PlexNine PMS Overview
Welcome to the Plex Media Server
The Plex Media Server is smart software that makes playing Movies, TV Shows and other media on your computer simple. It’s been designed from the ground up to work automatically in your home network with a variety of devices – like an LG 2011 Netcast TV, Plex Client for Mac OS X, or numerous Mobile Devices like your iPhone, iPad or Android device.
What Does the Plex Media Server do?
It's easy to watch movie files on a computer monitor. But, what happens when your collection starts to get large? How do you find the show you want to watch easily? How do you know you've watched an episode, or where you stopped it last night? How do you share the media files over several screens? What about content from the Internet?
The Plex Media Server solves these problems by gathering information about your media and storing it on a single Mac or Windows PC Server. Connect one or more of the many Plex clients available and your media is instantly available on any of them. The Plex Media Server learns what each movie file actually is and then visits Movie and TV Show websites. It gathers information like plot summaries, posters – even TV Show theme music. This metadata is displayed in the Plex Client so choosing the show to watch a rich and exciting experience. The Plex Media Server also supports plug-ins that let you watch content from the Internet as easily as other media.
Central to the Plex Media Server is a powerful and cleverly designed transcoding engine. This supports a rich variety of mobile devices, low cost platforms and other possibilities.
What is Transcoding?
Transcoding is the process of converting a media file from one resolution or compression format to another. For example, you might transcode a full 1080p to 720p, or from VC-1 encoding to H.264. The original file is read, then re-saved in the new resolution and codec, possibly in a different file container.
Why is transcoding useful in Plex?
Plex Media Server can 'stream' media files to various Plex clients. Some run on powerful computers like Plex for Mac OS X whilst others run on low powered mobile handsets. Some support full 1080p resolutions while others have smaller low resolution screens. Most of the mobile platforms connect over Wifi or 3G networks where streaming full resolution media would choke the network. All in all, it's extremely difficult to play full resolution media on mobile platforms.
The solution is to transcode the media to a version optimized specifically for the device playing it. Plex Media Server transcodes media on-the-fly and streams the optimized version to the device. This way, a low resolution device is able to play high resolution media smoothly and over it's wireless network constraints.
Even better, transcoding means that a mobile device can handle a huge range of media file formats, codecs and resolutions. The transcoding process means that the client only ever receives a single format or codec. This is important as many mobile devices have hardware decoders that only handle a single codec. For you, it means that as long as the Plex Media Server supports the codec, so will your mobile device, thanks to transcoding.
Direct Stream and Direct Play
Transcoding media is important for smaller devices like a mobile phone or tablet. There is another class of device that are low-cost but extremely capable players - like the AppleTV. These devices can generally play higher resolution files, but work best with particular codecs. So, if you have a high resolution media fie encoded with the wrong codec, the file will need to be transcoded with the correct codec. The Plex Media Server handles these situations with smart transcoding, Direct Play and Direct Stream.
During the media analysis phase, the Plex Media Server looks at certain attributes of your media (resolution, bitrate, etc.). When a client requests a piece of media, the server looks at the client’s capabilities, compares them to the media parameters, and makes a determination as to whether or not the file can be directly played on the device. For example, if you have a properly prepared MP4 file, it’ll play without any transcoding on an iOS device. Tiny CPU usage, and no loss in quality. If you had a movie in MKV format and also encoded it for mobile devices (and both versions scanned into your library), the media server is smart enough to mark the specific version of the file as playable by the device.
Most of these devices support hardware decoding of the H.264 codec, but may not support a particular file format. When a client connects to the Plex Media Server, it describes its capabilities, and if the file falls within the acceptable range, the video is simply copied over to a compatible format (a process known as re-muxing). This again means that there is very little CPU used on the server side, and no loss in quality in the video. Streams start up nearly instantly, and seek quickly.
Transcoding is handled smartly. If you have a media file that is partly compatible with the Client - maybe the video portion is correct but the audio is not - the process is smart enough to only transcode what's necessary and stream that to the client.
