Last update: 07.23.2019
Plex has been around for some time in the world of entertainment. Many of us have seen it and many have passed over it for one reason or another. The prime reason is a lack of understanding of how Plex works. Here’s the good news: Plex may just be what you need to manage your digital files.
Why would you need Plex?
You’re jogging in the park. You’ve just snapped a picture of a squirrel eating M&Ms – will have to put it in your Cute Animals album on Google Photos. What’s fuelling this merriment? Your Spotify jogging music mix, of course. You get in your car and want to continue listening, but it doesn’t work with your car stereo.
Back at home, you turn on the TV to watch your favorite live show on cable. Unfortunately, there’s nothing interesting on this time, so you go searching for some series to binge. Unfortunately, the show you decided to watch is not on Netflix, but you remember having it on Blu-ray. You call a friend and ask him if he wants to watch it together, and he agrees but has no Blu-ray player. So he comes over and you proceed to watch on your 13-inch laptop and $13 speakers.
Now the question is – wouldn’t it be much easier if you had all your digital media files in one place, available on any device? That’s what Plex is for.
What is Plex?
Plex is a digital media player and content organization tool that allows you to access and share your photos, videos, and music from anywhere. What’s more, you can access your favorite videos, TV shows and even stream music via channels available on the Plex Media Server.
Plex has evolved over the years. It started as a simple way of playing files and has now proven to be an all-purpose media solution. It can be used for daily entertainment, whether it is your favorite music you want to stream or whether you want to watch live TV. You can manage all your media through the Plex window. It doesn’t matter where you are or what device you are using.
Explaining the way Plex works can be done like this:
- Plex Media Server runs on the device that stores your data
- Plex scans your data and automatically categorizes and sorts it
- Plex displays all your files in an easy-to-use manner
- With the Plex app, you can access all your files from different devices
What’s more, Plex doesn’t stop at your personal library. You get to access live TV, podcasts, a music library that makes Spotify cry, and much more content, all of which is seamlessly integrated into your catalog.
Remember that a device needs to be online to access your files in Plex Media Server remotely.
Devices that can run Plex Media Server
Plex Media Server can run on all the major platforms or operating systems. Here’s a list:
- Nvidia Shield
- Compatible NAS (Network attached storage) device
- Netgear Nighthawk X10 router
To access your videos, music, and pictures stored on a Plex Media Server, you can use the Plex app that’s available on the following devices and platforms:
- Web browsers (Firefox, Chrome, Edge, Safari)
- Smartphones and tablets (Android, Windows, iOS)
- Smart TVs (Samsung, Sony, LG, Panasonic, Toshiba, Vizio, Roku TV)
- TV streaming devices (Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV 4th gen & 4K, Android TV, Roku, Chromecast, TiVo, Sonos)
- Game consoles (PlayStation 3 & 4, Xbox One)
- VR devices (Google Daydream, Oculus Go, Lenovo Mirage Solo VR, Samsung Gear VR)
- Android Auto (Android 6.6 or newer)
- Apps (Kodi, Plex Web App, Plex Media Player)
- Home devices (Amazon Alexa, Sonos, Caavo)
Most of the time, you’ll be able to download the Plex app from your device’s app store.
How to set up Plex
Setting up Plex starts with three steps:
- Install Plex Media Server on your device where you’re storing your images, music, and videos
- Install the Plex app on those devices that you use to access your digital content
- Use the app to view and play files from your Plex Media Server
While the last two steps are pretty easy, installing Plex Media Server is a bit more complex process that we’ll break down step-by-step below.
How to install Plex Media Server
Installing Plex Media Server on your device starts from creating an account. To create a free account, all you have to do is follow the steps below:
- Go to Plex.tv
- Select the Sign Up option
- Choose Sign up with Google, Sign up with Facebook, or create an account using email, depending on your preference
- At this point, you should see a pop-up ad of Plex Pass. Close it, as there’ll be plenty of time to upgrade your account later
Download and install the Plex Media Server
Once you have signed up for a Plex account, all that is left is downloading and installing the Plex Media Server software. Once the software has finished downloading, you can stream all your favorite media files from one central device to all of your other devices.
