Plex

Plex is an amazing tool to access your media content on all your devices, here's a quick beginners guide to getting up and running

Plex is one of those services that has been around for some time, but that many of us might have passed over for some reason. Be it a lack of understanding of what it actually does, thinking it couldn't possibly be useful to you or something else entirely. Truth is, Plex could be just what you're looking for to help you manage your media collection.

Sure, Google Play Music does a good job at managing your music, but what about everything else? What about your movies and photos on top? You just might want to take a look at Plex.

It's some time since we looked at it in detail and as a Plex noob, I've set it up from scratch to see how easy it is to get going and use the service. This is less a review and more a beginners guide. Let's take a look.

What is Plex?

The official Plex website describes quite well:

One window into all your personal media. No matter where you are.

Your personal media. Everything you own, everything you have on your computer, accessible everywhere. On your mobile devices, through the web, even on some smart TVs and set top boxes.

Setting up

Before you can use Plex to access your media on your other devices, you first need to set up your home server. This isn't nearly as daunting as it sounds — despite being a tech geek, such things still fill me with dread — and involves downloading the Plex Media Server app to your computer. It comes in flavors for Mac, Windows and Linux — Ubuntu, Fedora and CentOS — and in a form designed for NAS drives, so it covers the majority of bases.

Once installed getting set up is a simple matter of following instructions in the web client — all your Plex-ing on your computer will be done in a browser — to tell it where to look for your various media content. Since you're hosting the content yourself you'll need to make sure you can get to it at all times if you want to be streaming away from home. That means having it on a laptop you take with you probably isn't the best idea.

If you've got a supported NAS drive, a standalone desktop computer or even a spare Windows Box or Mac Mini or something to that effect lying around, these will be the best options to set up Plex on. Something you can leave turned on, connected to the web and most importantly, something you don't throw in a rucksack and take on the road with you.

When you're telling Plex where to find your media it's important to make sure that the files are named in a way the software will understand and stored in folder structure in the case of TV shows. For more on how to make sure your media is in the best condition for Plex, visit the link below.

Channels — content that isn't yours

Plex channels

Beyond just your own content, Plex has a bunch of different content channels built in for you to use within the various Plex apps across the platforms. Some of them, like BBC iPlayer, already have good standalone apps for Android and other platforms, but why do in many what you can do in one, right?

Like everything, though, Channels will be region dependent. So if you can't get BBC iPlayer on the web or in the Android app where you are, Plex won't be able to help. There's a good selection of stuff from global providers, though, such as the TWiT network, 5by5 and Revision 3.

The great thing about channels is that they're all available to watch in the mobile apps, too, and that also means you can cast them to your Chromecast and watch them on the TV that way.

The Android app

Plex for Android

And so we come to one of the more important parts of Plex: The Android app comes by way of two identical downloads from the Google Play Store, one paid, one free. The free download is for Plex Pass subscribers — more on that below — while the paid version is for anyone who just wants to host their stuff and get at it without anything Plex Pass has to offer. Aside from the difference between having Plex Pass and not having it, the two apps are identical.

Plex on Android isn't going to wow you with how it looks. But it's functional, and really that's the important part. You've got a series of panes to swipe through to get at your content as below:

  • Recommended: See recommendations from your Plex friends
  • Queue: Create your own continuous music or video stream
  • Recently added: Pulls in the most recent stuff you added to your Plex library so it's easy to find
  • On deck: A dynamically updating part of the app that combines recently added content and stuff that you're part way through enjoying. Plex bills it as trying to answer the question "What do I want to watch?"
  • My library: Pretty self explanatory, gives you the overview of everything you've got connected to Plex
  • Channels: Any channels you added in your Plex Media Manager will be displayed here for you to browse and watch content from
  • Shared libraries: You can share libraries with your friends and family and access them through this pane in the app

There are some other neat things in there, too. Chromecast support is one of them and it's taken care of just as in any other Android app. You tap the cast icon across the top and whatever you're watching or listening to will be sent to your TV. If you're happy to go digging around there's a bunch of more advanced features and settings, but that's for another post on another day.

So, what is Plex Pass?

