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The Ultimate Plex Review: Is This Personal Media Server Worth It?

January 20, 2024

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Plex is a unique streaming platform that combines a robust personal media server for organizing your own content with a growing library of free on-demand programming. But how does it stack up for most cord cutters? This comprehensive Plex review provides an in-depth look at pricing, features, content, and whether Plex Pass is worth it.

What is Plex & How Does It Work?

Plex Tv

Plex is a media server software that lets you store, organize, and stream your personal media library – including video files, music, and photos – to all your devices. The key components are:

  • Plex Media Server: Software you install on a computer, NAS, or Nvidia Shield TV to host your libraries.
  • Plex Apps: Apps for streaming devices, mobiles, smart TVs to access your server.
  • Free Movies & TV: Ad-supported streaming content similar to Tubi or Pluto TV.

To get started, you simply:

  1. Download Plex Media Server to a device where your files are located.
  2. Create libraries for your movie, TV, music folders. Plex scans and matches metadata.
  3. Stream your libraries anywhere with Plex apps. Share server access if desired.

Plex intelligently direct plays media when compatible or seamlessly transcodes it on-the-fly so virtually any file plays on any device. For example, an MKV Blu-ray rip could stream to an older Roku despite missing codec support.

Plex Pricing & Subscription Options

Plex offers mostly free functionality but charges for some premium features and mobile app unlock via Plex Pass.

PlanPriceKey Features
Free$0Media playback & management. On-demand movies & shows. Free live TV streaming.
Plex Pass Monthly$4.99/monthEnhanced music, offline sync, hardware acceleration, early access updates, DVR.
Plex Pass Lifetime$119.99Same as above but one-time charge.

Plex Pass includes extras like advanced photo management, HDR to SDR tonemapping, managed user accounts, GPU transcoding, and more. But most core media server and playback capabilities are available for free.

Plex also offers a discounted $9.99 Tidal plan for Premium streaming music. Or the $19.99 HiFi Plus bundle with lossless Tidal audio paired with Plex Pass.

Next, let’s take a closer look at the features and capabilities unlocked with the optional Plex Pass subscription.

Plex Pass Benefits & Premium Features

While Plex Media Server itself is free, here are some of the key things unlocked with a Plex Pass membership:

Enhanced Music Features

  • Auto-tagging to match metadata
  • Intelligent sorting by release date
  • Lyrics support
  • Personalized artist radio stations
  • Track hazard notifications
  • TIDAL integration

Mobile Offline Sync

  • Download media to watch offline
  • Syncs wirelessly
  • Saves data when traveling

Early Access & Updates

  • Priority updates
  • Early features previews
  • Submit feedback to influence development

Plex DVR & Live TV

  • Watch and record free over-the-air TV
  • Requires antenna and HDHomeRun tuner
  • 14 days cloud DVR storage

GPU Acceleration & Hardware Encoding

  • Enhanced performance
  • Reduces transcoding strain
  • Smoother streams

Additional unlocked benefits include premium photos support, camera upload, enhanced trailers and extras, premium filters, skip introduros, multi-user accounts, secure connections, and more.

I’ll cover the full capabilities unlocked through the Plex ecosystem next.

Plex Platform Support & Devices

One strength of Plex is support across a vast range of platforms including streaming devices, smart TVs, gaming consoles, set top boxes, and more:

Plex Device Support

Plex’s computer platforms include Windows, Mac, Linux, FreeBSD plus network attached storage (NAS) options and Docker.

With apps scaling to almost any device, you can easily stream Plex libraries across multiple screens. Even niche platforms like VR headsets work.

Let’s explore Plex’s media format support and playback capabilities next.

Media Format Support & Playback Features

Plex supports a huge range of media file formats – this flexibility is one advantage over locked-down streaming platforms.

Video: MP4, MKV, AVI, MOV, HEVC, DivX, Blu-ray rips
Music: MP3, M4A, FLAC, WMA
Images: JPG, PNG, RAW

Plex can direct play files natively supported by your device hardware. If formats are missing codec support, Plex’s server will seamlessly transcode media into a compatible streaming format.

Transcoding happens in real-time, converting quality or file types on-the-fly so playback succeeds on target device limitations. With Plex Pass, your server can utilize hardware acceleration and GPU encoding for efficient conversions.

Advanced users can dig into technical playback details like codecs, resolutions, bitrates, and audio formats. Check Plex’s support documentation for a complete list of media types.

Next let’s explore how Plex organizes your libraries using metadata scraping and matching.

Library Organization Features

Plex automatically adds descriptions, artwork, genres, ratings for your media by matching file names against online databases. This metadata enrichment process enables powerful library browsing, sorting and searching tools.

