February 28, 2024

What if we advised you there was a method to home and entry all your favourite streaming content material and private media information underneath one easy-to-use platform? Certain, we’ve had platforms like Dropbox and Google Drive for years, however whereas these purposes are fairly nice for the latter (storing media), you possibly can’t get a Netflix film enjoying with Google Drive. The all-in-one leisure hub we’re alluding to is the content-hosting and streaming umbrella referred to as Plex.

Plex haș been round for greater than a decade, however what precisely are you able to do with Plex? Is it free? Is it tough to make use of? Does it help a number of customers? And maybe most significantly, how do you get your film and TV present downloads uploaded and streamable from wherever on the planet?

This latter functionality is dealt with by one thing referred to as a Plex Media Server (which we’ll be overlaying intimately), however it’s just one part of the whole Plex ecosystem. Stick to us although, pals, for there’s heaps to find out about all issues Plex, and we’ve bought loads of info, suggestions, tips, and firsthand expertise to share.

The Plex Media Server Home tab on a web browser.

Michael Bizzaco / Digital Tendencies

What’s Plex?

Plex is software program that you need to use to retailer, find, and entry all your media in a single place. You possibly can arrange your individual private media information, corresponding to photos, music, and movies, in addition to streaming companies to observe motion pictures, TV collection, podcasts, and different on-line content material. Primary Plex has no price.

Plex has two decisions for setup. Should you solely need to stream third-party content material, you possibly can open an account, obtain the app in your gadget of selection, and you’re good to go. If you wish to arrange a private media server to deal with all of your information, there are a couple of extra steps.

What’s a Plex Media Server?

As soon as put in and arrange, a Plex Media Server can routinely arrange all of your information in your pc. It could possibly additionally increase your assortment of films, TV exhibits, and music with an enormous quantity of associated content material from sources across the internet, like film posters and album artwork, particulars on solid and crew members, episode descriptions, unique air dates, and rather more. In minutes, your media assortment goes from being a collection of information and folders to an expertise that appears and appears like a streaming service corresponding to Netflix, solely you could have management.

In contrast to iTunes, Plex can learn nearly each media file format you possibly can consider. So if you happen to’ve gotten into the behavior of operating your media via a converter like HandBrake (Home windows, Mac) to make it suitable along with your software program, you are able to do away with that step.

Better of all, your Plex library can be shared with different Plex customers, making it an excellent method to give family and friends members entry to your media with out having to add all of it to a third-party cloud service like Google Drive or iCloud. Although some limitations must be thought of, corresponding to the facility of your Plex server and the bandwidth of your web plan, it may be a good way to incorporate your mates. There’s additionally a enjoyable Watch Collectively function, which we’ll get extra into under, that permits you to watch your favourite motion pictures and exhibits with pals.

And if that is not sufficient, Plex additionally operates its personal ad-supported, free streaming video service referred to as Plex Free Films and TV, which will be accessed alongside your private media, in addition to reside TV and DVR options you possibly can entry with the Plex Go subscription. There’s additionally an excellent new function for music followers referred to as Plexamp that we’re excited to speak about.

Plex family watching live TV.

Plex

What are the Plex necessities?

For the Plex Media Server, you have to to select a tool on which to put in and run it. Plex Media Server runs on all computer systems operating the key working techniques in addition to NAS units:

  • PC, Mac, Linux, or FreeBSD pc
  • 2015 Defend TV, 2015 Defend TV Professional, and 2019 Defend TV Professional — however not the 2019 Defend TV.
  • Netgear Nighthawk X10 router
  • Many common NAS units, corresponding to QNAP, Synology, Netgear, Drobo, and several other others

Whichever one you select, a wired community connection for each your server machine and your consumer gadget is really useful. A sufficiently quick Wi-Fi community (routers and units that help 802.11ac are greatest) can work too, however you’ll want glorious sign power to help streaming in 4K HDR.

