A beautiful and powerful client-server based media center software


Our rating: 

License: Free
Website: Plex
Review & Alternatives: Best Free Media Center Software
Categories: Media Center

Pros & Cons:

Client-server architecture for multi-client, great GUI, media management, customizable, Windows client free
Online account needed for some features, mobile apps commercial at high price, setup requires experience, streaming experience dependent on environment

Our Review:

PLEXPlex Media Center is a strong contender for Kodi.

Plex or PlexApp, previously only available for Mac OS, has entered the Windows and Linux world as well. Knowing that Plex started as a fork of Kodi initially in 2008 I was eager to have another look at the newest release 0.9, specifically since I abandoned my Mac Media Center computer and replaced it with a Windows based PC.

Be aware that Plex is taking a different approach than Kodi by splitting the software into two pieces, a server and a player. You have to install both even though you might only use one computer. As an alternative to the player you can also use a browser to connect to the Plex server but features are restricted. While this architecture is a great way to support a multi-client environment, it is also makes the setup more complicated and the usability less appealing. For setting this up properly some advanced knowledge in network computing is helpful. Plex offers documentation that explains step by step how it is done.

You can also download the Plex server for the most common NAS drives. That is a real nice feature. Supported are all common NAS manufacturers like Synology or WD. NAS drives are network storage devices but can also run server applications. With Plex offering such a release, your NAS will hold all your media files and functions as your Plex server at the same time.

The Plex Media Server bases on Apples Bonjour service for Windows. It loads itself into memory at start up and functions as a web server. Thus, there is no GUI but you access the Plex Media Server (or Plex Media Manager) via your browser. In your browser you can setup some basic configurations and also tell the Media Server where to find your media files, sectioned in Movies, TV Shows, Photos, Home Videos and Music.

One of the first questions tho that Plex prompts you with are your login credentials for the Plex online services. I am always very careful with privacy and data security and I do not see any reason why I would have to create an online account in order to enjoy my local media. I can only assume that media information, watching habits and other personal information could be uploaded to the web which in my eyes is a clear No-go. I found a way around it at last but it is not obvious and should be offered more prominently like with a "No, thanks" button.

After a while, Plex had scanned all my media and presented it conveniently in the server's browser interface, including all kinds of online information about movies and artists. A few things were not recognized even tho all naming conventions and tag info were met. The Hollies were an unknown artist for example, I wonder why.

After that, I installed the Plex Media Center player on the same computer. It worked like a breeze and after starting it, it prompted me to enter a code at the Plex website. That, however, is only possible when you have an account there which I clearly said No to during the server installation. Again, it takes a bit to figure out how to avoid that code/account thing, leaving the impression that Plex wants to trick literate users to give up and finally create one. I do not like that at all and would wish for a more prominent placement of "No thanks" button.

After skipping the account creation, again, the player connected to the server flawlessly and presented all media to me in a great big screen skin. Both, the Plex skin and the MediaStream skin that come with the player are beautiful. An appealing skin is important for a big screen presentation of your media.

Playing and showing your media is great in Plex. No problems occurred on that front and the player handling is very close to that in Kodi. Well, let's say as long as I played media on the same computer. Since the whole idea of Plex is to support a multi-device environment, I headed to my Android tablet on the balcony. To my big disappointment, Plex is asking € 3.50 for the App. I do find that a lot. I then tried the browser, challenging me to find out what the URL of my server on the other computer is. Unfortunately the server does not tell you. I figured out the IP and port and launched it on Android. It turned out that standard FF for Android could not play any of the movies because of unkown MIME type. The Android browser tried its best but the streaming experience was not what I expected. It was not fluent and player navigation was not satisfying. This is not necessarily Plex's fault and can have many reasons, also related to my networking environment. There was no other traffic on my WiFi and I could not pinpoint this effect to a specific circumstance. Fact however was that my tablet was not providing me with a satisfying watching experience.

I do not use Apple devices so I cannot say anything to the iOS app. A Plex player for Blackberry does not exist, only a third party player as a trial which will charge you in the end as well.

So all in all, I am fond of Plex but with mixed emotions. I see clear advantages in the client-server approach but the downsides are also obvious. For a single machine I’d say that Plex is as good as Kodi once you have set it all up. But if you only have one computer, then Kodi is still my preferred choice being completely free, not asking you for an online account in order to use certain features and being just one application that does it all.

In a multi device environment I would surely go with Plex and work some more on figuring out a better streaming experience.

Plex was reviewed by on based on version