Smart organization features include:

  • Automatic tagging and metadata matching
  • Customizable libraries
  • Cover art and descriptions
  • Genre, year, rating facets
  • Recently added sorting
  • On deck sorting for shows
  • Intuitive search
Plex Fix Match

You start by creating libraries for your movie, TV show, and music folders. Plex scans contents and tries matching file names against metadata sources. For best auto-detection, organize files using naming conventions like:

  • Movies: Movie Title (Release Year).ext
  • TV: Show Name – s01e01 – Episode Title.ext
  • Music: Artist – Album/Song.ext

You can manually fix inaccurate matches or add information for unknown media. Refine library settings under Manage > Edit for each library.

Plex Fix Match 1

Enable advanced settings to customize metadata agents, scanner locations and intervals, thumbnail prefs and more fine-tuned management.

Now let’s explore Plex’s capabilities for streaming your libraries.

Flexible Playback & Streaming Features

Plex intelligently handles streaming your files with two core methods:

Direct Play: Media files compatible with target device play natively. Direct playing avoids conversions for smoother, faster streaming.

Transcoding: Incompatible files get remuxed in real-time into a streamable format supported by receiving player.

Transcoding uses more processing power but expands format support. With Plex Pass, enable GPU hardware acceleration to reduce CPU strain.

Useful streaming tools include:

  • Bandwidth limiting – helps minimize buffering
  • Remote quality limiting – saves mobile data
  • Audio boost dialog normalization
  • Subtitle support and management
  • Continue watching status sync

Monitor activity under Dashboard to see when media plays directly vs transcoding. Identify playback limitations then optimize server, network, and devices.

For example, upgrade a Roku stick to handle more codecs natively instead of relying on Plex conversions. Or enable hardware acceleration if your CPU struggles transcoding high bitrate 4K.

Next let’s take a closer look at Plex’s growing on-demand streaming library.

Free Movies, TV Shows & Web Series

Plex Movie

Alongside personal media management, Plex offers an entire standalone streaming library dubbed Mediaverse:

  • 14,000+ movies and shows
  • Content from Lionsgate, MGM, Warner Bros
  • New additions monthly
  • Free live TV channels

The catalog quality improves thanks to a partnership with Crackle folding in their entire library.

Genres span action, comedy, drama, family/kids, horror, romance, and other categories. Featured movies include Patriot Games, Snowpiercer, The Illusionist, Snatch, and more. Though selections rotate regularly.

Crackle Original content also streams free including sports docuseries On Point and rapper biography Yelawolf: A Slumerican Life.

In addition, retro programming from The Film Detective was added: beloved classics, B-movies, film noir and other genres.

While Plex’s catalog can’t rival leading subscription services, this free bundled content marks a continued expansion into streaming – while still playing nicely with your personal media.

Content Limitations

Despite ever-growing catalogs, Plex still faces some limitations around content breadth and depth compared to paid-for options like Netflix or Hulu.

Pros may find Plex’s focus on personal libraries diminished as streaming priorities seem to increase. Still, most core functionality remains solid.

Additionally, Plex gamifies finding free movies and shows through a BINGO-style game promoting engagement. However the content discovery experience overall remains simplistic compared to smarter recommendation algorithms of paid services.

Next let’s explore the functionality around Plex’s live TV streaming and DVR capabilities.

Live TV Streaming & DVR Features

Plex provides live TV streaming from over 80+ channels spanning news, sports, movies, tech, culture plus free programming from Crackle and others.

Built-in electronic program guide data enables browsing upcoming programming in real time. Filter across genres using tabs like News, Entertainment, Sports, Kids.

Plex Live Tv

Many live channels display details like current program and remaining runtime. Quality maxes out at 720p however and lean-back watching experience isn’t as refined as dedicated live streaming platforms.

For recording shows, Plex offers DVR support but requires additional hardware like HDHomeRun CONNECT tuners plus an antenna. Configure under DVR settings.

Once setup, you can record both live TV broadcasts and also schedule recordings. Storage depends on your Plex server device size. Recordings integrate directly into libraries for watching like any other media.

Plex Dvr

While helpful for cord cutters missing local channels, Plex DVR involves more gear and setup compared to something like YouTube TV. But does enable locast antenna streaming as well.

Next up we’ll take a deep dive into Plex’s user interface and overall streaming app experience across platforms.

Plex App Interface, Design & UI

Plex prioritizes usability with an intuitive interface centralized around browsing your media. Consistent navigation works fluidly across most platforms.

Every Plex app surfaces key tabs in the sidebar:

  • Home
  • Movies & Shows
  • Web Shows
  • Podcasts
  • Live TV

Home displays On Deck lineup of recently added episodes plus a tailored What to Watch section with suggested titles to resume or download.

Plex App Interface

The Discover section compiles recommendations based on watch history and favorites status. Continue Watching keeps track of partly played media. My List enables building a custom playlist with bookmarks.

Plex Discover

Generally Plex apps provide a visually polished experience. While simpler than leading paid streaming platforms, the UI looks more premium than freebie rivals.