Plex Pass

If you're finding that you like Plex and want to get the most out of it then Plex Pass is something you should consider. It's a paid add-on that you're given the option of paying for monthly, yearly or unlocking a lifetime subscription — for $3.99, $29.99 and $74.99 respectively.

Here's what it does, direct from the Plex support pages:

  • Early Access to new Plex features.
  • Access to preview release versions of the Plex Media Server and other Apps before they're released generally.
  • Enjoy an app on us. The latest Plex apps for Android and Roku are yours free.
  • Premium features like Plex Sync, Cloud Sync, and Camera Upload.
  • Access to dedicated Plex Pass forums where you can ask the Plex Ninjas questions as well as vote up new feature requests.
  • A way to show your direct support for Plex.
  • And more!

We're not short on photo back up services but with Plex you'll be combining it with the rest of your media collection and as such can access it on any device with a Plex app. It's also particularly worth paying out for if you ever want to offline your media and take it with you.

Sure, you could plug in, drag and drop on each of your devices for the same effect, but if you're running a media server at home it's a truly excellent way of managing what content you take with you on your mobile devices. Personally, $4 a month not to plug in is $4 well spent.

Other apps for Plex

Plex on iOS

One of the most awesome things about Plex is that it's a true multi-platform service. Just like you've got server applications for Mac, Windows and Linux there are also official mobile apps for iOS and Windows Phone, some Samsung and LG Smart TVs, the Amazon Fire TV the Roku set top box and even the Ouya – and Google TV, if you're still clinging to one of those.

It doesn't end there, either. If you're going all out and creating a Media PC to sit in your home theater set up, Plex has a dedicated app for that available for Mac, Windows and Linux, too. And, when Android TV devices start getting in peoples hands, the Plex Android app will support those, too. If you're rocking any of those devices, the link below has all the download links you'll need.

Your tips for beginners

So, that's just a quick guide to getting up and running with Plex. As a first time user I've really enjoyed putting it through its paces. It's so easy to get set up and with apps for most of the platforms you'd ever want them on it makes accessing a home media collection a breeze.

If you've got any handy hints for beginners (like myself) be sure to drop them into the comments below!

 

Reader comments

The beginner's guide to Plex

61 Comments

When is Plex going to start supporting cloud drives like WD Book Live?

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WD Book Live is a local drive that attaches to your router that you can access over the cloud. Plex still does not support WD drives. I'd rather use those 3 terabytes than my computers hard drive.

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Plex Supports External Drives, I have my Library on one 4g Seagate and a 3g WD and they all works well, it's actually time for another Drive (maybe next week)

Plex supports "Cloud Drives" for example "Google Drive" for "Cloud Syncing" with a PlexPass Subscription and it works just great, I have several TV Seasons and Movies synced with "Google Drive & Plex Cloud Sync".

Been a huge PLEX fan for some years now. Even better with chromecast support now. I share all my content with friends and family (who also have chromecast) and it works perfectly with no fuss. Regular updates and new features from the dev team. It's a no brainer if you have a large movie / TV show library.
Only small gripe is that the PMS needs a fairly meaty NAS if you wish to run it from there. Instead i run my PMS from my iMac which nevers really gets powered off anyway.

I have been aware of Plex for a while, and know that it has a loyal following. If I have forsaken my .mp3 hoarding ways and moved on to Spotify premium, and I cast all of my shows/movies from Showbox, does Plex offer some convenience that those two apps don't cover? Gotta make sure I'm not missing out on something.

On Android, go to a film -> untick use internal player under the "Download" and "Watch Now" buttons. Use LocalCast or AllCast to chromecast the media.

Personally I think Plex is a little inflexible given that it'll only talk to Plex. The on the fly transcoding is cool if you need it but I don't tend to keep media in obscure formats, and I really don't want to keep my PC running 24/7. Given that I have a netgear stora for media and ftp server purposes I really prefer bubble upnp or Avia.

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That depends on your players. DTS and Dolby Digital audio aren't obscure formats for movies. While there are apps on mobile devices that support decoding, you probably won't be able to cast to a Chromecast or play on a Roku with audio. Not sure if that applies to you, but it was definitely a factor when I decided to go with it.