Planning your Plex installation
Plex/Nine lets you easily create a media sharing network in your home. There are several ways that you could configure your network depending on how many Plex enabled screens you want and where you store the media files.
Stand-alone configuration - single Mac with local storage
The simplest Plex/Nine is a computer running the Plex Media Server and Plex Desktop Client with local file storage. You’ll still enjoy all the features of Plex - even be able to stream to Plex Mobile Clients or Plex-enabled Devices. Storage can be a NAS, DAS, internal or external hard drives. It’s also easy to add other Plex clients later on - just wire them to the network and you have an instant media center.
Single Plex Media Server with one or more Plex Clients
You may have a Windows PC or Mac that acts as a file server in your area. You can install Plex Media Server on that machine and then connect Plex Clients to play media files. There are numerous Plex Clients available both from Plex Inc. and third parties. A typical installation might be a Windows PC with the Plex Media Server installed, an AppeTV with a 3rd party Plex Client, a Mac Mini connected to the main big screen and various mobile devices.
Ad-hoc configuration - Media distributed over several machines
If you have an area where several people have their own collection of media and don’t want to put it in a central place (like a share house or dorm), install and add media to each Plex machine. All other Plex clients in the area will be able to share your content. In this ad-hoc configuration, you don’t need to worry about any additional network settings. The Plex Media Server on each machine will seamlessly stream content to other clients. Remember, if you’re connecting via a wireless network, streaming HD video will consume most of the available bandwidth!
- Beta Warning!
- In the initial release of Plex/Nine, there are no access controls. This means that any other Plex client on your LAN will be able to view your media. If you want to stop this from happening, you should connect only to your own private network. Future releases of Plex will introduce access controls.
Optimizing File Access on Plex Desktop Clients
The Plex Media Server uses the most efficient way to access the media files. That means if the file can be read directly from the source, it will. If a direct connection is not available, the Plex Media Server will stream the file to the Client.
Drives directly connected to your computer
If the media files are stored on drives connected to the Plex Media Server computer, add the locations during the initial configuration. The Plex Media Server will make the media available to other clients in your area. No additional configuration is required on any of the other Plex clients.
Media stored on a NAS or other server
If your media is stored on a NAS or other server, mounted the shares before you do the initial Plex Media Server. Add the media folders from the shares as you define Sections. It's important to make sure that these shares are mounted when you log into this user. On a Macintosh, this means adding the remote volume to the user's Login items. On windows, it's easiest to 'Map a Network Drive' to the network resource. Make sure you choose a drive letter like Z: so it's not re-mapped if another drive is connected.
Optimizing NAS access on Plex clients
You can optimize how Plex Desktop Clients access media stored on a network share. On each of the clients, make sure you have the same shares mounted as on the main Plex Media Server machine. The Plex Client will use the most efficient path to play the media - directly from the share reducing network traffic and CPU overhead on the Server.
- This optimization will only work if the Server and Client are running on the same OS ie: Plex Media Server for Mac OS and Plex Client for Mac OS.
- In practice, this optimization has a small efficiency benefit. If you can't use it, it won't affect your viewing experience on the Client.
Hardware requirements for a Central PMS
A central Plex Media Server machine can serve numerous Plex Desktop Clients. If you have many Plex Mobile Clients or Plex-enabled devices that require a transcoded stream, you may want to choose a more powerful machine than the recommended hardware requirements.
You should keep other uses on the PMS to a minimum. If you’re downloading from the Internet, transcoding a BD movie or other things, don’t expect perfectly smooth playback. Ideally, Plex Media Server and Plex Client would be the only applications that run on this machine.
If you’re installing several Plex systems, it’s important to get your network right. Generally, we recommend you install a wired gigabit network where possible. Streaming 1080p shows over a wireless network will probably result in jerky playback. If you see the ‘buffering’ overlay while watching shows, the network is not keeping up with the data demand. If you’re installing a wired network, use a good quality gigabit switch as they are quite affordable today as well as Cat-5e cabling.
If installing a wired network isn’t practical and you do want to stream HD video, investigate alternative networks such as HomePlug AV.