I am always searching for new and exciting software to help manage my growing media library at home. Recently I came across one such platform called Plex. The goal of Plex is to create a complete solution for all your online and local media needs. For the purpose of this guide I will take a look at Plex Media Server, which acts as a central media management database for distributing all your content to your various playback devices.
All downloads for Plex can be found here. I will be specifically installing Plex Media Server (PMS) on my Windows Home Server, which can be found here (make sure you download Plex Media Server and not Plex Media Center).
As per the Plex website, here are the requirements (once again, specifically for Windows):
Windows minimum requirements
• Windows XP SP3, Vista, or Windows 7
• Flash and Silverlight video requires Windows Vista or Windows 7
• Direct X 9.0c compatible graphics card
• An Intel Core 2 Duo processor or equivalent
• At least 2GB of RAM, 4GB recommended
For optimal performance and compatibility with Plex Media Manager, we recommend Google Chrome, Safari, FireFox, or IE9 with Google Chrome Frame.
N.B. Windows Vista or above is required for Flash and Silverlight video.
In order to play Flash and Silverlight video, you will need to install the plug-ins on your computer before running the Plex Media Server. Install the Flash version from here and make sure you select the “Other Browser” version.Install the Silverlight plug-in from here.
Plex On The Internet:
As I mentioned when going through the PMS settings, you have the ability to sign up for a myPlex account. You can log into your myPlex from any internet browser, and there are several things you can accomplish.
Once logged in to your myPlex account under the “Servers” tab you should see a list of all servers you have attached to your user name, as well as any servers share with you (more on this momentarily).
One thing worth pointing out, with myPlex you cannot actually play back your media. In order to play back, you will require a client which will be discussed below.
Now that your Plex library is set up with PMS, the final step is to have a client which will connect to PMS for viewing. Currently the choices are as follows:
- Plex on your Desktop (i.e. HTPC)
- Plex for mobile devices (iOS and Android)
- Plex for connected devices (2011 and 2012 LG Smart TVs, Google TV, and Roku)
I don’t own any “connected” devices and didn’t get a chance to test out Plex on my HTPC (possibly a future writeup), but I did test out Plex on my mobile devices (i.e. iPad, Asus Transformer Tablet, and Kindle Fire). Plex mobile app currently costs $4.99 (iOS link here, Android/Google link here, and Android/Amazon link here). Let’s take a quick look at Plex for Android.
With the App installed, the first step will be connecting to your PMS, as well signing in to your myPlex account is applicable. You can also adjust some of the settings such as the video quality PMS should use for both when you are in network and when you are remotely connected.
Once you are connected to your PMS you will now be taken to the Plex homepage where you can access all your media broken into three categories (My Library, Channels, and Recently Added).
I was only able to test out playback on my home network (all my mobile devices are wi fi only and typically the places where I travel with them don’t have free wi fi to test out). In order to play back content on mobile devices, PMS will transcode the content (typically just videos) into a format that your mobile device will support. Because of this, there are several things that will occur. First, transcoding is a CPU intensive process, how well playback works may depend on the PC being used by PMS as well as if any other CPU intensive processes are running on the PC at the same time. Secondly, since transcoding is occurring there will be varying results in the picture quality (in combination with the video settings chosen, wireless connection, etc…). I would typically encounter some pixelation but on a small screen such as a mobile device it is more the acceptable. At times some A/V sync issues would occur but I could usually get cleared up pretty easily. I would be very interested to see how well video playback looks on a big screen TV where pixelation and degradation would be more pronounced. Music and photo playback had no issues (typical content being 320kbps mp3s and 2-3MB photos).
There were a couple of additional items worth mentioning:
- When you install PMS, all cached data will be stored on the same drive as where PMS is installed. For most people this hopefully shouldn’t be an issue assuming you have sufficient free space on your install drive. However, as a Windows Home Server user I am only allocated 20GB worth of free space on my C: drive. After installing PMS and adding media I noticed that my WHS started moving at a snails pace and eventually crashed on me. When I booted back up nearly all of the free space on my C: drive had been eaten up. After digging around I noticed that the straw that broke the camels back was PMS, where the cached folder was taking up nearly 4GB worth of space. After digging around it appears there is an option to point PMS to a separate drive for caching. I was able to get it to work but not 100% (I pointed it to one of my shared network folders and could see the cache had moved, but encountered some issues with images showing properly). Here is the thread for anyone who is interested.
- I keep running into some stability issues with PMS, so I have had to shut off for the time being. All of a sudden while using one if the media players in my house it would become unresponsive. I would head over to my WHS and would see Plex errors appearing (Transcoding.exe crashing, etc…). Don’t know what was causing the errors since at the time Plex wasn’t even being used, but ultimately I need my WHS as close to 100% stable as possible which meant shutting off PMS. At some point I may revisit.
I must say I am very impressed in what Plex has to offer. In my head the ultimate home setup revolves around having a central server/database that feeds to various devices, and Plex sure seems to fit the bill. This is where I think home media is heading, where all content is stored in a central location (whether it be cloud, server, etc…) and distributed to various devices.
For those who are using Plex I would be interested to hear your feedback. In particular for those using Plex on their HTPCs how do you find file support/playback, is PMS required for an HTPC, etc… For Connected Devices how well does the Plex App work and especially how is picture quality for video playback?
UPDATE – thanks to GusGus for pointing out, and unRAID plugin for Plex is in the works. For more details see here.