Posted via the Android Central App

Nope, don't use Dolby or DTS. Like I say there's some nice features in Plex, it's just not very useful to me personally.

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I want to move away from Plex because they are a bit restrictive. I have a low wattage pc that have a Celeron J1900 which use 17watt/h. I have a 4TB drive in it running Plex server, but its not very fast at transcoding, usually wait 20-30sec for a movie to start and skipping within the video is a drag. I don't want to use too much power or fan noise to run my media server or shell out for an expensive NAS . Plex server at least allow DLNA streaming so I can use XBMC on my Android devices to stream from it. I really don't need the remote streaming function, but I still use Plex because of the library organization.

There is an alternative to Plex remote streaming which is Real Player Cloud, but its a little less robust.

I went with a Synology NAS. Very inexpensive when compared to PC. My NAS and plex works flawless. I started with a midrange PC, found the NAs to be much bettter for leaving up and running all the time.

Thanks for the info just added this to my list and moved it up to first place. "Synology America DiskStation 4-Bay Network Attached Storage (DS415play)"

Of course transcoding takes a long time with a celeron! If your read the support info on the web site, they give you recommendations for the type of processors to use if you will be doing a lot of transcoding.

Actually the Plex Media Server can function as a DLNA media server. So then any DLNA client can connect to the server.

The transcoding really shines when moving media between the server and clients on a external network, or devices that have compatibility issues. I love the fact no matter what I can always play my content on any device.

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Plex is a full-blown DLNA server also, so it doesn't just talk to Plex. Any DLNA client can access the content, it is just easier and prettier with Plex.

Plex has been incredible for me. Once I got familiar with the product and decided it was for me, I went all out and built a FreeNAS box that also hosts my PMS. It's been my all-in-one media solution for about a year now and I still get excited for all the updates they keep adding on. If you have a sizable media collection (movies, TV, photos) I think it's pretty much a no brainer solution.

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I love Plex. I happily paid for the premium subscription even though I don't use all of the features because I felt that what I use it for was worth that price.
Plex+Chromecast=No More Comcast!!

That Lifetime Pass was a no-brainer for me as well...Plex helped me cut the cable, and I can't tell you when was the last time I've watched regular TV...User - Smooth918

And now XMBC is "Kodi" (strange name). Unlike Plex, it is open source. Like Plex, it is multiplatform (Linux!) and feature packed. Last time I looked at it under Android was about a year ago and it seemed that it wasn't as mature as other platforms, but a lot can change in a year.

The platform doing pretty well now. I have XBMC installed on Fire TV, it's fantastic, super fast and plays everything I throw at it, even 1080p over wifi with zero buffering (as well as DTS audio). Can't complain at that really, zero transcoding.

+1 to what Ace said above. I have 2 FireTVs both on wifi, zero issues with XBMC. I had one issue where my daughter (9 year old)was in NetFlix watching a video, she dumped out of it, and started XBMC to watch another video, it started stuttering occasionally mostly it was running at ~20FPS. Seems to be a bug in FireTV though, not XBMC. It was trying to stream both and I assume just didn't have the CPU/GPU to process both. It hasn't done that again. I think Netflix did not close out properly or not at all.

This will eventually replace my 3 Zotac HD-ND22 boxes running linux. Though I am in no hurry to replace them.

I really want to get into plex, I use XBMC mainly but that's because plex uses such an enormous amount of CPU transcoding, it's impossible to do anything else while plex is running.

Yea I tried that before, for some reason it still wants to transcode. Ah well, not to bother, I like XBMC too :)

Xbmc is good for single machines, Plex shines at transcoding and sending media everywhere. Tablet, smartphone, browser, roku , Chromecast.

Even though Plex was originally based on xbmc they couldn't be any more different now.
The destination you are going to decides if its going to transcodes, for the web browser client it pretty much always transcodes, for roku 3 it often sends it in native format without transcoding.
Their is a quality setting that can control how much horsepower it uses to transcodes. Mine runs on a dedicated media server so I use the max quality, make my CPU hurt option lol

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I have XBMC all around the house, Desktops, Amazon Fire TV, Nexus 7 and my LG G3. I can use Yatse app to send any video to any room with easy and I don't have to transcode. I have all my local media and strm files stored on my NAS (not a transcoding type).

