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Beginner's guide to Plex

Plex is one of those services that has been around for some time but 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. The truth is, Plex could be just what you're looking for to help you manage your media collection.

Setting up a media server sounds daunting, but Plex makes it super simple — and dare we say, enjoyable. You just need to know where to begin, which is where we come in.

This is our beginner's guide to Plex.

What is Plex?

The official Plex website describes it 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

NAS

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 and involves downloading the Plex Media Server app to your computer. It comes in flavors for Mac, Windows, and Linux, as well as in a form designed for NAS drives. So it covers lots 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 various media content. You'll be hosting the content yourself, so you'll need to make sure you can get to it at all times if you want to be streaming while away from home. That means storing it all on a laptop you take with you probably isn't the best idea.

X10

If you have a supported NAS drive (opens in new tab), a standalone desktop computer, or even an older, now spare PC, these will be the best options. Ideally, you want 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.

Plex Media Server has also been built for the Netgear X10 router (opens in new tab). This is an expensive bit of kit, but it's also one of the most powerful, fastest Wi-Fi routers on the planet. By installing the special Plex Media Server build on it, you can run the very same system as if you had it on a PC. You can hook it up to a network-attached drive, and you don't need a PC to be running at all.

When you're telling Plex where to find your media, it's important to make sure the files are named in a way the software will understand, and that they're stored in a folder structure, in the case of TV shows. Plex has some handy hints{.nofollow} on how to best prepare your media for your server.

Download Plex Media Server (opens in new tab)

Additionally, if you're an NVIDIA Shield TV owner, you can set up Plex Media Server right on the box. No joke!

How to set up Plex Media Server on the NVIDIA Shield TV

Channels — content that isn't yours

Plex

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.

More on finding Plex channels

What is Plex Pass?

Plex Pass

If you find that you like Plex and want to get the most out of it, Plex Pass is something you should consider. It's an add-on that you can pay for monthly, yearly, or as a lifetime subscription.

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.
  • 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.

Plex DVR

We're not short on photo backup 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 worth paying for if you ever want to offline your media and take it with you.

As for pricing, you'll pay $4.99 a month, $39.99 a year, or $149.99 for a lifetime subscription.

Some of the more recent features of Plex Pass really take your home media center up a notch such as live TV and DVR. Initially, you'll only be able to use a limited number of devices with live TV, but the feature will eventually roll out to all apps on all devices.

The NVIDIA Shield TV was the first to support live TV, with the Android mobile version of Plex to follow. To watch live TV in Plex you'll also need a suitable TV tuner, like the HDHomeRun Connect (opens in new tab).

Subscribe to Plex Pass (opens in new tab)

Plex apps

One of the most appealing parts of Plex is its wide support. Plex is one of the most widely available applications on mobile, desktop, and gaming consoles, with access on the Xbox One and Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4, various smart TVs and set-top boxes such as Roku and NVIDIA Shield along with Android, iOS, and Windows 10.

It doesn't end there, either, with Plex branching out into Kodi support, too. If you're looking to create a home theater PC as well as a server, there's the free Plex Media Player app (opens in new tab) for your home theater, which is available on Mac, Windows, and even Raspberry Pi.

When it comes to your media, the device you choose shouldn't hinder your enjoyment. Plex is one service that eliminates that problem almost entirely.

Download Plex for Android from the Google Play Store (opens in new tab)

Your tips for beginners

That's just a quick guide to getting up and running with Plex. After you're set up, there's a lot you can do with Plex. If you've got tips to share, though, be sure to leave them in the comments below.

Update June 2017: Updated with the latest features Plex has to offer.

66 Comments
  • When is Plex going to start supporting cloud drives like WD Book Live? Posted via Android Central App
  • They do have cloud sync for PlexPass users. I haven't used it though, so I can't speak to how well it works. https://support.plex.tv/hc/en-us/articles/201342573 https://support.plex.tv/hc/en-us/articles/201342593-Quick-Guide-to-Cloud... Posted via the Android Central App
  • 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. Posted via Android Central App
  • 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.
  • What do you use to cast Showbox with? Posted via Android Central App
  • 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. Posted via Android Central App
  • 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. Posted via Android Central App
  • 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. Posted via Android Central App
  • Get a nas, qnap ts-269 transcoded on the fly, best money I ever spent
  • 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. Posted via the Android Central App
  • 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!!
  • True statement. Lifetime pass for me and it paid for itself in a month. Posted via the Android Central App
  • 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
  • Lol for a second I thought you were talking about eve online XD Posted via Android Central App
  • Never tried Plex. Been using XBMC Posted via Android Central App
  • 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.
  • Just need to setup your pms and clients to do direct play. Posted via Android Central App
  • 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 Posted via Android Central App
  • 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
  • I need to save this article cause plex is always a pain for me to use.
  • 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 Posted via Android Central App
  • 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.
  • OK thanks guys. Sounds like the Seagate app is sufficient for me then. Posted via Android Central App
  • 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. Posted via Android Central App
  • 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 Posted via Android Central App
  • 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 Posted via Android Central App
  • 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://www.amazon.com/Synology-America-DiskStation-Attached-DS415play/dp...) 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.
  • Isn't that illegal 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. Posted via Android Central App
  • Actually by processing the movie so that Plex can run it, we're all in violation. :)
  • 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. Posted via the Android Central App
  • If you have an Android phone, and ESPECIALY if you have an Android Wear device, you need to check out nuVue for Plex. It will notify you when new items have been added to your Plex servers and even shared libraries. A great little companion app. Here's the link: https://www.androidcentral.com/e?link=https2F2F...
  • It seems like a headless Linux setup would be a lot more secure. Posted via Android Central App
  • 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.
  • Seasons greetings everyone, I recently downloaded Plex to my Mac and got the annual plus pass and it works great. But l have a question:
    I recently added an M8 android box to my home theatre thats preloaded with XBMC. I really want to add Plex but l am having some grief. Can anyone suggest how l can add it. Also if this is possible do l need to add plex as a download to my server. I have 6 x 2TB drives that are 70% full of HD quality movies and music videos and obviously l want to have access on my Android box with Plex as the media centre. I think l was spoiled downloading to my Mac as it was seemless, but l amstumped now and very frustrated as Christmas is just around the corner. Any help, suggestions or links to getting me set up would be greatly appreciated. Many thanks,
    ET
  • Hello. I want to get Plex up and running in my home but am just having some last minute concerns. Am I right in thinking that I could just buy a Mac Mini (with an attached external hard drive filled with media) that is constantly switched on, plugged into my TV but also runs as a server?.. So I could basically access all the media across other devices? My main question is whether having a server running from a Mac Mini would mean that I could access my content on a separate Android device, i.e. my phone? Or will an Apple server only be able to communicate with other Apple devices, Sorry if this is a stupid question but I've never set up a server before! Thanks,
    Matt
  • Hi Matt, if you are running a Plex media server on the Mac Mini, any Plex agent should be able to connect to it. It can be a Windows PC, Android phone, Playstation 3/4 (they have a Plex agent as well), and so on.
    The only thing you have to consider when you place media files on the Plex server in a format which isn't supported on the agent, the Plex server will transcode it to a codec the agent does support. But transcoding can use a lot of CPU power. Safest format to use is H.264 MP4 for video and AACC coded for audio, most Plex agents support this.
  • I run a Plex server on my QNAP NAS and use it for streaming my music collection. I used to also use it for my home movies which are in AVCHD format but Plex removed support for AVCHD a while ago.
  • I don't really have a movie library so what other things could I use Plex for?