Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Home media streaming with Plex

Screenshot of Plex on iPad

If you have a lot of media stored on your computer, and you want to be able to watch it on other devices – your TV, or a tablet, for example – then Plex is one of the best ways to go about it. Originally a fork of XBMC (now known as Kodi), Plex has matured to the point where it is really easy to set up and use.

It works as a client and server. You install the free server software on the computer that has your media – be it films, music or photos – and then install client apps on your devices where you want to watch that media. Plex makes its money by charging for these apps, and for its premium Plex Pass tier which adds some cloud features.

What sets Plex aside from its rivals is its very broad platform support. The server software runs on Windows, Mac and Linux, but the client apps also run on iOS, Android and Windows Phone devices. And if you have an Xbox, Roku, ChromeCast, Ouya, Amazon Fire TV or Google TV device, there are Plex apps available too, along with smart TVs from Vizio, Samsung and LG. So you should find that Plex works with the equipment you already have, rather than having to buy another thing to plug into your TV. This is where Plex’s rival Boxee perhaps went wrong, as it required an extra set-top box; Boxee was recently acquired by Samsung and no longer offers its software for download.

When you install the Plex Media Server on a Mac, it will automatically make your iTunes music and video, and your iPhoto photos, available. You can then add any other folder with media in it, which Plex will download cover art and plot synopses for automatically. Plex also handles transcoding, so you don’t need to worry about what format your media is in – as long as Plex can open it, then you’ll be able to play it regardless of what your device normally supports.

You can also add internet TV channels. There’s a BBC iPlayer app, for example, although I don’t think it’s official and it’s not as good as the app on my Roku device. YouTube, Vimeo and Apple Movie Trailers channels are also available.

My only issue with Plex is that the server software will not run on a Raspberry Pi. RasPlex turns a Raspberry Pi into a Plex client, so you can hook it up to a TV, but you can’t plug an external hard drive with ripped films on it into your Raspberry Pi and have them available to watch on other devices. This is mainly down to the lack of processing power in the Raspberry Pi but it’s still a bit of a shame.

I would definitely recommend checking Plex out. Especially as its client apps are on sale this week.

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