It works well for me, I was just looking for something with a little simplicity for my folks, but no matter what, it was transcoding every stream , even with direct play. Might be to do with DTS tbh.

Anwyay, everything is setup at their home with XBMC, nice skins and addons too

Last time I looked at Plex, it seemed to me that it did not work with a home media server (like my Seagate 4TB drive) unless that drive was permenantly hooked up to a computer. Is that the case? Because I don't have an extra computer to leave at home connected to that drive, and the Seagate app works pretty well now, especially with recent Chromecast support.

Am I misunderstanding this limitation of Plex? Does it require a computer to sit at home connected to my home media drive?

Thanks.

Posted via Android Central App

You either need a computer to run the PMS or a NAS device that can load the PMS. If your nas device supports PMS you don't need a extra computer, but most NAS devices won't be able so support any transcoding

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It requires either a computer or an embedded device which will run the Plex software. Several NAS devices such as some from NetGear, Drobo, and others listed in the NAS selection for downloads. One can also get a fairly cheap Mac Mini (must be able to run Snow Leopard), or put together a small Linux box to run the server, configuring it appropriately for energy conservation.

I tried using Plex about a year or so ago, but it was buggy and my PC often froze while it was trying to read all the music files (I think I did not have them all in the proper folder format). I ended up ditching it for Subsonic, which I LOVE! I listen to music exclusively, but it has zero problems navigating my folder structure, and the Android app (DSUB) is a bonafide 5 star app that really makes Subsonic shine!

Maybe Plex is better than it was, but I have no complaints for Subsonic/Dsub as it pretty much does everything I can think of (sharing, streaming to more than one location at a time, chromecast, random albums, shuffle all tracks, shuffle by genre or album year, bulk id3 tag editing, browser playability, flag favorite tracks, etc...). And the Dsub app is updated frequently.

Anyone try both Subsonic and Plex recently that can speak to any differences? They're probably both good. ;)

By mentioning Subsonic in this thread, you're talking about the music part of it instead of just general media, I would assume, while they both support audio files just fine one is better suited for a music experience better than the other (at least for now)… Subsonic has multiple apps that supports talking to that server (Subsonic or Madsonic), whereas Plex is just the one app (official one) so you're stuck with whatever interface/features they give you.

The Subsonic apps support real playlists to access on Android (unlike the category-based type that plex uses which is different, the web version supports playlists, but not mobile for now)… however for Subsonic, on-the-fly playlist creation for the app is still a pain in the ass and unintuitive, and cumbersome on the website interface too… compared to something like Spotify's or All Access (not surprising as they are more premium/commercial).

I would give Plex another chance, it has come a LONG way since a year ago! And give the web-based true playlists creation feature a try, they've done a nice job, and can't wait until it's available on Android too.

Well, that's the gist of it.

I use Plex constantly for video, but not really for music. Google music is more intuitive to me.
That said I tried subsonic and had issues with remote streaming reliability myself so I didn't find it a good choice.

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Happy Plex user here. I have a HP N54L running 24/7 with Server 2012 & PMS. Plex app on Samsung ue46f6500. XBMC runs in the bedroom using Plexbmc on a raspberry pi. Easy way to keep an eye on what's watched & what's not. Have chromecasts too but no matter what I throw at the clients, it never fails. Android tablets and phones stream from anywhere outside the network also. I don't know what I'd be doing if we didn't have the setup we have. An enigma2 Vu+ solo 2 for the live TV feature and recording function on xbmc tops it off. Good broadband helps

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Does anyone know how to run a plex server by connecting an external HDD to your router?

I believe this is possible but I don't know how to do it..

You need a pc running the PMS software. Simply point the library configured in PMS to the drive in the router

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I actually switched from subsonic to plex a year ago. The reason I made the switch was because the video playback functionality was far superior in plex. Subsonic was far better for music though, and I think it probably still is.

The video functionality in subsonic was really lacking. When I left it, it was still using flash and completely useless for android.

The big difference between the two is their focus. Subsonic was focused on music and later added video. It was never really a driving feature. But a good addition. Plex is really video library driven. Music is ok but not as robust as subsonic.

