The streaming media world grows increasingly more crowded on daily basis. Between Sling TV, PlayStation Vue and HBO Now, there is no scarcity of streaming choices so long as you are keen to shell out the money each month.

However what if – and dangle in there with me – you wish to stream your individual media? What when you do not wish to pay for one thing you’ve got already paid for 4 years in the past? What do you do then?

Properly, that’s the place Plex comes into play. It’s at present the preeminent all-in-one media sharing server that makes use of your PC to distribute content material to any room in your home. Plex is actually extra software program than server, in that it makes use of your pc as a hub to entry media you have already got on units you grant it entry to. 

It has been round for over eight years now, and is just about a staple in any media connoisseur’s arsenal. However must you shell out for the paid model? Do you have to decide this over a rival service? That is what we’re going that will help you determine.

Setup

Plex is split into two variations. A free, everything-and-the-kitchen-sink model of the media server software program, and a paid model referred to as Plex Go that offers you all the things and the kitchen sink plus all the things within the upstairs rooms for $four.99 (£three, about AU$6) a month, $39.99 per 12 months, or $149.99 for all times.

The important thing variations between the 2 are the flexibility for Plex Go to work along with your recreation methods – the Xbox One, PS4, PS3 and Xbox 360 – in addition to the flexibility to arrange viewing restrictions on sure films. The latter, although not as related to one-user households, is beneficial in stopping youthful children from watching something they should not see.

Plex outlines the variations between its free and paid tiers, however among the many starkest contrasts is the that paying for the go additionally unlocks the reside TV DVR, Sonos integration and digital actuality help. 

As soon as you’ve got determined which service is best for you and your family, it is time to run the installer and arrange a Plex server. Observe that there’s a distinction between the Plex Media Server app for PCs and Macs, and the Plex apps accessible on a wide selection of units and platforms. 

Putting in the media server software program is fast and painless. However the act of really including media to Plex – which requires establishing particularly named folders and subfolders and naming video information in a sure format – is greatest described as tedious, irritating and at factors downright ridiculous. Keep it up, although, and you will be rewarded ten-fold as soon as your server goes reside for the primary time.

Machine Help

There’s nothing fairly like the frustration of shopping for a brand new piece of package, solely to be taught that your favourite service is not suitable with that . However, regardless of what number of occasions that has occurred prior to now, that will not occur with Plex. It is accessible just about in every single place you may consider.

Plex is offered for cellular units working iOS or Android, in addition to a steady of set-top containers that embrace any Android TV platform, most sensible TVs, the brand new Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, Roku, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Ps three and Ps four. In the event you’re out at a buddy’s home and left your PC working again dwelling, you may even use a browser to login and entry your cache of reveals, photos, music, films and podcasts. Heck, now it even works with Amazon Echo. You’ll be able to ask Alexa to play music out of your Plex server, or ask for the newest movie to be added to your assortment. Ask Alexa to play the movie and it’ll pop up in your display. 

Plex review

After all, having the platform to put in it on is just half the issue. The opposite half is having the platforms speak to one another in clever methods.

Fortunately, Plex excels at this. In the event you cease at 20 minutes, 23 seconds whereas watching a movie in your cellular gadget, Plex offers you the choice of beginning over or choosing up the place you left off on no matter gadget you utilize subsequent.

Plex’s builders designed it to transcode a number of file varieties to allow them to play on units that wouldn’t in any other case be capable of play them. That inexhaustible urge to be agnostic isn’t bulletproof, nonetheless, since information do not at all times play properly with the platform they’re streaming to. When your PC must transcode a video to play on a platform it requires a little bit of CPU processing to get the job performed. Streaming throughout platforms – or Direct Stream, as Plex calls it – may cause some decelerate. This did not influence me as a lot as different customers, however it’s price mentioning.

Interface

Contemplating the free tier is there for the taking, I couldn’t blame you for pondering Plex would skimp on its interface. Typically our intestine reactions are unsuitable, nonetheless, and when you’re ever searching for a shining instance of that, that is the place.

Plex appears, kind of, just like the bookshelf on Kindle or the iBooks app on iOS. It categorizes every title is by style and pulls in metadata to present it cowl artwork – even when the file you had downloaded did not include any.

Plex review

Like your customary media participant, Plex additionally comes with playlist, watch later and really useful options that pull information from each your private library and any variety of “channels” you put in in your server.

This appears like a minor element, I do know, however it’s small particulars like these that make Plex really feel like a premium service. Consider it like Netflix, solely it’s your stuff and never another person’s.

