As I started writing this I approached PLEX as I would any app and began looking at what new functionality it could bring to my iPhone. As I began to dig into this technology I found that I was way off base and too simply focus on the PLEX app does a disservice to the product. What Plex claims to be is a complete solution that allows users to discover, display and manage their various media files wherever they are, on (almost) any device.
So what that means to me is if I’m at a restaurant and I want to bore my friend with pictures of my family I can access them on my home computer from my iPhone and show off my kids. If I want to watch a show on Hulu with my laptop Plex will help me find it. If I want to see if I have Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 3 on my computer at home I can do so from my iPad, and if the show isn’t there Plex will find it somewhere else for me and let me watch it. So through a combination of apps, software and wireless providers Plex can help me watch or listen to almost anything from anywhere.
This solution intends to provide a single interface to connect any device to content that is online, local, free, paid, user generated or stored on a cloud. Specifically Plex claims to:
- Gather information and create a user profile to anticipate preferences
- Offer a completely device agnostic experience consistent across platforms
- Deliver the most complete choice of media content available
Oddly enough the first question I asked myself wasn’t does this work, it was why would I need this? Anything anywhere sounds like a great idea until you think about what you actually need. I have an iPhone and a computer, so I don’t need anything anywhere; I need what I want on my iPhone and computer which I already have. Or do I? One of the many strong points the Plex solution brings to the table is consistency.
If I’m looking for something on my computer I’m using Windows Explorer, on the Internet its Google which I will access via Safari on the phone and Chrome on the PC. But what if I’m looking for it on my T.V.? Using a standard cable provider’s program guide is honestly a complete mess and it doesn’t function at all like a browser or even a competent search agent like Windows Explorer. The idea of a single interface that’s powerful and easy to use that can search all of these begins to sound pretty good when you stop thinking in terms of devices and format and start thinking simply “what do I want to see?”. A single search string will find your program and deliver it. In those terms the true potential of Plex becomes more evident. So the next question is does it work? The short answer is yes, very much so.
Plex functions by integrating two components, the Plex Media Server and the Plex Mobile App.
Plex Media Server
The media server is the core of the Plex solution. The name is deceiving as it may sound like hardware; however this is software that runs on a PC or Mac and becomes the centralized content manager. The media server does the following:
- Combines many different media libraries
- Automatically searches for and retrieves data on media of interest
- Allows media library customization
- Allows media streaming directly from local sources
- Serves media to all Plex clients
The media server is definitely the heart of this solution and is why this isn’t just another app that lets you watch movies. Although a lesser PC can run this software, for HD content the user will need:
- Windows XP, Vista, or Windows 7
- 2.4 GHz Intel Core Duo processor or better
- 2GB of RAM or higher
By today’s standards that’s not much of a PC which is evidence that the server software is not only flexible but very efficient.
Plex Mobile App
The Plex app is the second piece of the “anything anywhere” equation. While being the most visible part of the solution, the app itself is relatively simple. Think of the app as the “Plex Media Browser”. It is the user interface that allows customers to search, discover, manage and view all of their media.
So I want to watch a movie on my iPhone. I will now open my app. Here I see a main menu.
This window shows my library and is fully customizable. I could add a folder named Horror Movies that has nothing but scary shows in it, or anything else I like. As the image shows the library can also be set up for music, pictures, TV, movies, or any other media the user wants to manage and view. I’ll take a look at the shows I have in the Movies folder.
Here is a list of movies I have in my video library. Each show has a graphic depicting the movie and an overview of the film. Film information can be retrieved from several locations including:
- Personal Media
- Rotten Tomatoes
- MoviePoster DB
The user decides where the information comes from via the Metadata Agent Settings in the Plex Media Server.
A user rating system is being implemented into the Plex solution so soon a user could also rate each movie in their library and make the rating viewable by other users. Pretty exciting stuff taking social networking and applying it to any media then making it fully customizable. That alone would be enough to get the attention of many film enthusiasts.
Think about it on these terms. I watch Blade Runner and decide it’s the best movie ever made. I call my good friend and tell him he’s got to come over and watch this awesome movie ASAP. He’s busy and can’t make it so I give him access to my Plex media library. He can watch my copy of Blade Runner right now, wherever he is at. After he watches the film and decides I am right and it’s the best film ever he can look at my entire library. This is where the rating system becomes valuable as he can simply see what other movies I have given 5 stars and check them out.
Now what if I want to watch Blade Runner but I don’t have it in my personal library. Plex will know I don’t have it and begin searching other possible viewing options including both free and paid possibilities.
The Plex App is currently available for:
These four platforms constitute the vast majority of devices in use today, and Plex seems to have a fairly agile development group adding new options and platforms regularly.