Plex Media Server is a reliable, feature-rich media server that is used to organize all of your media which can then be streamed to your devices- whether at home or away. From a beautiful interface to solid playback of your favorite movies, TV shows, and music, Plex has you covered. Plex offers their media server for free on a wide variety of platforms, including Windows, Linux, Mac, and various NAS operating systems. They offer client apps for just about any portable device you own- Android, iOS, Samsung Smart TV, etc. Of course, Plex also offers a paid subscription called Plex Pass that enhances some of the features of Plex, but the free version alone is good enough to make this media server worth a look.
The Plex interface is fairly clean, and it’s easy to use. Overall it does a superb job of presenting rich content in a way that is visually pleasing. If you need a media server, no matter how basic or advanced, Plex will meet your needs. I regularly use Plex to stream content to my Samsung TV, which is a lot better than using the built-in DLNA functionality.
For more advanced Plex capabilities, setup can be a bit daunting. The good news is that Plex does an excellent job of explaining each setting on their website, and they have a forum with an active community for when you need more help than the website can provide. For basic streaming on a local area network, Plex pretty much works out of the box.
Plex Media Server is a home theater platform with client support for all major portable devices (iOS, Android, Windows, FireTV). It's packed with features that make it marginally complicated to set up and use. Reliability is mostly tied to the platform that you choose to run the server on. Transcoding requires powerful server hardware. For the basic media server, it's free! Plex does offer an optional Plex Pass that unlocks certain features. The software is well-documented on Plex's website, and it has forums supported by the Plex Team and a large user base.
I previously used Samsung AllShare to stream to my Samsung Smart TV, but I had way too many problems. In fact, it was a total disaster. Mostly, Samsung AllShare was unreliable. Media that was uploaded would often require a rescan of the entire library to be visible. Or I would end up troubleshooting while promising my wife that we were almost ready to watch the movie. Other times AllShare just wouldn’t work without a server reboot.
This led me on a search that ended at Plex. There are other media servers out there- Twonky and Emby are popular choices. I tried Twonky first but I didn’t like it. Plex was my next choice, and it was so easy to set up I ended up just sticking with it.
Plex automatically organizes the media that you select, and then it harnesses the power of the internet to add metadata, as well as other features, like movie trailers. The result is an awesome, interactive home theater PC.
Not only does Plex allow you to view or listen to your own media, but it also has the ability to add what Plex calls Channels. Channels are essentially plugins that can provide internet-based media like YouTube and Vimeo, as well as broadcast network apps, like ABC, CBS, and Fox. If you’re planning on cutting the cord, Plex is definitely worth checking out.
Additionally, Plex has partnered with Silicon Dust, makers of the popular HDHomeRun line of products to offer a DVR service. Basically, you use Plex to set up your shows to record to a PC or NAS on your network, then play them back from within the Plex app.
This requires a special DVR version of Plex and it’s still in beta testing at the moment. But if you want to try it out, you can download it from here.
Update (2/26/17): Plex DVR is now available in all versions of the software. You will still need to be a Plex Pass subscriber to use this functionality.
Plex is capable of on-the-fly transcoding, but requires a powerful CPU. I use a 4 year old AMD 2.4 Ghz quad-core processor and it does the job nicely. Although Plex can run on various NAS units, they probably won’t be powerful enough to perform this duty (unless you have a really expensive, high-end NAS).
Another great thing about Plex is the ability to create different users. This is particularly useful if you have kids that you want to be able to enjoy your media collection, but don’t want them to have access to adult content. You can specify ratings limits on movies, TV shows, and music! However, this feature is only available to Plex Pass subscribers.
Plex gives you a lot of options to fully customize your HTPC experience. You can choose where to download your metadata from, including from multiple sites, and which order to apply it. This means that you don’t have to rely on a single source for your metadata, which results in more complete content for your library. You can sign up for OpenSubtitles.org and download subtitles for your movies and shows. You even have an option to play theme music in the background while you browse your content looking for shows to watch.
Plex Pass subscribers will have options available to them that free users won’t. These include:
- Live TV. Watch TV on-the-go with Plex, an HDHomeRun or USB tuner , and a digital antenna.
- DVR. Record your favorite shows. Requires the same equipment as the Live TV setup.
- Plex Home. Create a home with multiple users and limit access based on media ratings. Great for sharing a library with your kids while keeping them from playing inappropriate content.
- Premium Music Library. Artwork, artist information, automatic lyric download and more. If you’re a music lover, this may be for you!
- Mobile Sync. Sync optimized files directly to your mobile device so you can enjoy your library content wherever you are, even if you’re offline.
- Camera Upload. Create your own personal media cloud by syncing your phone’s photos and videos to your Plex server. Ensure privacy and keep your photos backed up so you don’t lose them if something happens to your phone. This is also an excellent option if you need to free up space on your phone while preserving your memories.
- Free Access. Enjoy Plex apps on all of your devices. You won’t be charged for downloading individual apps on Android or iOS.
- Early Feature Access. Plex Pass subscribers get access to new features before free users. You can also download preview releases to test out new features and provide feedback if you want.
- Enhanced Media Content. Download exclusive Plex Pass content such as movie trailers that isn’t available to free users.
A quick note- to remotely access your server, you should forward the WAN (internet) port 32400 to a private (internal LAN) port 32400. If you’re running multiple Plex Media Servers, you’ll need to use a different but unique WAN port, but still forward to port 32400. Plex needs this port in order to work. Also, I tried using port 32401 to get a second server running on my network, but it didn’t work. I read in a forum that Plex may use this port internally for something else.
First things first, you’ll need to download the software from here . Be sure to choose the correct operating system.
Installation instructions are dependent on your OS. The below slides show a simple Windows installation and how to add libraries using the Plex Web App.
Slideshow- Tap or click to view
Quick configuring Plex settings
Plex Media Server is pretty much ready to use without any additional configuration if all you plan on doing is streaming on your local network. We’ve already covered remote access, which will allow you to access your media from outside your home network. However, if you need or want more out of Plex, you’ll need to dive into the settings menu.
Slideshow- Tap or click to view
Other Plex tips
One problem I had with my Plex Media Server was duplicate files in my Movie library. After a rather frustrating investigation, I realized what was happening. I was running Plex on a QNAP NAS server with snapshots enabled, and a backup folder was being created within the Movie library that was causing the issue. I didn’t want to disable the snapshot feature, so this is where a .plexignore file comes in handy. This file allows you exclude content so that it won’t be visible in any Plex client. The ignore file uses wildcards using the * character so you can easily exclude all files that match your criteria, or entire subdirectories.
It’s easiest to place the .plexignore file in each top-level folder you want exclusion criteria to apply. For instance, I placed one in my Movies folder, one in my Photos folder, etc. I guess you could do one file and map each directory, but that just seems complicated.
For example, let’s say you have a subfolder you want to exclude called Videos inside of a Movies folder. To exclude all files in the Video folder, you would type in Videos/*. To filter out all .avi files in the Video folder, you would type Video/*.avi. Well what if you wanted to exclude .avi files in the Movies folder? Easy enough, type *.avi. You could also filter out individual files too (such as Charlie Brown.avi).
The short slideshow below gives more detail on how to handle a .plexignore exclusion file.
Slideshow- Tap or click to view
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