If you’re a big fan of music, movies, and TV shows then you know how hard it is to get them all in one place. A couple years ago I discovered a fantastic piece of software, called Plex, that can do just that. It takes a little more legwork than getting a Netflix account, but it can be well worth the time and effort if you’re really into media.
Plex started as an offshoot of an open source project that was known as XBMC, or Xbox Media Center. That software continued and is now known as Kodi. The developers behind Plex, however, felt that the future of media depended on more than just having a front end that displayed it. Thus Plex Media Server was born.
Plex Media Server is the central piece of everything that Plex does. It is, basically, a backend that serves media to your other devices much like Netflix does. Except unlike Netflix, you put the software on your own computer and point it at your own media as well. This means that the music, movies and TV shows you have stored as files on your own computer become the libraries that it delivers to you.
Setup the Server
Setting up Plex Media Server is fairly easy! You will need:
- A computer to run the software on. It can be a dedicated server, like I have, or just your laptop.
- Media files. Everything from MP3s to whatever video formats you have are fine. Plex can take juts about any file!
- The server software. You can grab the download for whichever platform you are using, be it Windows, Mac or Linux, from right here.
- A Plex account. Signup here.
Once you’ve installed the media server software on the computer you plan on using, follow the prompts to setup libraries. A library is a collection of media of a single type, for example movies. You just have to point Plex at the folder that contains your movie files and it takes care of the rest, adding information like titles, actors, directors, brief previews, cover art, and more. Log into your account on the server and the back end is ready to go!
Setup Your Devices
Whatever device you want to use for watching and listening, I can almost gaurentee that Plex has an app for it. Android devices, Apple iDevices, Windows 10, Amazon Fire devices, Roku, even many smart TVs have a Plex app available. Some cost money, some are free, but they all take whatever media is loaded on your server computer and put it on the screen in front of you. The steps are a little different for every kind of device, but should be simple enough for anyone to figure out. Log into your Plex account and you should see everything that you added to the server earlier.
Don’t worry about what formats are on your server. One of the best things about Plex is that it detects what formats your device can handle, then transcodes (converts on the fly) whatever media you want to play into a format that your device can play. This process can result in some issues if the server is very low-power, but generally there aren’t any problems.
My Personal Setup
Since some of you might be wondering how I’ve got my Plex set up, here it is. For the server side I have a dedicated machine, running Ubuntu Server. All of my media is stored there in a pair of 2 TB Seagate NAS drives. I have Plex apps on my Android phone, Windows 10 PCs, and a dedicated home theater PC. I use it just about everywhere!
Once you’ve got everything set up, Plex is pretty much plug and play. The majority of the experience is free, too. Do you use Plex or have you thought about using Plex? Let me know in the comments!