Take Your Media Anywhere with Plex

Plex Media Server is a rare kind of app. It is desktop software, but is completely controlled by your web browser. Because of this, it works no matter which browser you choose to use, but more importantly it also works on any operating system platform — be it Windows, Mac, or Linux — and even NAS devices can run this software.

Plex will serve up media to virtually any device, from DLNA boxes like a Google TV and Roku to Blu-Ray players, DVR’s and even mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. I personally stumbled onto this great free service after replacing our HTPC with a Vizio Co-Star Google TV box. It will play almost any format and you can use it to push video, pictures and music around your home. Let’s take a look and see how it works.

Getting Started

Plex is a free open source program. You will need two different parts to make it work — the Media Server and the app that will reside on the other end to play that media.

For this post, we are dealing with setting up the Media Server, which is the rather important first step to making this all work in your home. The downloaded file is not large and the installation is fairly quick. Just head over to the Plex site and grab the flavor that matches your computer or server and you will be off and running.

Setup

Once installed, the app will live in your system tray. From here you can right-click it to launch. The dashboard will open as a tab in whatever browser you have set as your default.

Once you are in the dashboard then the real setup process begins. The screen is fairly  basic, which is a good thing — there is no complexity involved, Plex was designed to work for everyone.

The basic controls are across the top with Library features, Recently Added and Channels below. The right column contains sign-in information and the latest Plex news. So, let us take a look at what all of this can do.

My Library

This is the core part of the system — Movies, Music, Photos and TV Show, which pretty much covers all of the media you could possibly ask for. There are Add, Edit and Refresh options above this. We will start with what could arguably be called the most important — Add. After all, this is how you get your media into the Plex server.

Clicking the Add button will produce a pop-up box that provides options for all of the basics like Movies, TV Shows, Home Video, Music and Photos. Click the one you are interested in adding and you will be taken to a screen that allows you to name the new section, unless you prefer to leave it as one of the default names, and also add a folder.  Adding a folder is simply a matter of browsing to where the media is stored and making it a part of your library.

You will need to walk through this step for each and every media type you wish to add.

Viewing the Library

From the main screen you can click any of the headers to view what is included in each one. For instance, clicking on movies takes me to a view of all of our ripped DVD’s, displayed in any order that I please.

Clicking on each one will provide detailed information on cast and director, as well as a plot synopsis.

Meanwhile, the left column gives you a vast number of option for sorting all of these files and the right column is an alphabet that allows you to click a letter and head to that particular section of your library to see what is included there.

What is on This channel?

Clciking the “Install a Channel” option brings up a menu of popular content, including such things as The Daily Show, NPR, Ted, Hulu, Revision 3, Funny or Die and a whole lot more. Click on each one, and then the “Install” button to add it to Plex. You can then browse the content contained there.

With some TV shows being added to this section, Plex is becoming ever more flexible for people looking to save a few dollars by turning off the cable or satellite service and saving a few dollars every month.

Settings

Settings provides a plethora of options, all of them neatly listed down the left column. These include General, My Plex, Agents, Libray, Channels, Transcoder, Languages, DLNA and Network Discovery.

From here you can control, customize and change almost any aspect of the media server. You can make changes such as enabling or disabling all sorts of settings from this page.

In the End

I found one major flaw in all of this, but it is likely only big to me. You see, I have ripped and stored almost all of our DVD’s in ISO format. I do so to preserve menus and extras for future viewing. Plex, it turns out, does not play ISOs — actually neither does my previous solution (Windows  Media Center), but WMC with My Movies installed did the job just fine.

Beyond the whole ISO thing I can not find a thing to complain about with Plex. It has done exactly what I asked it to do — namely the Google TV app has brought all of our home media back into the living room despite the fact that the HTPC is now absent from that space.

The verdict is this — Plex is a keeper. it works cross-platform, plays almost every format and is dead-simple to set up and use. What more could you ask for from any app?


Summary

A powerful media server to let you access your videos from anywhere.

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