Plex: The Android Media Center that Plays It All

Android media has come a long way in recent times, with more and more media apps being released for the platform. Just take a look at the sheer volume of alternative music apps that have been released for the platform, such as doubleTwist and Instinctiv. This demonstrates that the demand is there and people want new and intuitive ways to play their media on their Android device.

Now, however, the spotlight is on Plex. Think of it as AirPlay for Android. Plex is what every Android user has been dreaming about – a way to stream your music, videos and much more either over your local WiFi connection or, if you’re willing to play about with port forwarding, over any 3G connection. There are similar apps that offer this functionality with regards to music (such as doubleTwist, which does it better) but Plex allows you to stream all your media, no matter what it is.

Is Plex a solution for all our media needs? Read on to find out.

Introduction

In order to get going with Plex, you’ll need two programs. Firstly, you need to set up your computer as a Plex Media Server, allowing you to access your own server from your phone or tablet. The software for this, Plex Media Manager, runs on Windows and Mac and is available for download via the Plex website.

Plex Media Manager

The Plex Media Manager, which categorizes all your TV shows and movies on your computer.

Once you’ve installed the Media Manager, you can specify the location of your films and TV shows and the Media Manager will automatically categorize all your files and download information (such as the blurb) off the Net.

The next step is to purchase and install the Plex application from the Android Market.

Plex 1

The list of settings and available servers

Your server should pop up in the main menu of Plex (as shown in the screenshot above) and once it is, you can connect to it and start streaming!

Features

Plex for Android is no more than a streaming service for your media and hence is not jam-packed full of extra features. But do you really need all these fancy features? Every time I looked at the program I kept getting the hints that the developers had one goal in mind: to create a really awesome service allowing you to watch any media from your computer on your Android device — and they did this really well.

On opening the application, you are greeted by the main menu which shows your movies and TV shows as well as any plug-ins that you have installed yourself (more on these later) or that your Media Server supports.

Plex 2

The main menu of Plex

Your films and TV shows are displayed in a grid view (if you’re on a tablet) or a simple list (if you’re on a phone), allowing easy access. You can sort all your movies according to a number of criteria, including by release date, director and whether or not you’ve watched them before (something especially useful for TV programs, so you don’t lose track of where you were!).

Plex 3

The list of films on the server, organized alphabetically with a short description

The player in Plex is pretty simple, and gives you nothing more than the option to turn the volume up and down and scrub forwards and backwards. Having said that, do you really need any more options?

Plex 5

The video player in Plex

You can also use Plex to stream any music and videos on your home computer, and most software is supported through a plug-in. On my computer, I can stream all my music from iTunes and my photos from iPhoto and Aperture. Although the ability to stream my music isn’t of huge importance (seeing as all my music is on my tablet anyway), it’s very useful if you want to conserve space on your phone or tablet.

plex 6

A list of all my music in iTunes in Plex

The final feature that makes Plex great, though, is the support for plug-ins, which really add to the application. Plug-ins are available for many video-on-demand services, such as Vimeo and SnagFilms. Unfortunately, there’s no Netflix support, but seeing as you can now finally stream Netflix to your Android device via a native app, there’s not much need for this.

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A list of some available plug-ins for Plex

On Your Phone

Don’t think that Plex is isolated to the realms of a tablet – it works perfectly well on any phone running Android 1.6 and above. The features are exactly the same but the interface is slightly different . This, however, does not diminish the practicality of the application.

Plex Phone

The main menu of Plex as well as a list of movies on a standard Android phone

Practicality

Plex stands out more as a tablet app than a phone app, though in my opinion it works well on both platforms (Plex has, as a matter of fact, been optimized for Honeycomb). Personally, I prefer to watch movies and TV shows on a larger tablet screen than my 4.3 inch phone screen. Plex does do away with the need to transfer over all your movies onto your Android device which is a real plus to anyone who wants to save on storage space on their Android device (especially people like me with large movie collections).

It also give your videos a new dimension and allows you to access them wherever you are. If you are in bed with your tablet or phone, then you can watch films and TV shows in bed without having to balance your laptop on your knees (this feature alone sells the app to me), or in the kitchen without having to bring your laptop in. I could go on for pages, but I’m sure this will convince you that the price for such a great app, $4.99, is peanuts when you consider its possibilities. Oh, and it’s cheaper than buying a Sonos system…

Conclusion

In a sentence: Plex is flawless. If you are streaming over your local WiFi network, buffering is instantaneous and there is hardly any stutter whilst scrolling back and forth. The program isn’t exactly feature-rich but, as I mentioned above, why would you want this? Plex does its job well and brings a whole new concept to your media, freeing it from being stuck on a hard drive trapped on your computer.

The app fully deserves the 10 rating as I cannot fault it in the slightest. The setup is easy and painless and once all your movies and TV shows have synced you can get watching them straight away. I didn’t test out Plex on remote WiFi networks or 3G connections, however there is plenty of help on the website if you want to enable this feature and I am assured that this does work (as long as you’ve configured your computer correctly).

If I don’t see Plex top the app charts for the most useful media application ever, I’ll eat my Sunday hat. It’s fast, compact, simple and the concept is ingenious. Go out and download it – you certainly won’t regret it.


Summary

A complete media solution for your Android device, allowing streaming of videos, music and more over a WiFi or 3G network.

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  • http://elziah.com Paul McDonough

    Hay Guys – just to note there is also a Linux testing build available for Plex server ( also works on ReadyNAS :D ) so might be worth adding it to the article :)

    http://www.plexapp.com/labs/

  • Jonah

    Plex was my first app purchase. Great app!

  • LoSes

    Was really interested in this when I saw it was available on Roku and Windows machines, but they need to drastically improve the Windows server to convince me to pay for the Android client.

  • Jeff

    I love this app. I have the media center setup on my hackintosh which streams to my roku and my crappy archos tablet. Only issue is Plex doesn’t seem to scan all my TV shows in a folder, otherwise it would be perfect.

    • dev

      name your shows correctly mkay

      • Marc

        Pathetic response.

        I have the same issue and my shows are all named to properly show up in Media Browser…

        Don’t be a jerk, mkay?

  • Fred Nurke

    Another Media Center for Windows that has an Android client app that does all this and more is J River Media Center 17 and their Android client/player app Gizmo is free.
    J River Media Center is probably the most capable media organiser/server/player available and handles very large media collections in virtually any format with ease.

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