabling direct.

      • Vik says:

        Man of La Mancha- can you explain what you mean by “going into the individual video’s playback audio settings and disabling then re-enabling direct”?

        I have the exact initial proble, you had, but nothing I’ve tried fixes it. If you mean disabling and re-enabling passthrough for the individual video playing, that didn’t work either.

  5. Man of La Mancha says:

    Now, is there a way to make it always default to using Plex for playback, instead of it asking every time?

    • Nix says:

      Skip all that. Set the photo viewer as the default External Player for Plex. You’ll be happier that way. It works way better than XBMC.

      • DaddyR says:

        I have the same problem as Man of la Mancha first had: xbmc recognises a file has DD5.1 or DTS but sound is only reaching my amp from the FireTV in 2.0. so it isn’t pushing what it thinks it should.

        What I can’t work out how to do is “going into the individual video’s playback audio settings and disabling then re-enabling direct.”

        How do I do this? I can use the FireTV remote or the Android remote app, whichever is easier.

  6. Sizix says:

    After trying this method, I am still running into an issue where, XBMC buffers to 1% then says the cache is full. Plays the video for about 30 seconds and then just ends playback. Is there any solution to this problem? I could not find any solutions for the Cache issue. Any help is appreciated

    • Nix says:

      The solution to the XBMC cache problem is to NOT use XBMC, because it’s a storage hog.

      As I detailed above, the built-in Amazon Video Player (labeled in Plex as a photo viewer) will do the job without needing to sideload anything at all. I highly recommend you do a factory restore on your AFTV, get XBMC and all its junk out of the storage, and then go with this method instead.

      Plex handles all the video library stuff, and the AFTV’s built-in video player handles the actual playback. It’s simple.

  7. TDVo says:

    I have XBMC zip file on USB
    The question is how to load this zip file to XBMC? B/c USB on AFT do not accept the zip file on my USB

  8. Nix says:

    I have a MUCH better solution.

    XBMC uses up a lot of space on the AFTV. It stores cache files, and it runs pretty clunky sometimes. It’s really not the best choice as an external player for Plex.

    INSTEAD, choose “External Player” but then pick the Amazon Fire TV’s built-in video player, which is labeled as a PHOTO VIEWER.

    It’s faster, doesn’t require sideloading anything, and doesn’t muck up the limited AFTV storage with junk files like XBMC does.

    I highly recommend you DO NOT install XBMC on the AFTV until the AFTV plays nice with external storage. You only get about 5GB to work with after the thing does firmware updates, and you really don’t want to gum it up with worthless XBMC files and updates. The built-in video player for the AFTV is more than capable of handling the job.

    • bjoern says:

      Hi Nix, i have the same question as JMC: does the “photo viewer”-solution the trick to play DTS or DD from an mkv-file? Because THAT is the real problem here!

      Nearly 90% of my files have DTS-audio – the rest has a DD-stream. I don’t want to convert my files in mp4 and i don’t want to loose DTS (because it’s much greater sound than DD).

      I think i have to try it by myself, when i am at home – but it will be nice to hear from you about this topic.

      • Mark says:

        bjoen, how did it work out? was using the AFTV’s external “photo viewer” able to play all the files and was it recognized by your home theatre receiver?

  9. JMC says:

    Hey Nix

    Does your method support DTS Audio?

  10. johan says:

    Does the photo viewer solution make plex loose track of played/ continue watching?

  11. vtblue says:

    how can this be set up to return back to the plex app? The back button doesn’t seem to go back to plex even after repeated presses. Basic limitation seems to be that the user must click HOME, return to Plex to browse the library again. Very inefficient.

    • ymm says:

      To exit back to Plex from the kodi/xmbc player, you can hit pause, then back, which brings up the xbmc menu, then navigate down two clicks to the power button. I actually prefer to just hit home and go back to plex. Fyi that’s the xbmc favorites button next to the power button, a handy way to get straight into icefilms and such if you’re kodified.

  12. domerdel says:

    Since AFTV went to Fire OS 5 (running 5.0.5), the Plex app also updated and they removed the external player option entirely, so this guide may no longer be applicable. I’m running AFTV 1st gen.

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