For the reason that Plex Media Server does the lion’s share of the work concerned in organizing and enjoying again your media, a sufficiently highly effective gadget is necessary for the very best expertise. Right here’s Plex’s help web page that discusses the minimal necessities; it’s place to start out.

Should you solely plan to observe one video at a time and also you’re not planning to share your Plex library with different customers, a cheap NAS or a Defend TV Professional may do the trick. Nevertheless the second your wants change into extra demanding, you’re most likely going to need to run your server on a desktop or laptop computer. Should you’re uncertain what it is best to use, the Plex consumer boards are an excellent place to ask questions and get recommendation.

So far as the Plex Consumer Participant goes, you possibly can run the consumer app on nearly any gadget that’s on the market, so the percentages are good that you simply already personal a suitable one from internet browsers to Amazon Fireplace TV, Chromecast, Roku, or numerous sensible TVs. Should you’re considering of shopping for a brand new streaming gadget anyway, we suggest the Roku Streaming Stick 4K, Apple TV 4K, or Nvidia Defend TV for the very best Plex expertise.

These with Dolby Atmos house theater techniques could need to learn our Dolby Atmos sound information, because it incorporates some concerns for Plex customers who need to guarantee they get Dolby Atmos help.

An at a glance breakdown of how Plex works.

Plex

How do I set up and use Plex?

Your Plex journey begins by putting in the Plex Media Server software program in your chosen machine.

Step 1: Merely obtain the suitable installer and observe the directions. As soon as the media server is absolutely put in, it is going to open a brand new browser window, which incorporates the Plex internet app.

Step 2: The online app is your principal manner of configuring the Plex server, however it additionally doubles as a manner to have a look at your library and play your information in your pc. It can ask you to create a brand new Plex account after which take you thru a setup wizard that largely includes serving to the server observe down your media information.

Step 3: You possibly can retailer your motion pictures, music, and different information wherever you want, in as many alternative folders or onerous drives (each regionally or on community shares) and Plex will preserve the whole lot organized. Nevertheless, there’s one small catch: Plex has a desire for the way completely different file varieties are named.

For each sort of file (motion pictures, multi-part motion pictures, TV exhibits which have a number of seasons and episodes, and many others.), there’s a Plex-preferred naming type. You probably have lots of information, renaming them doesn’t need to be a guide course of: macOS has an excellent, built-in file-renaming operate, as does Home windows 11. You possibly can at all times skip this step — Plex will nonetheless allow you to entry and play your information even when they aren’t named utilizing Plex’s conventions, however it could have a tough time figuring out what the file is, so it’s possible you’ll not get all the wealthy knowledge from the net that makes utilizing Plex so pleasant.

Step 4: The Plex Media Server will routinely scan all the directories you recognized throughout the setup course of, and you’ll select how usually it scans these places for modifications. Should you’re a frequent downloader of recent media, you possibly can set it in order that Plex routinely updates its library any time it detects a brand new file has been added.

plex-full-library

Plex

Step 5: To shortly verify that the whole lot is appropriately, click on the House button within the internet app interface. You must see your motion pictures, music, and another media you added throughout setup starting to populate, together with their respective poster or album artwork.

Step 6: In the event that they don’t look fairly proper at first, wait a couple of minutes, as it may well take time for Plex to search out all the related data. To play a file, merely mouse over the thumbnail and click on the Play button.

Have in mind, enjoying a film this fashion gained’t essentially present you what it is going to appear like on a tool like an Apple TV or Roku. It’s actually simply meant as a method to verify that the file will certainly play.

How do I play Plex information on my TV or different units?

As we’ve talked about, there’s a Plex consumer for nearly each gadget available on the market. You’ll usually discover the one on your particular gadget within the on-line obtain retailer for that platform.

For Apple TV, for example, it’s within the App Retailer. For Roku, it’s thought of a downloadable channel. Many units, together with sensible TVs and Android TV bins, include the Plex consumer pre-loaded, so there’s nothing to obtain. The shoppers are usually free, however often, Plex expenses a small quantity to obtain them. A Plex Go subscription contains free entry to all shoppers (extra on Plex Go under).