Even so, integration is vital to the entire expertise. Plex just lately up to date the music part of the service by including clever playlists and music movies from Vevo. It offers your music an added layer of data, together with one other supply to flick thru when the temper strikes to listen to some tunes. It’s akin to providers like Spotify and Pandora however with out the fixed interruption of advertisements.

Efficiency

Efficiency, as you may think, relies upon 95% on the connection pace of your individual community.

I discovered comparatively clear playback at round 10Mbps pace each on my hardwired PC and wi-fi 802.11a/b/g/n pill. The occasional dropped body did not essentially kill the expertise for me, although on the one or two events I hit fairly extreme blocks of slowdown.

In these moments, I did really feel a twinge of frustration. That mentioned, when you’re apt to have days of 3Mbps speeds, take into account going one other route to your streaming setup. 

Plex does supply distant entry to your server, and it might probably work rather well, albeit with some caveats. Distant entry will get blocked in case your pc is utilizing a VPN. In the event you’ve gone so far as utilizing one to your complete dwelling community, it can nonetheless disable the function.

The pace you get when and the place you’re pulling within the content material issues, too. In the event you’re on a restricted information plan to your telephone or pill, stick with Wi-Fi as a result of streaming video from a Plex server can take up loads of bandwidth. To not point out the add pace of your property community is essential. If that’s sluggish for any motive, distant entry can include annoying buffering.

Metadata isn’t at all times good, both. More often than not, that’s a simple treatment – simply fill within the file identify appropriately. However there are nonetheless bizarre issues that occur. Oddities, like two seasons of a TV present displayed as one complete season, have occurred to me. Similar with getting the unsuitable cowl paintings or lacking folders of music altogether.

For these causes, Plex wants some steering to do its job. Identify the information proper, set up folders correctly, and also you gained’t run into issues. 

Reside TV

Making reside TV work seamlessly on this period of over-the-top video streaming is one thing cord-cutters love to determine. Plex has the pedigree to combine it, however like different components of the platform, it’s not the best factor to place collectively. 

As pure software program builders, the oldsters at Plex are form of on the mercy of third-party makers. However integration can be zero sum, on this case. For instance, sure TV tuners, just like the HDHomeRun and newest Hauppage fashions, will do high-quality. Others, like Tablo and TiVo, are non-starters.

Having the tuner itself can be solely a bit of the puzzle. You want one thing to plug it into in order that Plex can really see it. I used an Nvidia Protect TV as a result of Plex’s Media Server app is available and infrequently up to date on it. Then I wanted an empty exterior laborious drive to plug into the tuner or the Protect (relying on if the tuner has a USB port for exterior storage or not).

In my case, I had the HDHomeRun Join, which meant I needed to join it to my dwelling community on one finish, after which a digital antenna on the opposite. From there, I might then stream recordings over Wi-Fi to the Plex app on the Protect. After that, I might additionally entry the recordings by means of Plex apps on iOS, Android, PS4, Xbox One, Roku, Amazon Hearth TV, TVs working Android TV, Apple TV and internet browsers. Utilizing Chrome on a pc or the Plex app on cellular units, I might push the content material over to a TV by way of Chromecast.

Had I used a Hauppage tuner, I must plug that instantly into the Protect (with the opposite finish related to a digital antenna), and the laborious drive into one of many Protect’s USB ports. The selection of tuner depends closely on the place the Protect is relative to your property router. You can additionally use a PC or Mac as an alternative of the Nvidia’s field and obtain the identical outcomes.

If any of this already sounds complicated, it’s as a result of it may be. The enjoyment of Plex is that getting it to work proper is tantamount to performing a profitable experiment. Tech-savvy customers with endurance might admire how this comes collectively, whereas novices may really feel huge frustration on the variety of steps concerned.

Plex will set up recorded reveals and films and add paintings to them, no matter which tuner is bringing them in. And because the platform transcodes information, watching them on in any other case incompatible units isn’t a roadblock.

The organizational facet additionally gives loads of customization. I might keep away from reruns, so I don’t report the identical episode twice, re-record an episode if it wasn’t in HD, solely report a present from one channel and delete older episodes to make room for newer ones.

One other function, albeit examined in beta, was a industrial remover, chopping out the annoying advertisements and clipping collectively the precise present’s runtime itself. It’s not good, however it does work, and cumulatively saves time and space for storing. Think about that an hour-long episode often comes with about 15 minutes of advertisements. A 22-episode season would imply 330 minutes price of content material that weren’t tied down by commercials.

Regardless of all that, Plex has but to make the most of a grid-like channel information to point out what’s taking part in and at what time. I might see reveals or films which might be both on reside or developing, and that’s it. There are slight variances on how this appears, relying on which Plex app you’re utilizing, however in any case, Tablo and TiVo do a a lot better job of laying out the schedule. 

