If you’re a big consumer of entertainment, then you’re in the right place. I’m going to show you how to set up a home media center, complete with remote viewing capabilities.
Plex is a free, partially open-source, cross-platform app that allows you to manage and play videos, music, photos and more from a local or remote computer.
You can use any computer for your media center, but make sure it’s powerful enough to run Plex the way you want to. I am using a three year-old Acer desktop that runs 24/7. I also recommend backing up your computer and media files.
You may want to organize your media files before you start if you are planning to do so. I like my media to be meticulously organized, but if you don’t care about that you can simply dump it all into one or more folders on your hard drive(s). Plex will scan everything and give you a friendly UI to manage and playback your media.
The first step is to download Plex onto your computer. Because we’re going to setup a media server that can be played remotely, choose Plex Media Server. Walk through the installation wizard and launch Plex.
Once you’ve launched Plex for the first time, you’ll come to a screen where you can begin adding your media. Choose the type of media from Movies, TV Shows, Photos, Home Movies and Music.
You’ve greeted with a popup where you can add folders where your media files are stored.
Once you’ve added all the folders you want, Plex will begin to scan your media library and gather metadata to organize your collection. Depending on the size, this process could take a few minutes or much longer.
Now that your media has been added and scanned by Plex, you can view your categories and make sure all metadata is correct. Here is a screenshot of my TV shows section of my library.
As you can see, Plex displays my shows nicely with artwork, which is so much easier than going through my folders in Windows Explorer.
When scanning your media, Plex will ask different agents (like IMDB) for information on the different media types (like TV shows). Here is detailed episode information for season six of 30 Rock.
Configure Your Settings
Configure Plex’s settings how you want. Give your Plex server a friendly name so you can be recognized by other devices; if left blank, Plex will use your computer’s name.
Change how Plex updates and scans your library folders. You can also manage agents, languages and transcoding settings, but I left mine set to default.
One of the best features of Plex is the ability to use myPlex to playback your media when you’re not on your local network. Setup a myPlex account and you’re ready to put Plex on your other devices. We’ll get to that next.
Playback on Other Computers
If you want to playback your media on a different computer, you need to install the Plex Media Center app. Once you’ve gone through the install wizard, Plex Media Center will launch. Plex Media Server is available for Windows, OS X and Linux.
To login to your myPlex account, go to Preferences > System > myPlex and enter your email and password. Now you can playback your media from this new computer, whether you’re on your local network or on a foreign network.
Plex gives you options for how to sort your media by rating, title, year, genre, etc. The app will also keep track of which episodes and movies you have and haven’t watched so you can easily stay on top of your viewing.
Mobile & TV Playback
Plex also comes with apps for iPhone, iPad, Android and Windows 7 mobile devices. The mobile apps are $4.99 each, which is a small price to pay for mobile playback of your media library. Sign into your myPlex account to view your media library like you would on a computer.
Plex is also available for TV devices like Roku, Google TV, LG Connected TVs, Xbox and Playstation 3.
In addition to your personal media, you can stream content from online channels like NBC, Netflix, Picasa, CNN, Hulu and more. Channels update automatically and many are in high definition.
While Plex was originally a fork of XBMC, it has since become a media server app of its own. Plex is a fast, powerful media server that free to use on computers plus your television, and cheap to use on mobile devices. It’s really an incredible piece of software that leaves little to be desired when streaming your media to multiple devices.
The developers of Plex have taken their freeware hobby project and turned it into a commercial business so you can be sure your favorite media server app will continue to be improved.
Now that you’ve seen what Plex is capable of and how easy it is to set up a home media server of your own, you should give it a shot.