Step 1: While you begin the Plex consumer, it is going to ask you for a similar Plex account you created if you put in the server. So long as your playback gadget and the Plex server are on the identical house community, it ought to solely take a second for the consumer to show the identical catalog of media information as you noticed within the internet app to point out in your gadget.

Step 2: You’ll discover an intuitive set of class hyperlinks on the left facet of the display screen, and all your matching media information might be organized in the primary portion of the interface. Choosing the file you need to play brings up an data display screen with descriptions and extra hyperlinks, plus the Play Now button.

Step 3: No media software program could be full with no search operate, and Plex’s common search does a very good job. It could possibly discover matches from amongst all your related libraries, subscriptions, and companies, together with your motion pictures, music, and TV exhibits, free content material from Plex Films and TV, internet exhibits and podcasts, and Tidal.

Why gained’t some media information play?

Each consumer gadget possesses completely different capabilities, which implies every Plex consumer additionally possesses completely different capabilities. When a Plex consumer connects to the Plex server, it tells the server what these capabilities are. An Apple TV 4K, for example, solely performs video information encoded in H.264, or MPEG-4, utilizing the .m4v, .mp4, and .mov codecs.

If the file you’re attempting to play doesn’t correspond to a type of file varieties, the Plex server might want to transcode it into one of many codecs that the Apple TV 4K understands. Relying on the file kind you’re enjoying and the codecs supported by your consumer, this may take lots of energy on the server’s facet. In case your server machine isn’t highly effective sufficient to deal with this conversion course of, it’s possible you’ll be advised that the film can’t be performed.

What to do

The apparent method to take care of this downside is to verify your Plex server is operating on a very strong pc. However not everybody needs to maintain a robust PC operating repeatedly.

If you already know that you’ll largely need to play your information on a single TV at house, shopping for a extra highly effective consumer gadget that may deal with numerous file varieties by itself — while not having the server to transcode — is a superb different to a costlier server machine. The Nvidia Defend TV and Defend TV Professional can play just about each media file kind, successfully eliminating the necessity for the Plex server to carry out transcoding. We’ve been in a position to play 4K HDR information with Dolby Atmos on a Defend TV from a Plex server operating on a WD My Cloud Mirror Gen 2 — a NAS with much less computing energy than even the most cost effective PC.

A screengrab of the Plex Media Server.

Michael Bizzaco / Digital Tendencies

Entry and search all of your streaming companies with Plex Uncover

Plex permits you to entry all of your streaming companies with Plex Uncover. While you arrange the Plex server and app, you may be prompted to pick out from a giant listing of streaming companies, together with the key ones you are seemingly subscribed to, corresponding to Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus, Hulu, HBO Max, and extra.

Uncover

The Uncover part will now seem on the left menu, underneath the house navigation. When you set it as much as embrace all of the streaming companies you subscribe to, in addition to a ton of different free and smaller area of interest companies, you can see what’s streaming throughout them multi function place. They’re additionally neatly organized in some useful classes, corresponding to Trending, New, Coming Quickly, and extra. Clicking a title brings up all types of information on it, together with the companies it is accessible on, in addition to the power so as to add it to your watchlist.

Common search

Plex’s search operate brings in outcomes from throughout your streaming companies and ones you do not subscribe to as effectively. It can additionally pull in outcomes from your individual private media library, Plex’s AVOD library, trailers, theatrical releases, and extra. Looking is easy and will be accomplished utilizing titles, actors, and administrators.

Watchlist

The common watchlist is a useful device as effectively, eliminating the necessity so that you can preserve separate lists on every of your companies — you possibly can preserve them in a single place. As you browse and search, you simply add titles to your watchlist, and as they change into accessible, go away one service, and present up on one other, you may at all times know the place you possibly can watch them. Should you solely need to see titles which can be accessible, you possibly can filter your listing utilizing the Out there to stream filter.