A caveat to all that is that set prime containers just like the Protect weren’t meant for Frankenstein setups like what I’m describing. If you’d like a number of tuners to report reveals constantly, think about using a desktop PC as an alternative. 

Podcasts

Plex added podcasts to flesh out its content material supply, and in contrast to a few of its different options, there’s little to set as much as make it work. Whereas nonetheless in beta as of this evaluate, it was straightforward to get a superb sense of how one can entry and make the most of them.

For starters, Plex’s library isn’t as deep as longstanding podcast repositories, like Overcast, Downcast and Pocket Casts. Most of the hottest or widespread ones will present up rapidly, however it’s doubtless that you simply’ll discover one thing lacking. To plug any gaps, Plex has an choice to seek for a podcast by way of URL, which is an honest comfort.

By integrating them into Plex’s app, podcasts turn out to be a part of the broader dwelling display. That makes it simpler to leap on a podcast on the identical display that might present the films, reveals and music you have already got entry to. The added benefit is you don’t want your Plex Media Server to hearken to any of them, since they’re simply pulled from the cloud.

As well as, you can begin by listening on one gadget after which proceed on with one other. So, if I used to be listening within the automotive by means of my telephone, I might then decide up the place I left off on my Roku, for instance.

Sonos integration

Formally out of beta now, Sonos help for Plex is a backdoor to taking part in music information the favored multi-room audio system don’t in any other case play. It was in beta for fairly a while, however now finalized, it’s nice — when it really works.

I’ve had each good and dangerous experiences with it. It was nice to have many gigabytes of music saved on a NAS and mine it for tracks that I might play on any Sonos speaker. I might even create a queue or playlist that shuffled songs from each the media server and streaming providers.

Taking part in lossless FLAC information was some of the current additions, and a sorely wanted one. For all its audio chops, Sonos has been reluctant to swing open its compatibility doorways to high-res audio codecs. Greater than that, it couldn’t play AAC information, both, basically chopping off tracks bought from on-line music retailers like iTunes.

By now supporting FLAC information as much as 16-bit/44 kHz, Sonos has at the least simplified the method. And Plex doesn’t must transcode these information right down to 320kbps to play on Sonos’ audio system anymore. The AAC help is only a bonus on prime of that.

Nonetheless, this marriage is a rocky one. Not as a result of neither facet likes the partnership, however as a result of too many bugs haven’t been squashed but. For instance, Sonos will typically not be capable of see the media server in any respect. Different occasions, songs gained’t play for unknown causes. Music folders separate from iTunes might not seem, solely to look afterward. 

It’s a type of issues the place it’s nice when it really works, but a irritating nuisance when it doesn’t.

Plex and VR

With digital actuality (VR) gaining some traction amongst a subset of shoppers, Plex focused video aficionados with this add-on. A very powerful element of observe is that the platform helps VR content material on suitable headsets. On the time of this evaluate, these have been the Google Daydream View, Samsung Gear VR and Oculus Go

The Plex VR app can be separate from the principle cellular app. It has a VR interface and is made to work with the controllers that include the aforementioned headsets. What Plex has pushed from the beginning with that is what it calls “co-watching” and “Drive-in.” Mainly, you get to observe the identical content material with mates or household, even when they reside half a world away.

It solely works if everybody concerned has Plex Go, although. It’s not restricted to VR content material — any video accessible in your Plex server may very well be considered by as much as three others (so it’s 4 complete). The structure is adjustable, so you may select a digital drive-in, condo or only a plain black background. 

It’s a bizarre solution to watch something of an extended length. I’ve by no means been a fan of watching a full film with a headset on, however Plex thinks folks might be keen once they can talk with one another watching collectively. 

VR headsets just like the Daydream and Gear VR are okay, although the decision isn’t nearly as good as watching on a superb TV, laptop computer or pill. Plex appears deeper by including the sort of integration, however it’s nonetheless early to contemplate it a key part.

Last verdict

In the event you take into account your self a media buff, have a repository of media information to again it up, and just like the integrative path Plex is taking, then the platform is all the things you’ve got been eager for.

The set up and setup course of is a bit tedious and convoluted. Not precisely amenable to novices who would love the entry, however hate the steps to get there. Nonetheless, as soon as up and working, I discovered it to be a beautiful, easy-to-use and lightweight piece of software program. The truth that it is free to obtain, with affordable subscription charges, simply provides icing to an already scrumptious cake.

So long as you go in with an open thoughts and a fast, steady connection, Plex is not going to disappoint.

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