Here’s how you download the Plex Media Server software:
- If you have just completed the signup process, then you should be on app.plex.tv/desktop
- Click on Download Plex Media Server. If you want to download on an NAS device, choose Download for NAS Platforms and follow the instructions on the screen
- Select your operating system and press Download
- After the download has finished, launch the Plex Media Server file
How to install the Plex Media Server:
- Select Install. Click on OK if the user account control window emerges
- Select Launch. After launching the Plex Media Server, it should automatically run in the background and open your default browser
- Close the pop-up explaining how Plex works
- On Server setup, name your server and choose whether you want it to be accessible remotely
- Add media libraries to the server
- Download the Plex app now (or later from plex.tv/downloads)
How to use Plex
There are two options – the app or the browser. The former has more features and is more stable. But sometimes there’s no time to install an app – after all, perhaps you only want to show your colleagues that slow-mo home video of your cat jumping from one cucumber to another.
Plex Media Player looks much like a browser window. At the top, you can search the database, switch to TV or fullscreen mode, as well as check your Activity and Account. The Settings are well-explained and let you choose the language, video quality, or the number of trailers to be played before a movie for that cinema experience.
On the left sidebar menu, pressing the Settings cogwheel allows to enable or disable Online Media Sources, such as TIDAL, news, podcasts, and web shows. You can also set the authorized devices that can access your library. Plex Pass owners can also set up webhooks for home automation. Finally, here you can also invite friends to access your library.
Installing Plex Channels
To watch Comedy Central, BBC, and other popular channels, you’ll need to install Plex Channels onto your Plex Media Server. The good news is they’re totally free.
To install Plex Channels:
- Open Plex Media Server
- On the left menu, select Plugins
- Click Install plugins
- Find a channel and choose Install
To watch the channel, simply look for it in the Plugins section of the Plex web or mobile app. Note that some channels may require Plex Pass or a separate subscription. Some channels may not be available in your location, in which case, you could try using a VPN – more on that below.
The Plex app can’t find or connect to Plex Media Server
If you are having trouble reaching your Plex Media Server, try these solutions before diving into the support articles and forums (there is no live chat customer support available at the moment).
- Is your Plex Media Server up to date and running?
- Is your Plex app logged in?
- Is your server listed under Authorized devices?
- Sign out of the Plex app and the Plex Media Server, then sign back in, starting from the Plex Media Server
- Try disabling your anti-virus software, anti-malware software, or firewall
- If you’re using a VPN, disable it, launch Plex Media Server, and then enable your VPN
If that doesn’t help, you may want to try consulting on the Plex Support Forums.
Is Plex free to use?
You can use Plex for free, but there are premium features you might want to get the best out of this software. For example, Live TV is only available to Plex Pass owners.
Plex Pass is a premium version of Plex that allows:
- Adding users
- Syncing and accessing files on mobile while offline
- Connecting antenna and tuner for Live TV & DVR
- Auto-tagging for photos
- Movie & TV extras
- Dashboard stats about top users, bandwidth usage and so on
- TIDAL music streaming service
- Webhooks for home automation
- Parental controls
You will also get the new features ahead of the free version users.
The pricing plans of Plex Pass are as follows:
- Monthly – $4.99
- Annual – $39.99 ($3.33/month)
- Lifetime – $119.99
Just don’t get caught with the last one – if Plex goes bankrupt next year, your subscription is in serious jeopardy.
Alternatively, there are two separate plans that include a TIDAL music service subscription:
- Tidal Premium – $9.99/month
- Tidal HiFi + Plex Pass – $19.99/month
Both plans come with a 30-day free trial.
You can pay by credit card, PayPal, or Plex gift card.
Use a VPN for Plex
There are reasons why you may want to use Plex together with a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Firstly, some of the channels accessible through Plex will have geographical restrictions placed on them. In other words, you’ll only be able to access them if you’re based in a certain location (usually the US). A VPN will allow you to connect through a server in the country of your choice, making it seem like you’re located in that country. This will let you access content far beyond what your IP address would generally allow.
The second reason is related to those unofficial plugins or channels mentioned in the previous section. Simply put, watching these channels amounts to committing copyright violations because you haven’t paid for the content. This may get you in a lot of trouble if you’re not careful! In this case, a VPN will serve to hide your identity from your ISP and protect you from troubles.
If you’re not sure what VPN to use, check out our Best VPN for Plex list.