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Jan292016

Podcast #724: Plex Media Server Review

If you have been with us for a while you know how fond we are of media management. The first time we saw the Kaleidescape system back when we first started the podcast we became obsessed with having all our videos available to stream to our televisions. Over the years we tried many different solutions from XBMC and Boxee to iTunes and the AppleTV. Ara settled on the iTunes solution because he was so heavily entrenched in the Apple eco system that it made the most sense. Over the years we have received plenty of emails asking us to check out Plex and Ara did, but because he was so committed to the AppleTV it was nothing more than a rudimentary look.

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Plex Media Server

If you have been with us for a while you know how fond we are of media management. The first time we saw the Kaleidescape system back when we first started the podcast we became obsessed with having all our videos available to stream to our televisions. Over the years we tried many different solutions from XBMC and Boxee to iTunes and the AppleTV. Ara settled on the iTunes solution because he was so heavily entrenched in the Apple eco system that it made the most sense.  Over the years we have received plenty of emails asking us to check out Plex and Ara did, but because he was so committed to the AppleTV it was nothing more than a rudimentary look.

That all changed when Apple opened up the AppleTV to developers. The developers at Plex quickly released a version of their client SW for the AppleTV and now Ara had no excuse for not thoroughly looking at Plex.

 

What is Plex?

Plex organizes your video, music, and photo collections and streams them to all of your screens both in your home and when you are away. Whether you are watching on a smartphone, tablet, computer, or set top box, your entire library is available to you. View Plex user interface slide show.

 

Key Features:

  • Stream your content from anywhere that you have an Internet connection
  • Automatically add metadata in a gorgeous interface
  • Total control of your media. You manage who can see what. (Plex Pass)
  • Beautiful Music Interface
  • Automatically get access to high quality online trailers and extras for the movies you have in your Plex library. (Plex Pass)
  • Mobile Sync - Simply tell Plex what you want to take with you on your phone or tablet and Plex will keep your content up to date. (Plex Pass)
  • Cloud Sync automatically optimizes the media you choose and uploads it to places like Dropbox, Google Drive, Bitcasa and Box. It's like having a media server that's always on. (Plex Pass)
  • Plex Channels provide access to numerous sources of online content, like TED Talks, Vimeo, Revision 3, and more.
  • Easily save online videos from your favorite sites to watch later, even on the big screen.
  • Supports DLNA

 

What do you need?

  • Plex Media Server - This is the brains behind the operation. The media server is the host for all your content. Support for Windows, Mac, Linux, and a bunch of NAS devices.
  • Plex Mobile Apps - Plex apps for Android, iOS, Windows, and Windows Phone let you browse and enjoy on your device of choice.
  • Plex for smart TVs, game consoles, and streaming devices - Watch your content on the Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, Fire TV, Xbox, PlayStation®, and other devices stream from your Plex Media Server with ease.
  • Plex Media Player - Bring your content to your computer screen. With support for Windows and Mac

Setup

Getting up and running is quite easy. You install the server and then point to where your media resides. Plex will then analyze your content and download the necessary meta data. We found that it was really accurate but there was some tweaking that needed to be done. Part of the setup is signing up for the optional Plex Pass ($40 upgrade) which gives you access to premium features.


Plex Player

Our experience with Plex from a playback point of view was on the iPhone, iPad, Computer, and AppleTV. The features are identical but the interactions are a little different. We won’t delve into the details of the interaction but rather the experience as a whole. Also, there are a lot of features and we won’t cover all of them here. We encourage you to visit Plex online for more information.

 The GUI is gorgeous! Movie and music art look stunning! There is quite a bit of information about your movies plus there are extra features similar to DVDs and Blu-rays on most movies. The extra features are streamed from the Internet. There are ratings from Rotten Tomatoes on on the AppleTV there are reviews. You can even see who is in the movie but it looks like that feature is still a work in progress.

One of the nice things about Plex is that it allows you to play just about any format file. That’s why you need a reasonably powered server so it can transcode on the fly. We threw mp4 and mkv files and had no issues over our LAN. We even watched the videos over the Internet as well albeit at a lower data rate. You can setup your player to use different data rates and resolutions depending on whether you are watching in your home of away.  You will have to know how to open up ports on your router to be able to watch over the Internet but there are easy to follow instructions online to walk you through it.

Music is just as wonderful. The album and artist art adds polish to the interface. If you have paid for the Plex Pass you can even watch Vevo videos for your tracks. In fact you have access to all the videos of an artist regardless whether you have the track or not. You don’t have access to any premium music service tracks that you may have downloaded.

Conclusion

One of the reasons Ara didn’t give Plex a fair shot was because of how invested he was into iTunes for music, TV, and movies. Having Plex on the AppleTV now allows him to co-mingle his vast TV season passes on iTunes, Netflix, and Hulu and listen to his Apple music while presenting his movie collection in a user interface that impresses everyone who sees it. Add the ability to watch movies outside of the home and sharing capabilities and you have an absolute must have for the AppleTV, FireTV, Roku and pretty much anything else!!

 

Download Episode #724

Reader Comments (7)

You have a file name mis-match that has broken your Direct Link to this week's show:

You have saved this week's show under the title HDTV-2016-01-28.mp3 ... But your 'save-as' link is looking for HDTV-2016-01-29.mp3 ...

I was able to find it by sifting through your source-code - I didn't want to miss an episode!!!!

January 29, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterKevin A.

With Plex Channels I am able to watch network TV shows without commercials. The shows are generally available a day or two after airing, I think.
I don't know how they do it. Honestly, don't want to know. As a cord cutter, it's a welcome feature.

January 29, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterV. Dub

I noticed this week's show is throwing an error when I try to download it to my podcast app on my iPhone. I have tried both Downcast app and Overcast app. I wonder if there is something wrong with the link for the show? I seem to be able to stream it from your web site so I will listen to it that way as I don't like to miss a show! Thank again for a great podcast!

January 29, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMichael

Hi everyone,

I incorrectly named the file that was uploaded. That has been fixed. You may need to clear the old show and refresh your pod catcher. Sorry for the inconvenience!

Ara

January 29, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAra

Ara, you really need to start to break that apple habit. ;)

As a plex user as you use it more you will realize you WANT everything in there because it is just a simpler and better experience. The TV integration is just as good as movies and you have all of your content available in one simple and easy to use app no matter what device you are on (even a web browser).

January 29, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAaron

Hi Aaron,

How do I buy season passes of content and have them show up in Plex? I would love to have everything there.

Ara

January 29, 2016 | Registered CommenterHT Guys

Hello. One of the things you did not address in the great podcast was the quality of streamed files on Plex
For example does Plex down Rez audio files from cd quality in order to stream?

What about video. Will it stream in the quality format saved in?

February 4, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterD

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