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Plex for local and online media..

When it comes to getting media from storage to devices the cutting the cord revolution has enabled a large number of systems available for users to get their TV and media over the Internet. What is cutting the cord? Simple instead of getting your media from the traditional Sky, Virgin, Freeview you get all your viewing from internet sources. No need for a cable contract each month paying for 500 channels you are never going to watch.

When it comes to how to watch TV over the internet the XBMC project is king, it is the ocre system behind the big open source hitters which include Boxee and Plex.

For this post we are going to be looking at specifically Plex.

What is it?

So what is Plex? Thats a good question and it needs to be understood the Wikipedia entry describes Plex as

is a partially open-source freeware media player software with a10-foot user interface, with a matching closed source media server (“Plex Media Server“) software, which is available forIntel-based Macintosh computers and computers runningMicrosoft Windows.[1] Its media player source code was initiallyforked from XBMC Media Center

There are a couple of things which possibly need to be clarified, Plex isn’t a replacement for your freeview box in so much as it won’t go out to Cable TV and find you Eastenders or the latest football match. Its a system first and formost for playing your local media. Plex does have plugins available for catch up services like BBC iPlayer or web media content like Revision3 or TWiT. Also this is an XBMC fork however not all (in fact none i’ve tried) of the XBMC plugins work, essentially Plex has Plex plugins.

Plex is split up into two components a client side which does all the displaying, the client is available on multiple platforms. Then we have the server side which unlike the XBMC Open Source forked front End is propritory closed source and works currently on Mac, Ubuntu and Windows. the purpose of the back end system is to catalog all your local media, place it into locations which best describe it (Movies, TV, Photos, Music etc) and then present it to the Client system. In indexing your media the Plex server will see if it can inde the media, pull down information off the internet about the movie or TV show and this will be presented to the user when they view the content.

This client/server approach makes Plex very different to Boxee and XBMC and also has the ability to allo your media to be accessed from the web should you so wish and have a Plex Share Account. this makes watching your media while on the go a much nicer experience.

More from Wikipedia:

Plex began as a freeware hobby project but since 2010 has evolved into a commercial software business that is owned and developed by a single for-profit startup company, (Plex, Inc.). It is a high tech company based in the United States that is responsible for the development of the Plex front-end and back-ends, its client–server model, and all accompanying software under the “Plex” trademark, as well as the exclusive copyright of the closed source proprietary software parts, both when distributed on its own or when it comes as third-party software component in products by other manufacturers via a strategic partnership

Desktop Clients

Plex started life as an OSX specific fork of XBMC and it has its roots in the 10ft User Interface market. The interface is designed to sit on a PC or a PC attached to a TV so its interface has a look and feel so you can control it from the soft on a 10ft TV should you so wish.

The original OSX only thinking is no longer the case and the Windows crowd   now also have an interface. On opening the client you will be shown any local PlexServers which the client PC can see, and can connect  to them as required. Should you not be running a PlexServer this interface will still show all locally stored media and could connect to media on a NAS directly over the network and Play. There are a good selection of third party plugins for watching web content also available including the usual suspects BBC iPlayer, Revision 3, CNN, TWiT, 40D etc.

The interface on the desktop client is pretty consistant over desktop platforms and looks like an enhanced version of what you might find on a High end TV, making use of up down, left right and enter to navigare the unobtrusive menu system.

Playback wise i’ve had no issues playing back any of may media on my Mac, Flash, MKV, AVI etc all play ok, videos play in full screen and can be fast forwarded and paused while playing.

IOS/Android  Client

The ISO client is where Plex really comes into its own specifically the ipad with the iPad on the same Wireless Lan as the Plex server the system will auto detect and then you have a wonderful interface to your media. The groups you’ve setup on the Plex server will all be available and any videos which need transcoding are done so on the fly (The Mac server version needs Sunflower installed to do this).

The Android App on the Tablet interface is very similar, both Apps are chargeable  items i the releven App stores

Where the App comes into its own is the off Wifi Access should you be out of the local Wireless lan you can, with a Plex Account and as long as your server is setup access your media over the interent. the app allows you to set the streaming bit-rate for Wifi and 3G which is a great feature. Having this level of external connectivity is fantastic.

As your media is indexed on the server the App is able to provide you a huge amount of media detail from album covers to IMDb style information about shows and episodes.

Client Server

There has been a fair number of mentions about Plex’s Client Server model in this review and its at this point we need to look at this. While the desktop client is based on XBMC, there are some features missing such as themes, the ability to directly connect NAS drives, Airplay however what’s removed is replaced by a proprietary server which will run on OSX, Windows or Ubuntu which sits on an always on server. The purpose of this server is to setup Categories Films, Music etc and then point the categories to your media such as CD’s, Local and Network Shares, NAS Drives and the like. The server will index the content on the media firly quickly if i’m honest and if possible pull down information about the content for display on the client such as description, cast, plot etc.

On the OSX server the Plex Server provides a dock tray icon to view the server components and check for updates etc. The Ubuntu server is managed via a Web portal and installed from the command line.

Sharing Media

Creating a server account enables the Plex server to not only be accessed from the outside world it also provides a feature which is interesting, you can share your media with other Plex users. You could potentially setup a network of media servers sharing media around schools, training centres, or just friends.

Plexpass

Plex has a number of revenue streams such as IOS/Androids apps another is the plexpass a simple system.

Put simply the plexpass is a way to charge users to beta test new features which right now is a web portal to your media accessed using your normal Plex account. I did ask on the IRC channel what else was in the works and why shell out for the pass and was told as i’ve already mentioned this is a way of charging for beta testing.

Unless you have a need for a Web Portal, avoid at the moment i’d suggest Plex need to offer a bit more with a pass.

Conclusion

Where XBMC broke the mould Plex has taken this concept and turned it into a client server model. I like the idea, i’m using it and i’m specifically enjoying the IOS iPad app linked to this system. To be honest i’m finding the Mac Desktop a little buggy and in need of a bit of work. As a complete system however this is well thought out and able to deal with huge media libraries. The Plex team are good at support and have been reasonably quick at getting back to me, however updates to the core systems such as the MAc Client seem to be a bit slow coming at the moment..

2 comments on “Plex for local and online media..

  1. Pingback: Alternatives to Apples iPad Apps. « projectz

  2. Pingback: Plex: The Clients | projectz

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