Plex is a suite of products that facilitates the aggregation and distribution of media. The Plex Media Center is open source, the Plex Media Server is closed source, and various Plex clients are free or commercial. Plex also offers a sevice called MyPlex which is free, and PlexPass is not free but offers access to premium features through MyPlex. Plex aggregates content via plugins. Many plugins (channels) can be installed via the various Plex user interfaces, but others are only available for manual installation. This article will attempt explain the purpose, installation, configuration, interactions, and use of the various Plex components. It’s intended to help you decide if Plex is worth investigation and walk you through a functional installation.
Plex Media Server: Plex Media Server comes in flavors for Windows, OS X, Linux, and NAS appliances. The scope of this discussion is constrained to the Windows Server. Before you begin, identify a PC to act as your media server. Create a media folder structure on that PC and copy your media to that structure. It’s convenient to use the same names Plex uses, so I suggest folders called Movies, TV Shows, Music, Photos, and Home Movies.
Plex Server is the backend to the Plex system. It is a database of meta data plus the transcoding and streaming components. The media server is the only software that must be installed to use Plex and it should be installed on the computer with the media files to minimize network traffic and related performance issues. This computer must be powered on and connected to your LAN whenever Plex is used. The server can be downloaded from here and should be installed with all default options.
Once the server is installed, you will be notified that the installation has been completed and given an opportunity to launch the program. Server will discover all your media. Click the home icon to examine the installation. Examine movies and TV shows. Click the + icon to add folders discovery missed. In the Channels section, click the + to add channels. That’s it. Your Plex server is ready to serve clients.
Plex Media Center: You only want to install Plex Media Center if you are going to watch TV on your PC or Mac. Plex Media Center is designed to be run with a remote control and viewed from your couch. Plex Media Center can be downloaded from here and should be installed with all default options. When installation completes, check the Run Plex Media Center box and click the Finish button. Enjoy!
myPlex: myPlex is a free service from Plex that lets you watch your media over the internet, share it with friends, or bookmark interesting videos for later viewing. To use myPlex, create an account and sign in using Plex Media Center or the Plex Media Manager.
PlexPass: PlexPass does nothing at this time. According to the PlexPass announcement, PlexPass will get you…
- early access to new features
- ‘free’ (you’re paying for PlexPass, so maybe free isn’t the right word) access to shiny things with lots of sparkle
- access to private forums for discussing these new features
- discounts on premium features (I thought they were ‘free’)
Connected Devices: Plex Servers can be accessed by the Roku, Google TV, and LG and Samsung devices. For specific help with these devices, please visit this page.
Verdict: Plex is OK. Just OK. Installation and configuration are sketchy. I’ve installed the server and media center on three Windows computers. No server installation completed without errors or hanging the interface. I could not add channels like Hulu and Netflix to media center. Media Manager hung on a number of occasions while installing channels. Hulu does not run well. Netflix does not work at all. I do, however, love the user interface of Media Center and the Roku Channel. There are a lot of channels and they look great — when they work. My media looks great. Everythig was discovered and looks great. Poster mode includes images, descriptions, and run times. I think we will use it for media and some channels. We’ll use Playon for Hulu and the Roku Netflix channel.
Unsupported Plugins: There is a repository of unsupported channels which includes adult content.