Skip to main content

While streaming services like Netflix and Hulu have a healthy catalog of content, they don't have everything. It's also a bummer when the show you've been binging gets removed while you're still watching it. If you want to make sure you'll always have access to your favorite shows and movies, a home media server may be the best option. There are a few different programs that let you run a home media server, but none are as pervasive as Plex.

Here's everything you need to know about Plex!

What's new with Plex?

October 3, 2018 — Plex Web Shows offers unlimited online videos to everyone for free

On top of everything else Plex already offers, the company's now breaking into the world of online streaming video with Plex Web Shows.

Web Shows is a curated selection of high-quality videos from all sorts of brands —including GQ, Engadget, TWiT, Field and Stream, and others with "many more to come."

You can access Web Shows on just about anything (Android, iOS, Android TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, etc.) and it's free to use for everyone — no Plex Pass required.

Plex Web Shows is currently in beta and you can start using it right now.

See at Plex (opens in new tab)

All the big details

What is it?

At its most basic level, Plex is a program that lets you access your movies, shows and other content from any device, so long as you have access to the Internet. It works in two pieces: at home, your desktop, network attached storage or even your NVIDIA Shield TV stores the files. The Plex Media Server program gets installed, and does the hard work of actually transcoding and pushing your files over the Internet.

The other piece is your smartphone, Chromebook, tablet, game console or streaming stick. Install the Plex application on your device, sign in, and you'll have access to all of your content. Since all the processing is done on your server device, your smartphone or other client just needs a strong Internet connection for your media to play.

What content is supported?

Plex can host movies, TV shows, music, photos and personal videos. Plex also lets you automatically sync photos and videos taken on your phone with your home server, just like you would with Google Photos. Finally, Plex has started offering a curated news service.

How much does it cost?

Plex has two tiers: the free tier and the Plex pass. While other free services may be useless trails, Plex's free tier actually has a robust set of features. The free tier offers:

  • Support for nearly any music, photo and video format.
  • Access to your content on any supported platform, anywhere you have an Internet connection.
  • Customs collections — you could create a collection of superhero movies, for instance.
  • Automatic organization of your library, including importing album artwork and DVD covers.
  • The aforementioned Plex News service.
  • Support for VR headsets.
  • Sharing your libraries with friends and family.
  • Recommendations based on the shows and movies you've watched.
  • Support for as much storage as you're willing to buy.
  • Online channels such as NPR, TED Talks and more.
  • Chromecast support.

While you can easily get by with the free tier, the Plex Pass offers enticing options such as the ability to download your media for offline viewing, DVR support, Live TV support — though this also requires a compatible antenna (opens in new tab) — the aforementioned photo syncing and early access to new features.

A Plex Pass costs $5 per month, $40 per year, or $120 for life.

What platforms are supported?

The Plex Media Server can be installed on any Windows, macOS, or Linux desktop; on compatible (opens in new tab) network attached storage units; on the NETGEAR Nighthawk X10 router (opens in new tab); or on the NVIDIA Shield TV.

The Plex client is available for iOS, Apple TV, Android, Android TV, Windows (including Windows 10 Mobile), Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Amazon Fire tablets, Fire TV, Roku, any web browser, and most other smart TV platforms.

What else do you need?

You obviously need some files to stream, and you'll want to make sure they are named correctly{.nofollow}. Your server should be something that stays powered on, like a desktop or your home router.

You'll also want to make sure your router has the Universal Plug-and-Play (UPNP) protocol enabled. This protocol is what Plex uses to make your files available outside your home network (opens in new tab). The instructions for turning this on vary from router to router, and some routers don't even offer this feature for security reasons.

Finally, be cognizant of how many people are going to access your server at once. A NVIDIA Shield TV or a NAS unit aren't going to have the power to serve as many video streams as a more powerful desktop would. You'll also need some extra power for the Live TV and DVR features.

More: Your whole family will appreciate a home media server

What say you?

Do you use Plex for your media server needs? Let us know down below!

12 Comments
  • Don't forget to read the privacy policy. Plex privacy went into the crapper over the last year.
  • Contrary to what the author wrote, whatever you do, do not enable upnp, that's a huge security hole.
    Just forward the port 32400 manually on your router to the Lan host where the plex server is. Or choose another port if you will
  • I stopped using Plex a while back and really don't miss it.
  • Been using Plex for four years now and it's been great for the most part. It's not perfect and there's the occasional frustration, but the truth of it is that it's far better than the alternatives out there. I wish they hadn't canned Plex Home Theater... Plex Media Player is nowhere near as good. RasPlex has been a good alternative for running a RasPi client but it appears to have been abandoned. Otherwise use Rokus, web browser and Win10 app mostly. Running it on a custom-built NAS that has plenty of horsepower to transcode to everything in addition to host all our media.
  • I've been using it since it first came out and love it. I haven't dug into the automatic downloads or anything but I've been able to access my library anywhere I am with internet.
  • Plex has become a giant pile of mess. They worry about iOS,iOS,iOS and continue to leave the same issues on Android and Windows year after year.
  • DVR live channels does NOT work on Roku's. Of course Plex will say it is Roku's fault. Features are added in scattershot manner AND not what paying customer (PASS) users are requesting. It is almost like they don't CARE AT ALL. Adding features that "sound" impressive but truly add NOTHING to experience. (ie VR support) Hopefully you never need support, even if you have PAID. Cuz they will refer to you their USER forums as first and second sources of fixes. Asking USERS to play tech support is disgusting. If you complain enough or flood the forum enough, someone from Plex might grant you an audience. Just don't count on it. The DVR service (a paid feature) supports a TINY amount of tuners. Totally ignoring Ceton. Granted Ceton's software and hardware is not hot off the presses, but NEITHER is SiliconDust's. And Ceton + WMC fully supports DRM channels, which MANY providers are switching to. Using SiliconDust and Plex, you will MISS OUT ON ALL OF THOSE PROTECTED CHANNELS. If you live in an area with few, this might be acceptable. But many have posted in forums of providers switching on "copy once" and DRM and Plex+Silicon Dust is LESS THAN USELESS. Just a warning. Lastly, since adding the DVR service, the SINGLE MOST REQUESTED AND IGNORED feature is a guide! (aka 2-3 hour, excel type chart showing what is playing NOW). Plex ignored the creation from the start and simply dismisses the requests to add it now. But hey did you see that VR functionality?
  • Still using Ceton + WMC with Plex pointing to the recorded TV folder. I miss Plex Home Theater but now use Plex Web Player on Chromeboxes and Chrombits with an air mouse/keyboard. I can remote into my WMC machine that is stuck in a closet with Chrome Remote Desktop when needed without ever having to install any peripherals. Hoping that Android TV gets a significant upgrade for Live TV with time shifting and DVR functionality.
  • The best thing about Plex is the server is free, the app is a one time charge that applies to all your devices, and it support Last.fm scrobbling. It's also the least difficult media server software to use and configure, compared to Universal Media Server, Kodi, Ember(? Do they still exist?) etc. Also, you can access your stuff from anywhere with an internet connection, not just over your LAN. Lastly, they have an app for just about every client device you can imagine.
  • I have been using Plex for over a year now and have been very satisfied. I use it to stream media to family members in WI and UT and NM without any issues. I also use it to record live TV sans commercials. Absolutely no complaints from me!!
  • My Plex is running on a NAS as my media server. Runs great serving out Movies, Music and photos to my network and to friends world wide thru the interwebs. RAM is your friend on a NAS / Plex aerver. Great product/service
  • Was that our own Michael Fisher, Mr. Mobile, flashed in the promo video? lol