Plex Remote Access setup screen.

Simon Cohen / Digital Tendencies

How you can allow distant entry and library sharing

One of the crucial highly effective options of Plex is the power to configure the Plex server for distant entry. It takes a little bit of fiddling to get this arrange accurately since you’ll want to regulate your router’s firewall settings, however as soon as it’s configured, you’ll have the ability to use the Plex consumer in your cellphone or pill to stream your private media library from wherever on the planet — together with reside TV and recorded exhibits, you probably have that enabled.

This is easy methods to get distant entry working throughout your Plex-powered {hardware}.

Step 1: First, you may have to configure your modem to ship distant entry requests to your router if they aren’t the identical gadget.

Step 2: Subsequent, configure your router to ship distant entry requests to the machine in your community that hosts your Plex Media Server.

Step 3: Then, configure your Plex Media Server to answer these distant entry requests.

If you wish to share your Plex library with family and friends (who don’t reside with you), you’ll have to configure distant entry first.

As soon as that’s accomplished, inform your family and friends to create a free Plex account(s) after which inform you the e-mail they used to create it.

Plex add a shared user screen.

Simon Cohen / Digital Tendencies

Step 4: Contained in the settings on your Plex Media Server, you’ll discover a part referred to as Customers and Sharing. Inside that display screen, you possibly can add extra customers for the individuals who reside with you, in addition to giving entry to pals through the Shared Libraries choice.

For every Plex consumer you invite, you possibly can select which server (you probably have a couple of) and which libraries (motion pictures, TV, and many others.) they will entry. You probably have a Plex Go subscription, you may also let these customers obtain and sync your content material to their units and add their images to your server.

You possibly can see what these customers are watching in actual time, in addition to with the ability to see a historical past of what they’ve watched, throughout the Exercise Dashboard on your server.

Plex Free Movies and TV screen.

Simon Cohen / Digital Tendencies

Plex Free Films and TV

Related in some ways to free, ad-supported companies just like the Roku Channel, Plex Free Films and TV is each an add-on to your private Plex expertise and a standalone service.

As a standalone expertise, you possibly can stream Plex Free Films and TV from the net utilizing simply your browser and a free Plex account. However if you happen to’re a Plex Media Server consumer, you possibly can entry it via the identical interface as your non-public library of content material — there’s no separate app to obtain or set up.

The free, ad-supported service has a rising catalog of content material from sources corresponding to Paramount, Warner Brothers, MGM, Legendary, Magnolia Footage, Lionsgate Movies, and Crackle’s library of content material.

You’ll discover a always altering lineup of films and exhibits to observe. And whereas the choice is nothing like what you’d discover on a paid service like Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, there are some nice B-movies, Hollywood classics, and hidden gems to be found.

A view of the Tidal integration in Plex Server.

Derek Malcolm / Digital Tendencies

Tidal integration

You probably have a Tidal subscription, you possibly can add it to Plex. Which means that your Tidal music will be streamed on any gadget that helps the Plex consumer. However a good larger profit for music followers is the way in which Plex integrates Tidal along with your private music library. As you browse the music in your server, Plex routinely finds matches from Tidal to point out you tracks or albums you is perhaps lacking and associated artists and genres.

From a music-discovery viewpoint, it’s a robust system as a result of it’s primarily based on the music you like — in spite of everything, you already personal it.

Sonos integration

Should you personal Sonos wi-fi whole-home audio system, you possibly can add Plex as a music supply in the identical manner you possibly can add Apple Music or Spotify. Doing so has two massive benefits. First, Plex can routinely transcode any music information that Sonos can’t play — like hi-res FLAC information — so you possibly can get pleasure from your full music library. Secondly, you probably have two Sonos techniques in several houses, Plex allows you to entry your private music library in each places — one thing Sonos can’t do by itself.

