Why I Just Love Plex

Note: I have no affiliation with Plex. I'm just posting this because I found a tool that I really, really like and I feel like I have to share that. Onward!

Plex is a multimedia server. And it's my new favorite thing in the whole wide world. Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration, but I am digging it in a big way.

Here's the idea: You install a Plex server on whatever computer has your multimedia collection - movies, TV shows, music, photos, whatever. Then you install a Plex client on whatever device you want to consume that collection from - another computer, a tablet, a phone, a Roku, whatever. The media is streamed over your local network or the internet from the server to the device.

But what makes it really great for me is not the core concept - really, I don't feel like I need a media server - but the extra little things that come as side-effects of that setup.

Media Management

First and foremost, I love Plex as a media manager. It's not all that great for music, frankly, but for television and movies, I've never seen better. While it does initially populate its database from online sources like TVDB and MovieDB, it allows me to edit that information. For example, I can add/change genres for a movie. Some other media players (looking at you, XBMC!) are happy to show you the info from the database, but don't let you modify it in any simple way.

While Plex is a fork from XBMC, they've done a lot of work to improve the experience. In addition to modifying show information, they actually show un-matched content as-is - no details, but it's there, so you can fill it in yourself.

Plex also lets me create separate collections for different kinds of content. For example, I have instructional videos that are technically movies - they came off a DVD - but aren't really movies, if you know what I mean? I can put those in their own category, so they're not all mixed in with my movie-movies. I can separate downloaded podcasts from my music. I can have a separate category just for music videos and autotunes and other short videos I've downloaded from the interwebs.

Rich Remote Control

And then there's the "play on" feature, where you can be cruising around in the media manager (the server's interface) or in the Plex app on your phone, and send an album or video to your main Plex player. This essentially makes my phone a really great remote control for my TV.

While I'm sitting in the kitchen supervising the dogs' dinner, I can be cruising through my movie collection, pick out what I want to watch, and send it to play on my TV. Then I switch to the remote control mode, pause the video, and I'm ready to go when I get back into the living room. It's a convenience that I never knew I wanted until I had it... and now that I have it, I love it.

The Plex app on the phone also gives quick and easy access to select subtitles and audio tracks, which is great for anime. Instead of cycling through them with a multimedia remote, I can pop up a dialog and just tap the one I want. This feature eliminates a lot of the guesswork.

Video on the Go

Plex can stream movies and TV shows to mobile devices, but I don't do much of that. Instead, I add fun and interesting internet videos to my queue.

The Queue in Plex is just a place to link to videos on, say, Youtube or Vimeo, so that you can get back to them later. In a desktop browser (Chrome, IE, etc), you can use a bookmarklet to quickly add videos to your queue. See something on Youtube that you just know you're going to want to share the next time you see your brother? Plex It!

Then, sitting around in his living room two weeks later, you can pop open the Plex app and play the video. No searching around, trying to remember what it was called, sorting through the remixes and spoofs. It's ready to go on a moment's notice. Brilliant!

And More...

These are just my favorite things about Plex. I know it has capabilities that I have yet to discover a good use for, and the project is in active development, so new features are coming down the pipeline.

Here's some other features that sound neat but that I haven't really found a good use for yet:

  • I could download media to my phone to consume offline. I don't consume a lot of media on my phone, so I haven't done anything with this. Also, it's a PlexPass feature, so I'd have to pay to get it.

  • I could use Plex to access media stored in Dropbox or Google Drive. Again, part of PlexPass, but I don't really keep much in the cloud, and certainly nothing that isn't also part of my Plex server at home.