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Plex

Table of Guides (with quicklinks):

Introduction to Plex

Plex is another free frontend option (similar to WMC, Media Browser, XBMC, JRiver, etc) that you can choose for your HTPC. Plex has some very cool pros but also some cons which I will discuss more in a minute. Plex is extremely simple to operate and use. If you think Plex is very similar to XBMC then you are correct. Plex was “forked” from XBMC’s code in 2008 mainly for Apple based PCs. Today the interface remains very similar. Plex allows you to playback ANY of your media on most devices. So no longer are you confined by specific operating systems, file types, codecs, etc on these devices (which can be quite limiting and restrictive).

Plex has two parts. The first is “Plex Media Server” which should be installed on your primary HTPC (where your data is actually stored) or your server. The Plex Media Server is where you tell Plex where your media is actually stored and what you want to share for each category. The Media Server also does the meta data fetching automatically.

Plex Media Center is the second part of using Plex. You can install this on any of your HTPCs and as you will see below it will automatically add your files from your Plex Media Server.

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Plex Server For Your HTPC

The first part of using Plex is to correctly setup the Plex Server software which will act as the “hub” for all of your media. This guide will show you how to use Plex Server to stream your media stored on your HTPC (or server) device running Plex Media Center. Also, if you have an iPad or Android tablet or phone you now can watch, view and/or listen to anything and everything at your fingertips with the Plex App (see below).

Plex server allows you to playback ANY of your media on any device. So no longer are you confined by specific operating systems, file types, codecs, etc on these devices (which can be quite limiting and restrictive).

Note: Transcoding from the Plex Server to a mobile device can be CPU intensive. Make sure your HTPC has enough CPU power to handle this. I am using an Intel G530 in my server with no issues at all when transcoding to multiple devices

First let’s download the Plex Media Server here (note: Do not mistakenly download Plex Theater or App which we will download and install in the next guide). Now install the program. You may be asked to install Bonjour which is a group of Apple based network discovery items.

Install Plex Media Server and okay the installation of Bonjour

Click to run Plex and Exit

Now in the bottom right of your desktop locate the Plex program running in the “Show Hidden Icons” area be the date and clock. Click on this and choose “Media Server…” to open the main screen

I installed Plex on my server running WHS. Since I don’t have my preferred Chrome web browser installed Plex had to install the “Google Chrome Frame” to run. So if you are prompted here to do this install this extension. Otherwise if you are using Google Chrome already this step likely does not apply.

Now we can see the main screen of Plex Server. Let’s click to add Movies

Add the directory or directories where you have your music stored and when finished select “Add Section”

Let’s do the same thing for TV Shows, Home Movies, Pictures and Music if applicable. Notice below you can start to see where Plex is building the Movie library I added in the step before this one.

I will show you some of the changed I made under the “Preferences” menu. If I don’t mention something then I have left it at default.

First, I changed my server name to one that was easy to associate with Plex. Something like “Plex Server” sounded appropriate to me.

Next I changed the “Library” option to update my library when changes to my folders are detected. I also asked it to update my library hourly — you can change this time interval to whatever fits your needs the best. Finally I told it to empty the trash after every scan.

Under languages I chose to prefer audio tracks in English. I chose to manually select subtitles as I don’t use subtitles often. Again, choose whatever suits your needs.

Under transcoding select to Offer higher bitrates over 3G connections (when utilizing Plex with wireless devices such as Smartphones or tablet PCs)

Next navigate to “My Plex”. Here I made a myPlex account to make it easier to sync between additional Plex clients in the future. This is an important step to complete as the rest of your Plex devices will use this information to sync with Plex Server

One thing I discovered is that after you sign up myPlex will send you an e-mail. You then have to activate your account via the e-mail before signing in.

Next click to “Publish server to myPlex”. Plex will now attempt to map the server to a port on your wireless router or other network device. After this step Plex Server will now be automatically accessible by any other Plex device that can log into your Plex Server with the appropriate username and password.

If your router supports NAT-PMP and uPnP protocols make sure these are enabled in your routers settings and Plex should be able to map the port without any additional setting changes. Otherwise you will have to manually setup a port forward. More information can be found here

You can now minimize or close Plex and let it run in the background. That’s it. Give Plex some time to build your library before continuing.

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Installing Plex Media Center

Let’s get started installing Plex Media Center. First let’s go to the Plex download page and download Plex Media Center for windows here

Install Plex to the directory where you want it to install

Click to Run Plex

Plex

Allow Plex through your firewall

Plex will open. Scroll to Preferences and select it by hitting enter on your keyboard

Next select “Videos” and then the “Player” submenu. I have not selected any hardware acceleration. If you are using a system with a weaker CPU you may want to select these to see which improves playback (if any). You also can try to playback a video with and without the “refresh rate to match video” setting. My settings are seen below

Next go to “System” and “Video Hardware” submenu and choose your display, max resolution supported by your display (yours will likely be 1920×1080 [1080p], this is one of my test rigs hooked up to a computer monitor), and DE-select “use a fullscreen window”

Next go to “System” and “Audio” and select your Audio Output (HDMI in this example), Speaker Configuration, Dolby Digital and DTS bitstreaming if your AV receiver can accept and decode these formats (please note that if you are not using a AV receiver and instead going directly to the HDTV that most HDTVs can only decode Dolby Digital), and what audio output device you would like to use (here I chose Wasapi HDMI). Please note that unlike WMC/MB, XBMC and JRiver Plex cannot bitstream HD audio at this time.