However some limitations around profiles and personalization exist. You can’t make multiple user profiles to segment suggestions and watch status. No smart content syncing or watch list sharing across devices either. But handy mobile features like offline downloading.

Let’s explore tips for customizing your experience next.

Customizing Your Plex Setup

While Plex works nicely out of the box, tailoring some preferences helps personalize it further:

  • Create libraries – Organize media into Movies, TV Shows folders or custom channels.
  • Tag favorites – Mark favorite episodes, artists, albums, movies.
  • Curate watch status – Flag seen/unseen content.
  • Enable widgets – Surface recent media on home screen.
  • Share servers – Invite friends for collaborative libraries.
  • Add user accounts – Manage restrictions for kids (Plex Pass).
  • Show intro detection – Auto-skip TV intros after first episode watch.
  • Limit bandwidth – Customize remote streaming quality limits.
  • Refresh metadata – Improve inaccurate descriptions or artwork.

Tweaking server settings expands customization even more:

  • Manage agents – Prioritize metadata sources
  • Switch scanner intervals – Control library scan frequency
  • Create smart playlists – Personalized dynamic rules
  • Update thumbnails – Customize thumbnail appearance
  • Back up databases – Download metadata backups

Administrators can dive deeper by:

  • Remote accessing server dashboards
  • Monitoring bandwidth usage charts
  • Reviewing server logs for troubleshooting
  • Scripting Tautulli for advanced statistics

For simple streaming, defaults work great. But power users have almost endless room for tailoring, automation and self-hosting.

If encountering home screen errors like “could not save changes”, restart the app or clear cached data.

Next let’s explore how Plex compares to alternatives like Emby and Jellyfin.

How Plex Compares to Emby, Jellyfin & Kodi

Plex dominates the personal media server space but faces competition from Emby, Jellyfin and Kodi:

Emby

  • Open source & self hosted
  • More plugins & customization
  • Better codec support
  • Lacks hardware acceleration

Jellyfin

  • Forked from Emby
  • Entirely open source code
  • Focus on community
  • Lesser device support

Kodi

  • Fully free & open source
  • Extremely customizable via plugins & skins
  • Stable & mature platform
  • No centralized server

Plex strikes a balance of usability and customization. Server-client architecture expands device support. Intuitive interface and metadata tools enable ease of use. But Plex Pass paywall limits some capabilities.

Overall, Plex still provides the most polished end-to-end experience for personal streaming. But Kodi, Emby or Jellyfin suit advanced self-hosters willing to trade some complexity for control.

Consider advanced player Infuse Pro for added codec support compared to the Plex app.

Now let’s dive into some frequently asked questions.

Plex Review FAQs

Does Plex replace Netflix or cable TV?

Plex helps organize personal media collections – it doesn’t directly replace subscription services. However the free on-demand movies do add value for cord cutters. Overall selections can’t compare total volume though.

Is Plex worth paying for?

Plex Media Server itself is free and capable for most basic streaming. However, Plex Pass offers useful upgrades like mobile sync, hardware encoding, Spotify-style audio features, and priority app updates. If you want to support Plex development, it’s reasonably priced to unlock additional capabilities.

What devices support Plex?

Plex supports almost every consumer streaming platform – mobiles, tablets, media streamers, smart TVs, gaming consoles and more across Android, iOS, Android TV, Fire TV, Roku, Chromecast, Apple TV etc. Even works on most smart home displays. Enable universal plug and play (UPnP) to discover Plex servers automatically.

Can I access Plex remotely?

Yes! Enable remote access under server settings. Port forwarding is sometimes required for remote connections outside home networks. Plex apps provide secure sign-in for streaming libraries anywhere with internet access. Traffic routes through Plex’s servers.

How private and secure is Plex?

Plex utilizes industry standard transport layer security (TLS) and Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption for data protection. As an exception, Plex Relay circumvents router port forwarding by instead proxying streams – but doesn’t encrypt traffic. For privacy, disable Plex analytics data sharing unless needed for troubleshooting.

Is Plex better than Kodi?

Plex focuses on sleek centralized media server streaming and manages libraries automatically. Kodi offers fuller local playback customization via add-ons and plugins but lacks polished client-server infrastructure. Kodi better suits single box HTPCs. Plex suits multi-device access. Combine both for a powerful media center stack.

The Bottom Line

Plex empowers organizing personal media while offering some free streaming movies – a unique combo in the cord cutting space. Easy setup and broadly compatible apps offset limitations around profile management and smarter recommendations.

For simple streaming, Plex Media Server itself brings excellent functionality even without Plex Pass. Overall, Plex provides an impressive ecosystem tying together personal libraries and expanding free content.

The free server software and apps make Plex easy to try out. And Plex Pass offers nice upgrades for serious home media enthusiasts. For those with existing file collections looking for a slick library-to-living room solution, Plex delivers.