Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Plex, Part 1

I've been away awhile. Now I'm back with a new post. It's about Plex.

Plex is free software. It's a media server. It's a media client, i.e., it plays videos, audio files, and photos. It runs as a server/client on a Mac or a Windows PC. It runs as a client on a TiVo or on a touchscreen device (Android, iOS, Windows, or Windows Phone).

The media it handles, as I say, includes video files, audio files, and photos. You can put these files on your computer and then play them on:

  • That computer
  • Another computer
  • Your Android, iOS, Windows, and Windows Phone mobile devices
  • Your TiVo
  • Your Roku
  • Your PlayStation
  • Your Xbox
  • Your Apple TV
  • Your Chromecast
  • Your Vizio, Sony, LG, or Toshiba Smart TV
  • ... and many more devices

Right now, I'm interested in using Plex to play movies and TV shows.

In the past, I uploaded a raft of movies and TV shows from my TiVo to my iMac. To do this I used the free app kmttg. For some time, they've just been sitting there on some external hard drives, since I never really found the software I needed to play them without a lot of hassles. Then recently I rediscovered Plex.

I'd tried using Plex before, but for some reason that I don't remember, it didn't score big with me. This time, it's scoring big.

One huge reason is that my TiVo now hosts a Plex app. It didn't before. So I can now quite easily stream all those old uploads back to the TiVo for real-time viewing on a TV.

On a computer, Plex lurks in the background until you click on its Media Manager ... menu item, at which time it opens in your browser:

That image shows a bunch of movies, but when you're first starting, all you see is a lot of black space and a few cryptic icons, which I originally found a bit disconcerting. Here's a YouTube video that can help get you started:

That video assumes you'll keep your videos on a NAS, a "network attached storage device." I don't have one of those, as I store all my stuff on external hard drives on my computer. But the video does give you an idea how to get started using the Plex Server interface.

It also serves as a basic introduction to the Plex world, so I recommend that you watch it more than once. Notice that one of the things it emphasizes is that Plex can readily do both transcoding and format conversion, two terms that mean similar things. The basic idea is that a video file, let's say, may be in a format that will not play on an iPhone, for example. So Plex automatically recognizes that fact and converts it to a format that will play on the iPhone.

That magic all works seamlessly, whether or not you are at home or using a mobile device half a work away.

Another thing I like, as a hearing-impaired senior citizen, is that Plex plays subtitles that exist on your computer or NAS device. The subtitles can be in an embedded format or exist as external files.

I'll have much more to say about Plex in later posts ...

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