It may be all over the Web, but what’s so great about Plex? It’s one of the best media streaming tools on the market, but what does Plex do? Does Plex work with Netflix or Hulu somehow? Not quite. Plex is a beast of its own. It’s designed for users with large libraries of digital content on their hard drives.
Who should use Plex?
Here’s the little secret about Plex: it’s really made for people with massive libraries of illegally obtained content. Sure, it can work with legally obtained media files as well, but the main market is folks who torrent tons of movies. If you reflexively rip your DVDs or Blu-Rays to your media server, you’ll find Plex just as useful. But then, that’s not much more legally than torrenting in most nations, so it’s a distinction without a difference. If you get your media through iTunes, Amazon, VOD, Netflix, Hulu or other legitimate streaming platforms, Plex is basically worthless to you.
What is Plex?
Now, if you have an enormous library of video content that fell off the back of a truck, Plex really shines. By automatically and silently associating the files with the correct metadata, Plex pairs filenames like “Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom 2018 1080p HC HDRip x264 AAC ESub” with the correct metadata.
It collects descriptions, posters, box art, ratings, cast pictures and more. Then it attaches them to the video in the UI. You search with the names of the video instead of the inscrutable meta-code of torrented files. Plex turns your shady library of grey market video into something much more like Netflix.
Why is Plex better than the alternatives?
First, Plex attaches content to metadata with extremely high accuracy. It sucks up information from more sources and organizes content in intelligent, emergent ways. The user interface is easy to navigate and search. Even a total novice will quickly get the hang of it. Newly downloaded content is added instantly and transparently. The snarled backend of a thousand files from a thousand trackers is totally hidden from view.
Better still, Plex has incredible server support. It’s actually a natively server-driven program. One device (PC, Mac, or Linux) runs a server and client devices – televisions, smart boxes, tablets, smartphones, self-checkouts, graphing calculators, just about anything that can run DOOM – communicate with the server to receive content. The server handles all the heavy lifting. It transcodes content to an appropriate codec for the network bandwidth and the client device. This means that devices of all stripes can pull down content from the server with nary a hitch.
This streaming extends outside the local network, too. Plex streams natively to devices outside the local network, so you can stream content during your commute, providing even more creative ways to avoid talking to your neighbors. The setup is also uncommonly simple. With a UPnP router you can enable external sharing with a single UI switch. At the most complex, external sharing requires you to only set up port forwarding on your router.
For users with the right type of media library, Plex is invaluable. It can turn your downloaded file into a self-powered Netflix. Stream content in your house or at your friend’s house, with transparent technology backing up the whole process. Best of all, it’s free.
Tip: Up your game with our Plex keyboard shortcuts cheat sheet.
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