Plex is the easiest way to get some smart TV stuff going on in your living room, or smartphone, or tablet, or anything with a display really. Plex takes XBMC/Kodi and turns it into an easy to set up, easy to use and manage software package that makes your media library accessible on virtually every device, anywhere, regardless of media format.
The heart of Plex is the Plex Media Server (PMS). Like the name implies, it’s a server client that talks to and retrieves media from. You can install PMS on any computer you wish. Windows, Mac, Linux and even FreeBSD are platforms PMS can run on – there’s even official support for PMS on many NAS units from Synology, Thecus, QNAP, Netgear and many more. The server is simply an app that you install and keep running so your clients can access the media contained within. Some people run it on a dedicated server, some just chuck it on their desktop PC.
To access all that sweet video content living in Plex Media Server, you use a Plex client. This is the interface you’d use on your TV to view the media. Plex clients come in all shapes and sizes. You can install the Plex client app on iOS and Android, so your tablets and smartphones can play the media off your server, and those apps will also stream to a Chromecast. The Apple TV, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 have official Plex client apps available to download. Many Samsung TVs have Plex available on download off the Samsung App Store. If you have a Mac or PC hooked up to your TV, download Plex Home Theatre to get a version of the Plex client for Mac, Windows or Linux, suitable for the big screen. Even the humble Raspberry Pi will work as an excellent Plex client utilising RasPlex – a Linux distro designed just for the Pi to run Plex client. Plex is even DLNA compatible, so if you have a device that doesn’t have a Plex client, but supports DLNA, you can still stream off your PMS.
Plex on Xbox One looks pretty smooth.
The beauty of Plex is that once you’ve got your PMS set up, you can access it anywhere. You can be at home, watching stuff on TV via Plex on the PS4, maybe a room-mate streaming off the server on their iPad with the Plex app, or the kids watching it on their own TVs in their rooms via an Apple TV each. You can even have say, your partner who is interstate or overseas connect to your Plex server over the Internet. If you’ve got mates or family you want to share your media library with, you can even give them access and they’ll be able to connect their Plex clients to your PMS over the internet.
Even organising your media library manually is a thing of the past with Plex. Just tell your PMS where your movies live, where your TV shows live and where your music lives and it’ll automatically figure out the albums, seasons and years of the media and display them all beautifully on your clients – neatly organised and easy to sort through. All with almost no effort on your part. I’ve personally found it to be extremely accurate with naming media and rarely have to manually intervene.
It doesn’t even matter what format that media is in or if the client will support playing it back. Plex has a transcoding engine built right in and if say, you try to play one of those new H265 videos on your Apple TV, which doesn’t support H265 natively, PMS will convert the media on the fly, as it plays, to a format the Apple TV does support. It’ll even do that when streaming media over the internet to support any upstream bandwidth limits you set. You may have large Blu-Ray rips that are 15mbit/sec, but only have a 5mbit/sec upload speed – Plex will transcode that video on the fly when a client accesses it over the internet.
And your little music collection too!
Whilst Plex doesn’t have the plethora of plugins Kodi has, it does still have a few “channels” which provide content from sources like PBS, The Comedy Channel, Adult Swim and dozens more. Plex also handles displaying your photo library (great for showing slideshows to family) and music library, if you aren’t already using one of the dozens of cloud music services out there.
Best of all, Plex is free! There’s a US$5/m Plex Pass option which adds a few nifty features like offline syncing for mobile devices, syncing with Google Drive, OneDrive & Dropbox and improved user management such as parental controls. I personally don’t find it worth paying for, but some people might get a kick out of those features.
If you want to know more about Plex, the Plex website and forums are an excellent starting point.