The beginner's guide to Plex
Plex is an amazing tool to access your media content on all your devices. Here’s a quick beginners guide to getting up and running.
Plex is one of those services that has been around for some time but many of us might have passed over for some reason, be it a lack of understanding of what it actually does, thinking it couldn’t possibly be useful to you, or something else entirely. The truth is, Plex could be just what you’re looking for to help you manage your media collection.
Setting up a media server sounds daunting, but Plex makes it super simple — and dare we say, enjoyable. You just need to know where to begin, which is where we come in.
This is our beginner’s guide to Plex.
What is Plex?
The official Plex website describes it quite well:
One window into all your personal media. No matter where you are.
Your personal media. Everything you own, everything you have on your computer, accessible everywhere. On your mobile devices, through the web, even on some smart TVs and set top boxes.
Before you can use Plex to access your media on your other devices, you first need to set up your home server. This isn’t nearly as daunting as it sounds and involves downloading the Plex Media Server app to your computer. It comes in flavors for Mac, Windows, and Linux, as well as in a form designed for NAS drives. So it covers lots of bases.
Once installed, getting set up is a simple matter of following instructions in the web client — all your Plex-ing on your computer will be done in a browser — to tell it where to look for various media content. You’ll be hosting the content yourself, so you’ll need to make sure you can get to it at all times if you want to be streaming while away from home. That means storing it all on a laptop you take with you probably isn’t the best idea.
If you have a supported NAS drive, a standalone desktop computer, or even an older, now spare PC, these will be the best options. Ideally, you want something you can leave turned on, connected to the web, and most importantly, something you don’t throw in a rucksack and take on the road with you.
Plex Media Server has also been built for the Netgear X10 router. This is an expensive bit of kit, but it’s also one of the most powerful, fastest Wi-Fi routers on the planet. By installing the special Plex Media Server build on it, you can run the very same system as if you had it on a PC. You can hook it up to a network-attached drive, and you don’t need a PC to be running at all.
When you’re telling Plex where to find your media, it’s important to make sure the files are named in a way the software will understand, and that they’re stored in a folder structure, in the case of TV shows. Plex has some handy hints on how to best prepare your media for your server.
Additionally, if you’re an NVIDIA Shield TV owner, you can set up Plex Media Server right on the box. No joke!
Channels — content that isn’t yours
Beyond just your own content, Plex has a bunch of different content channels built in for you to use within the various Plex apps across the platforms. Some of them, like BBC iPlayer, already have good standalone apps for Android and other platforms, but why do in many what you can do in one, right?
Like everything, though, Channels will be region-dependent. So if you can’t get BBC iPlayer on the web or in the Android app where you are, Plex won’t be able to help. There’s a good selection of stuff from global providers, though, such as the TWiT network, 5by5, and Revision 3.
The great thing about channels is that they’re all available to watch in the mobile apps, too, and that also means you can cast them to your Chromecast and watch them on the TV that way.
What is Plex Pass?
If you find that you like Plex and want to get the most out of it, Plex Pass is something you should consider. It’s an add-on that you can pay for monthly, yearly, or as a lifetime subscription.
Here’s what it does, direct from the Plex support pages:
- Early access to new Plex features.
- Access to preview release versions of the Plex Media Server and other apps before they’re released generally.
- The latest Plex apps for Android and Roku are yours free.
- Premium features like Plex Sync, Cloud Sync and Camera Upload.
- Access to dedicated Plex Pass forums where you can ask the Plex Ninjas questions as well as vote up new feature requests.
- A way to show your direct support for Plex.
We’re not short on photo backup services, but with Plex, you’ll be combining it with the rest of your media collection and as such can access it on any device with a Plex app. It’s also worth paying for if you ever want to offline your media and take it with you.
As for pricing, you’ll pay $4.99 a month, $39.99 a year, or $149.99 for a lifetime subscription.
Some of the more recent features of Plex Pass really take your home media center up a notch such as live TV and DVR. Initially, you’ll only be able to use a limited number of devices with live TV, but the feature will eventually roll out to all apps on all devices.
The NVIDIA Shield TV was the first to support live TV, with the Android mobile version of Plex to follow. To watch live TV in Plex you’ll also need a suitable TV tuner, like the HDHomeRun Connect.
One of the most appealing parts of Plex is its wide support. Plex is one of the most widely available applications on mobile, desktop, and gaming consoles, with access on the Xbox One and Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4, various smart TVs and set-top boxes such as Roku and NVIDIA Shield along with Android, iOS, and Windows 10.
It doesn’t end there, either, with Plex branching out into Kodi support, too. If you’re looking to create a home theater PC as well as a server, there’s the free Plex Media Player app for your home theater, which is available on Mac, Windows, and even Raspberry Pi.
When it comes to your media, the device you choose shouldn’t hinder your enjoyment. Plex is one service that eliminates that problem almost entirely.
Your tips for beginners
That’s just a quick guide to getting up and running with Plex. After you’re set up, there’s a lot you can do with Plex. If you’ve got tips to share, though, be sure to leave them in the comments below.
Update June 2017: Updated with the latest features Plex has to offer.