You’ll additionally have the ability to arrange a number of consumer profiles with separate playlists utilizing only one Plex server. That is particularly handy if you happen to and your friends all add tunes and albums to a shared Plex server. In spite of everything, not everybody goes to get pleasure from your Invoice Evans assortment, and just about nobody goes to need to hear any of Cousin Ralph’s curations (why will we nonetheless invite him locations?).

So far as bits and bytes go, Sonos’ hi-res choices are capped at 16-bit/44kHz. That’s CD-level high quality, which goes to sound fairly large to most listeners.

The Plex Live TV screen.

Plex

What’s Plex Go, and why ought to I get it?

A lot of Plex’s greatest options can be found without spending a dime, however there are some premium options which you can solely entry you probably have a Plex Go subscription. Plex Go will be purchased on a month-to-month ($5), annual ($40), or lifetime ($120) foundation, and it entitles you to the next options:

Reside TV plus DVR: You probably have an HD antenna and a suitable OTA DVR, you possibly can watch and file reside TV from inside Plex. Your recording capability is restricted solely by the onerous drive house in your Plex server, and all your recorded exhibits might be offered with the identical easy-to-use interface as the remainder of your library.

Cell sync: A must have for commuters, this function allows you to wirelessly preserve copies of your favourite media in your cellphone for offline playback. It could possibly routinely add and take away TV episodes as you watch them.

Skip credit: This premium Plex function makes use of some superior monitoring instruments to find out when there are credit enjoying. Should you’re not within the temper to take a seat via opening titles or the half-hour-long finish credit of the most recent Marvel film, you may have the choice to skip.

Plex Sprint: An superior server-monitoring device (delivered to you by Plex Labs), Plex Sprint retains tabs in your Plex Media Server, breaking down very important stats like community, reminiscence, and processor utilization into easy-to-decipher graphs, charts, and different pleasant UI widgets. You’ll additionally have the ability to observe the expansion of your content material libraries, and might see precisely who’s enjoying what on any shared Plex servers at any time.

Webhooks: It was solely a matter of time earlier than Plex was launched into the larger world of sensible house automations. With the Webhooks function, you’ll have the ability to set off numerous Plex Media Server actions when interacting with sure sensible house units, corresponding to your sensible lights dimming everytime you play a music out of your Plex playlists. You’ll additionally have the ability to map sure Plex Media Server actions to sure workflow instruments and social media apps, together with Slack and Twitter.

Premium music and picture libraries: Get additional data added to your music (like lyrics that you need to use for karaoke) or images (location knowledge) for a richer expertise.

Digicam add: Wirelessly sync the images you are taking in your cell gadget to Plex in order that they’re a snap to view on all your Plex shoppers.

{Hardware}-accelerated streaming: This can be a massive one for individuals who need the very best transcoding efficiency. With out a Plex Go, all server transcoding is dealt with by the Plex software program, however this selection allows you to use your PC’s extra {hardware} energy to help in that activity, making it a lot smoother. You might be able to get away with a much less highly effective PC with this selection enabled.

Free entry to Plex consumer apps: By no means pay for one more consumer app once more.

Obtain: Convey all of your favourite motion pictures or music with you. No Web is required.

A person listening to music with the Audioengine B-Fi.

Crutchfield

Plexamp: A complete new method to get pleasure from your music

As a part of your Plex expertise, the corporate additionally gives a terrific music-listening and curation device referred to as Plexamp. Launched a couple of years in the past, Plexamp was as soon as a paywalled function for Plex Go customers solely, however now it’s completely free for anybody with a Plex account.

With the feel and appear of a premium music-streaming app like Spotify or Apple Music, Plexamp allows you to expertise your complete Plex music library in new and thrilling methods. The service additionally gives a gateway to new Plex-curated artists, albums, and playlists.

With Plexamp, you’ll have the ability to take heed to your favourite tunes from wherever on the planet, whereas having fun with options like gapless playback, loudness leveling, pre-caching, together with Chromecast and AirPlay compatibility. Should you’re a Tidal subscriber, you’ll additionally have the ability to hyperlink your Tidal account to Plexamp.

