If you have spent any time around me talking computer stuff, you have undoubtedly heard me talk about Plex. I love Plex. Today they released version 1.0 of the server, so I thought it was a fitting day to blog about it. It is an amazing piece of software (well, several pieces of software that hook together actually). Plex allows you to set up a home media server to manage/share your media such as music, movies, tv shows and photos. You install the software (free) on a computer (Windows, Mac, Linux) and then point it at the folders you store your media in. You need those folders to be somewhat separate (keep Movies/TV/Music in their own folder) and named in a way that makes sense (the filenames are used to do look ups). The software will then go out to the internet and get all the pretty artwork and details about your media. What format does the media need to be in? Pretty much any, the Plex server will handle any converting in the background if a player requires it.
Once you have your media in Plex, you can then access that media using a Plex client. There are LOTS of Plex clients available. iOS, Android, Windows OS all have Plex clients available. The new Apple TV has a client. Xbox and Playstation have Plex clients. Some Smart TVs and media devices like the Roku have a Plex client. There is even a web version of the client, so you can use any web browser to act as a client. This essentially allows you to access any of the media stored on your Plex server from any of those Plex clients anywhere you have a network connection, AND if your internet is fast enough, anywhere you have internet access! You can even share your media to a friend that is running a Plex client.
What that means is that in our house, we have access to all our media on every TV, computer, tablet, and phone. I can start watching media on one TV, and then resume it on another. Once I watch a show, it marks it as watched so I don’t have to remember where I left off. And if you don’t have a network connection or don’t want to use up all of your mobile data? Well some of the clients support using Sync to put those files on your device before you leave the house. It requires the purchase of a Plex Pass subscription for that, but it is highly worth it (I bought a lifetime subscription). We always have a few shows and moves on the iPhones and iPads for emergencies or when we travel. Nothing calms a toddler down quicker than being able to watch his favourite show.
Hmmm…. but if all of your media is on a server, what could the kids stumble across? Well Plex thought of that too. You can set up user switching for everyone that has access in your house and keep content locked down from some users. You can set up an account for your kids so they don’t have access to anything but kids shows, or shows movies G. All very handy. Again, another feature of the Plex Pass.
So I did say I have access to all my media on all my TVs. Well I don’t have Smart TVs in the house (yet) so I had to add a little additional hardware/software to do it. If you are an iOS household and have an Apple TV, you can use the plex client on your iOS device to airplay to your Apple TV. Newer Apple TVs have a Plex client you can install and control directly with the Apple TV remote. But I don’t like having to depending on using my phone or ipad to watch. So I bought a couple cheap Raspberry Pi computers and installed RasPlex on them. It is a dedicated (and free) client for the Raspberry Pi computer. You can then use any of your devices to remote control the plex player, or you can get a remote to control the RasPlex computer just like you would a DVD player or PVR.
So as you can see, it really is an awesome piece of software and what I consider a must for anyone that has a large collection of media to manage. There are even more features available (Channels of content, auto photo upload, etc) that I currently am still learning about. It truly is a must for the techy home media enthusiast. Where you get all your media from will be your problem to solve, but once you have something started and organized, this is a must to put on top of it.
And what do I use for a computer to store all these files and run my Plex Server? Well that is a story for another time 🙂
All for now,
PS – And as a reminder, buy the Plex Pass! It is soooooo worth it, and it supports the hardworking developers behind this project.