Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Plex, Part 2

Now, more about Plex.

Plex is software that can stream video files, audio files, photos, and other items from your computer to such devices as a "smart" TV, an Apple TV, an Android handheld device, an iPad or iPhone, a TiVo, or numerous other devices.

My main interest is in videos: particularly movies and other shows from television. I record them on my TiVo. Then I watch them, and if they're something I want to save and watch again, I move them to my computer using the free app kmttg. I can then delete them from the TiVo. To see them again, I stream them to the TiVo using Plex.

I can also watch them on my iPad or iPhone, again using Plex. And I can do this wherever I go. I don't have to be at home. I can stream them over Wi-Fi wherever Wi-Fi is available. I can also stream them over the cell phone network, if Wi-Fi isn't available.

Each device that can stream Plex files has a Plex app for that purpose. Some, such as a TiVo, come with the app already installed. Some, such as the iPad, want you to download the Plex app yourself. On an iPad, for example, you do that at the App Store.

The app on a destination device — say, a TiVo — is only one side of the Plex equation. That app is sometimes called the Plex "client." The other side of the equation is the Plex Media Server which runs on your computer. The Plex Media Server is also sometimes known as the Plex Media Manager.

To download the Plex Media Server to your computer, visit this page. Click on "COMPUTER" under Plex Media Server. You will be shown a screen which corresponds to the kind of computer you have. (Mine is a Mac.) You will click on the orange "DOWNLOAD" button. That brings up a screen that lets you decide where on your computer you want to save the downloaded file. I put mine on my desktop. You can indicate your desktop and click "Save."

A new file now shows up on your desktop. (In my case, the file is PlexMediaServer- Double click it. It expands right on the desktop to become a Plex Media Server icon:

Plex Media Server

If you like, you can move the icon to another folder. On my Mac, I put it in my Applications folder.

You can install the Plex Media Server by double-clicking the Plex Media Server icon. Go here for instructions and scroll down about a third of the way to "Server Installation." The actual procedure differs for each type of computer: Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, etc.

On my Mac, the Plex Media Server puts a  >  icon in the menu bar at the top of the screen:

Clicking on Media Manager... opens the Plex Media Server in my default browser, Chrome. (The Plex Media Server runs in a computer's web browser, such as Google Chrome, Safari, or Internet Explorer.)

Another way to open the Plex Media Server on a Mac is to click on its icon in the Mac's Dock:

This video shows how to set things up for the first time, once you've installed Plex Media Server and opened it in your browser. That video is just a quick once-over, and it whizzes by pretty fast. To access a more detailed guide to getting started with Plex, go here.

The first thing that Plex Media Server does, the very first time it's run, is to run through the steps in the Setup Wizard. Go here to learn more about the Setup Wizard. Accordingly, you will first create a Plex account, which is free, on the Plex.tv website.

Once you have an account, you will continue with the Get Started screen in your browser:

Set it up to your satisfaction and click NEXT. This screen now appears:

You click on ADD LIBRARY at this point to go through the process of designating a folder that contains, say, movies residing on your computer:

First click Movies, then NEXT.

Enter a name for your new Movies
library, then click NEXT.


Find a folder that has movie
files in it and/or in its
subfolders; click ADD.

Now click ADD LIBRARY.

The result.

A close-up view of the result.

Any time I want to, I can edit my More Movies library:

Select Edit Library from the menu
at upper right of Plex in your

Click Add Folders, the
second item on the left.

as you did before. Once you have
designated a movies folder,

Once you have duly designated another movies folder and clicked SAVE CHANGES, then after several seconds you will see something like this close-up:

In this example, The Children's Hour
and Cool Hand Luke have been added.

You can expect more about Plex in a later post ...

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 ...