Plex Go subscribers do get particular therapy when utilizing Plexamp, and a few of these perks could also be sufficient to persuade you to take your Plex subscription to the following stage. These premium options embrace artist and album combine constructing, observe/artist/album curations primarily based on the sort of music you’re listening to, a ten-band equalizer, and extra.

You possibly can obtain the Plexamp desktop app for macOS, Home windows, and Linux machines, and the cell app for iOS and Android units.

Watch Collectively

Whereas it as soon as appeared like a gimmick, co-watching content material on-line is now a much-in-demand exercise. Plex’s Watch Collectively function permits customers to observe their favourite motion pictures and TV exhibits with pals. Watch Collectively is supported on the next units:

  • Amazon Fireplace TV
  • Android cell
  • Android TV / Google TV
  • Apple TV
  • iOS
  • PlayStation 5
  • Plex HTPC
  • Portal from Fb
  • Roku
  • Good TVs: LG, Samsung, VIZIO
  • Net App
  • Xbox

Step 1: To start out Watch Collectively, choose a film or present you need to watch in your Plex app, after which choose the Three dots / extra button, adopted by Watch Collectively.

Step 2: As soon as the Watch Collectively session goes, you possibly can then choose the buddies you want to be part of you. That you must already be pals to ask somebody, however you possibly can merely ship them a good friend request on Plex. You might have to restart the app if you happen to each simply accepted the good friend request.

Step 3: A Watch Collectively session will now seem on the highest of your app’s house display screen. As soon as chosen, you’ll enter the Foyer and see all the buddies who’ve joined and whose standing is Prepared. It’s also possible to simply choose the Begin button to start out instantly.

Step 4: Any consumer within the session can pause, begin, quick ahead, or reward the content material. This may regulate the playback for all customers within the Watch Collectively session.

What about Kodi versus Plex? Might I exploit that as an alternative?

Within the Kodi versus Plex battle, there are some massive variations.

Kodi is a robust media heart software program interface that does most of the identical issues as Plex. The important distinction is that it goes in regards to the actions in a different way. With Kodi, there’s no server software program — all of its features are self-contained in an app you obtain and set up on a suitable gadget. One limitation right here is that there are only some varieties of suitable units. Kodi doesn’t work on Roku, Amazon’s Fireplace TV, or Apple TV with no vital quantity of heavy lifting to put in and use it.

Plus, with no central server managing your media assortment, every occasion of Kodi is its personal world. There isn’t a manner so that you can synchronize settings from one gadget to a different simply. Meaning you’ll have to arrange every Kodi gadget as if it had been the primary time. Moreover, there isn’t a buyer help choice, so if you happen to run into any points, there’s no one to assist with troubleshooting, so it’s important to determine it out by yourself.

As a result of Kodi is open-source software program, there are a good quantity of third-party extras accessible for it. Sadly, that features a massive assortment of unofficial add-ons that may trigger you all kinds of issues, together with unknowingly accessing copyrighted materials.

The unofficial add-ons can even go away you weak to undesirable third events, together with malware, hackers, and snoopers. If you’re contemplating putting in Kodi, we suggest wanting over our Kodi explainer to discover ways to safeguard in opposition to cyberattacks or another potential downside that may happen with third-party add-ons. The information gives a radical understanding of the attainable authorized ramifications of utilizing these third-party add-ons.

Nonetheless, Kodi could be a good Plex different if you happen to prefer to tweak software program settings. Many customers skilled improved streaming companies and speeds once they paired Kodi with a VPN. Should you’re not a fan of sustaining a extremely related, centrally managed media library that shoppers stream from, then Kodi is for you.

Plex gives quite a few perks and minimal restrictions that will help you handle and centralize your media library. It’s a flexible utility that features free streaming content material, syncs throughout your units with a easy login, and has comparatively few limitations, just like the shortlist of incompatible file varieties. Due to this fact, we suggest Plex for these of you who need to arrange and retrieve your media. You must now be conversant in easy methods to use Plex.

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