Next go to “Input Devices” and select mouse control if you want to use a mouse

Now is where Plex really shines. Next go to “System” and “myPlex” and enter your e-mail address, password and click “sign in” to auto add your folders and setting from Plex Server. Your libraries are automatically added. There is nothing else to do.

Once you are signed in correctly you will see “Signed In” at the top of this screen

Now exit out of the “Preferences” menu and go back to the main menu. Your libraries will all show up automatically. Click on “Movies”

The next menu will ask you what movies you want to view. I selected “All Movies”

This is the default view called “Media Preview”. Let’s select a movie to view

Tip: You also can go quickly to the start of the “G” movies (like “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) by hitting the “Shift” and “G” key together

If you click up while in this screen the “View Options” menu will appear and you can select other ways to view your movies

This is the “Info List” view

and this is the “Panel Stream” view

Let’s go back to our movie and select it to play. Notice that Plex asks you if you want to start new or where you left off. Because of the Plex Server this will be shared across your media. What this means is that if you start watching this movie on your HDTV in your theater and have to hit stop you can pick up where you left off on any other device or HTPC that uses the Plex Server. This is another area where Plex shines.

I clicked “Start from beginning” and Plex starts to play your file

Now that our movie is playing let’s go over some of the controls of Plex. First hit the “m” key. This will bring up the basic menu. Here you can see the playback controls as well as the menu buttons for the video and sound settings inside the player itself

Clicking “o” (letter O, not the number) brings up the overlay of the statistics on your player and playback

Next let’s click on the sound menu (seen below in orange)

Here you can change or control how your audio is being sent from the player to your AV receiver or HDTV. You also can manually turn off and control subtitles.

Next let’s open the “Video” menu inside the player. Here you can change how interlaced media is handled, your video scaling method, etc. These are my settings

Let’s exit out of the menu by again hitting the “m” key. Notice that the subtitles to this movie are enabled. I want to quickly disable them.

By hitting the “s” key you can toggle between subtitle settings

By hitting the “C” button you can pull up the submenu seen here. Let’s select “Movie Information”

Here we can view the plot, change the thumbnail poster, change the background artwork and launch the movie by hitting “watch”

Now let’s take a look at our TV Shows from the main screen. Similar to the Movies section Plex asks you which ones you want to view. I selected “All Shows”

Let’s select a show

Another really neat thing about Plex is that once a show is chosen it will automatically start playing that shows theme song (if available). While we’re enjoying the music let’s select a Season

Inside the Season folder let’s select an episode to watch

Plex will start playback

Plex can also be used to playback your music, view your pictures and even watch your home movies. Another great option for HTPC.

Tip: Want to make a low cost Plex extender? Consider a Roku device or other connected devices that are supported here. Note that while basic control and playback will be available you obviously won’t have the full capability of a HTPC.

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Installing the Plex App for Mobile Devices

Now let’s grab the mobile device that you are using and set it up to receive the stream of your media. The Plex App is compatible with iPhone and iPad, android phones and tablets, and Windows Phone 7. For this guide I have chosen an iPad.

Tip: Don’t have a tablet PC or smartphone but instead have a laptop? Just install Plex Media Center on your laptop and it will automatically access your media files from Plex Server anywhere in the world that you internet access

First download and install the Plex app for your device

As soon as you open the Plex app you will notice that some of your media is already starting to appear. There is no other setup required which is a very very nice feature.

Let’s click on “Movies” to see what’s listed

Here you can see my movies that I have shared from Plex Server located on my WHS Server

Clicking on “Settings” brings up a few options. The only thing I did here was sign into my myPlex account

So let’s play a movie. Here I chose “Drive”. Plex Server will now stream the media to your device. Just wait a few seconds while it buffers

And then plays…

If you fast forward the device will stop and buffer. And then play again…

I also have had no issues with streaming a HD rip that is very high bitrate and uncompressed over my wireless network. Here, for example, is Wall-E

And here are some screenshots of my Android 4.3 inch smartphone utilizing my Plex Server for playback over a 3G network. When you open the app on your mobile device and go to settings you should see your myPlex server and log-in information. The following is a screenshot from my smartphone

Now it will automatically detect your Plex Server and you will have access to all of your media whenever and wherever you are! Here are some example pics of Seabiscuit streaming over a cellular network to my 4.3″ Smartphone

Screenshots of movie playing over a cellular network on my smartphone (very good quality if you ask me considering the source, the way the data is being transferred and the display device)

So there you have it. Now you can use your HTPC (or server) as a central hub for not only all your other HTPCs but also your tablets and smartphones.

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