LAST UPDATED: March 18th, 2020
Plex is a media server that organizes music, photos, and video from personal media libraries and streams them directly to mobile devices, smart TVs, and streaming boxes. Plex Media Server consists of some closed-source and some open-source code. It was introduced in 2009 to host the content that Plex then streams through different platforms. Plex streams this content either on the same machine, the same network, or over the web. The system began as a freeware hobby project, but Plex’s stable software release was June 4th, 2015.
Following its initial release, Plex was frequently used to store pirated media. It has since entered the mainstream, with a wide variety of features:
- Plex offers two packages-free access to Plex and Premium access to Plex, known as the Plex Pass. The Plex Pass costs $4.99 a month, $39.99 a year, and $149.99 for a lifetime of service.
- The Plex Pass includes: streaming music videos from Vevo alongside music, mixing playlists based on similar tracks, sonic fingerprinting, offline smartphone access to all media, customized accounts for multiple users, cloud sync with supported providers, automatic syncing with phone and tablet photos, trailers, interviews, and extras for movies in a user's library, early access to new apps, and one free app from the Plex catalog
- Plex organizes all media in a single interface and adds movie descriptions plot summaries, and album covers to all media using metadata.
- Plex is available on Windows, Linux, OS X, and FreeBSD. Plex also streams on Chromcast, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Android TV, Xbox, Playstain, VIZIO, and many newer smart TVs. The integrated Plex Channels give users access to many online providers, like YouTube, Vimeo, CNN, and TEDTalks. Plex also provides cloud integration for services like Dropbox and Google Drive.
- Plex uses top-of-the-line encryption to keep users' media safe.
- Plex offers a number of features for music storage and play, including: availability on all devices, sharing capabilities, playlists, compatibility with streaming clients like Chromecast, a beautifully arranged music "Hub" with all content in one place, multi-item editing, and support for most music formats. Recent improvements include: syncing with Vevo and Gracenote for music videos and better access to metadata.
- The Plex website is beautifully designed and easy to navigate. All features are linked in a comprehensive sidebar.
- Plex offers several popular TV channels, including: HGTV, the History Channel, Comedy Central, and PBS. These channels serve to supplement whatever channels are already available on a user's streaming client. Plex also allows users to bookmark videos from around the web to watch later on whichever device they choose.
- Plex offers extensive help pages and forums for users struggling to make sense of the startlingly complicated Plex interface.
- Plex cannot censor explicit lyrics in any media.
- The free version of Plex lacks so many essential features that anyone interested in using the service to host the entirety of their media library may be obligated to purchase the Plex Pas.
- The Plex Pass, which contains some of Plex's most useful features, is fairly expensive, especially when purchased all at once.
- Plex has a steep learning curve and much of the website is written in coded, technical jargon. For someone with little experience in media hosting, navigating this new platform of the software may be overwhelming. The software itself is also complicated enough that it may be prohibitive to some.
- Plex setup is notoriously difficult, and the installation instructions are vague and unhelpful.
- The Plex interface is not customizable. All media is kept on the same black and orange pages.
- When streaming on another device, Plex's streaming capabilities depend entirely on connection speeds. A slow connection speed will translate into poor streaming, but it generally isn't practical or even possible to download media onto multiple devices. This means that a solid Internet connection higher than 5Mbps is necessary in order to guarantee any kind of success using Plex's particular media interface. Users with inconsistent connections should look elsewhere.
The Bottom Line
Plex isn't a music streaming service, in the traditional, Internet radio sense. It doesn't host an independent music library; instead, it hosts media from users' own libraries and streams it to relevant devices. Plex is extremely flexible and extremely complicated, but well worth the price. What it lacks in age and experience, it more than makes up for in sheer usefulness. As media storage solutions go, Plex is near-perfect.
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