Plex Media Server and Plex Home Theater
Last night, I installed Plex Media Server (PMS) and Plex Home Theater (PHT) on my dedicated home theater PC. In the simplest of terms, the PMS turns your PC into a media server that you can access on your home network using a variety of devices with
the corresponding Plex application for those devices. In my case, since I was using a dedicated PC connected to my receiver I installed the Plex Home Theater app on my PC.
What are the benefits of using Plex over a media player?
First and foremost, it allows for the full output of Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master Audio. Oh, and it is free, which is always a great thing in my books. You can however, purchase a “Plex Pass” which will give you some additional features, such as sharing and automatic inclusion of theatrical trailers before movies. I am opting to not have a Plex Pass at this time, so I cannot comment on those features.
Secondly, it provides a very good interface and a graphical way of presenting your media information. The PHT app is quick to load, and gives a Netflix kind of interface for you to access your media files (see sample above). Another interesting feature is the import of meta data to go with your files. For films, that includes the poster image, year, cast, synopsis, director, etc.
The import of this data is not flawless however – My Dolby Train Long trailer obtained the metadata for “Midnight Meat Train” and Dolby Train Short became “How to Train Your Dragon”. Not really a big deal and it can be edited.
If you are someone who has a dedicated PC connected to your home theater, and you have moved away from using physical media in favor of storing your films on your PC, then Plex is definitely a product that you should investigate. Here is my experience so far.
The Media Server Setup.
You can download Plex from http://plex.tv. The server takes just a few minutes to configure, then it prompts you to add your media libraries. You have several options from Movies, Music, Photos and Home Videos. All you do is pick your category (Movies in
my case), and then select the folder where they are stored. Then the media server imports the files to the database and gets the corresponding meta data.
While this is going on, you can download the Plex Home Theater app (PHT). This app provides the front end interface that you will view on your TV to access your files. I have to admit that it took me a little while to get the hang of navigating around – particularly because it does not have mouse support. But if you have a wireless keyboard, then you can easily move around from the couch.
Using the Plex Home Theater app.
The first media file that I tried to play was a Dolby True HD trailer and my receiver defaulted to Neo 6. Neo 6 is basically the DTS version of Dolby Pro Logic II. I then tried a DTS HD Master Audio trailer, and that defaulted to core DTS. Something was clearly wrong so, I went into the preferences and located the audio output settings and noticed that the Dolby True HD, and DTS HD MA options were not selected. During the application setup, I specified HDMI as my connection to my receiver, but it did not enable those output options automatically. Something for you to watch for if you don’t get HD audio right off the bat.
One thing I noticed is that file organization is very important. If you keep everything on one drive, and you just specify that drive as your library, then you will import everything into the same view. Trailers, films, features, etc. This makes it hard to locate what you are really looking for. It would be a good idea to put your trailers in a trailer file, and create a library file for trailers, and another one for Movies and so on.
One feature that I was interested in was creating a playlist. In the PHT app it did not appear that I was able to create a playlist. My wife likes it when we have trailers before the feature, just like at the movies. I usually have an opener, a few trailers, the sound format trailer, and finally the feature. I could not see how to do this in PHT. I went back to the Plex Media Server, and noticed that playlists were an option under the home menu. I clicked on it, but there was not an option to create new playlist. I opened a movie, and thankfully it had an option to add to playlist. I added the file to a new playlist and opened up a few other files and added them to the same playlist. I went back to the home screen, and under playlists my new playlist was listed. I was able to open it, and move the files around to change the play order.
I then launched the PHT app and on the main screen I now had a playlist option. I selected the playlist I wanted to play and it worked like a charm. That is another thing to keep in mind – if you can’t do what you are trying to do in the client app, then see what you can do on the server. Of course, Plex has a lot of documentation that I did not read, so all these tips may have been in there. I prefer to learn by doing anyway.
I mentioned other client apps. There are smart phone apps, tablet apps, and apps for Roku, Chromecast, Xbox, and Playstation available to interface with your Plex Media Server. This means that your teenager can watch a movie on a tablet from your media server while you are watching another on the TV. Or, if they have a TV that is connected to a game console that has a Plex app installed they can stream video from your PC to their TV. These are all good things to keep the modern family happy.
So go ahead and give Plex Media Server a try. You can quickly download some of the DTS HD Master Audio files to test with.
Tonight we will watch our first movie in Plex Home Theater. I will let you know how it goes, but so far things are quite encouraging.