Posted via Android Central App

Plex is quite simply the best and most polished, easy to use media manager and play back platform around. I have used many other systems over the years but now I have a dedicated server running Plex and many clients and it works flawlessly.

I love PLEX it is the simplest way to serve all my ripped DVDs, mp4, AVIs and MPG media files all across my home network. The video playback is flawless on a smartphone or laptop on the same network. Additional, there is a moderately easy hack of AppleTV3 to redirect the Trailers app to the Plex media server.

It is great that friends can link to each other so we can enjoy media from each others' media library.

All you iOS device owners Plex can use the airplay function on your iPhone to fling your media to AppleTV without any hack.

To get full functionality and the smoothest playback through PLEX port forwarding will need to be enabled on your router. Portforward.com has the step-by-step process in wonderful detail.

If your router is smart enough you don't need to forward manually. I set Plex up on my Hackintosh wired in ethernet to my router, and I was able to watch movies over a cellular connection 4 blocks away.

I personally Love Plex so much that I cut the cable cord (can't stand commercials) and have your Movies & TV Series all in one place on any device as well as the Big Screen getting the Lifetime Pass was very easy and quick (within the 1st month). I currently run mine on my Sony Vaio L Series with a couple of External Drives and Cloud Synced to my 1 TB Google Drive and the shows run flawlessly. My next item will be a NAS ( http://goo.gl/fHvFTi) as I am closing in on about 8g of Media. But I can't live without PLEX and it's all so simple to use! If you're a Plexpass User, got a nice size Library and wanna share, look me up "Smooth918" mine (TV Shows & Movies) is updated regularly.

If you're looking to import iTunes Store content to your Plex Media Server, you'll have to strip the DRM first. Requiem is a good tool for this. It requires an earlier version of iTunes though.

Why do I need to have my home server running to get access to the online channels in the android app? I find this extremely cumbersome. What if I'm not at home and just want to watch those channels? Or if I have a chromecast and want to play one of those channels over the phone on it or an usb/hdmi android stick in my TV, than the online channels first have to go through the server to the respective devices. I find this really bad...

That is actually the best way to handle it. Think of it like this. The plex media server is your portal to ensure video compatibility. By going to your plex media server first it gets the stream from the source and then converts or forwards the video to your client device once compatibility is ensured. That really is the reason why the plex server is so important. It ensures you have the flexibility to ensure the video works on any device you try. Also the Channels aren't all maintained by PLEX.TV. So you load the channel on your server not on some cloud server Plex is running. So you have to go back to your server to see what is loaded.

That seems to be a common confusion about why the Plex Media Server is needed. It is the intelligent piece of the equation that helps ensure the video play under any circumstances. Playing a 1080P video across my home network is considerably different then playing that content to a CC at my parents house, or my brothers across the country. It is the Plex Media Server and it's ability to transcode depending on conditions and device that make that possible.

To put that into perspective for me to do that without transcoding I would have to have 3 copies of the content. 1 copy with the full quality for local playback. A second copy encoded at a much lower bit rate for remote streaming. and the last copy would be a lower bitrate and resolution for portable devices that external from my home network. Then you have to select the right one. I would much rather have one file and just let the sever deal with it.

Plex works well with chromecast. . But if you add content to server.. they knows where you may have downloaded that movie. ...

Peace

I would suspect that is only a problem if you download a bunch of stuff illegally.

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I meant the free channels that can be watched, let's say I'm in a pub and just want to watch those on my phones screen over the free wifi or 3g/4g is unreasonable that it first gets streamed to my home and than to my phone. Even if you say it's for compatibility reasons, nowadays most any phone can handle those streams on its own...

"Most any" is the key phrase here. If the goal is to be ubiquitous, they can cover all bases with this model rather than trying to support every device individually.

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Plex does a good job with movies, but after 8 months of trying, you still can't run a slideshow of photos larger than about 30 photos. The program just crashes. They should fix it or stop advertising it as a feature. Their only response is that it is a known issue, but seem to have little interest in fixing it. This was the feature I most wanted, but so far it's a fail; which will keep me from further committing to the service.