How to Manage Your Media with Plex

BreakingModern — Entertainment and media — the watching of things — is very important in today’s society. And the how of watching has shifted a great deal over the years. My preferred method of drool-gazing entertainment? Plex.

It might sound like a chemical plant, but Plex is an application that lets you control, sort and stream various forms of media. It starts with your library. It allows you to create and upload a server that broadcasts any of your media files. Photos from that recent vacation, Jack White’s new album or any video files you’ve acquired over the years can all be placed into Plex’s interface and streamed to your phone, computer or TV.

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While the system is stunning, smooth and comes with a knowledgeable community, there are aspects of Plex that can be techy or require troubleshooting. I’ll lay out the basics below, how to create that perfect stream set up and solve some basic problems that might arise.

Installation and Servers

Plex has two main components that require some know-how before you’re up and running. First, you must install the Plex Media Server. This allows Plex to create a server, usually on your computer or external hard drive, in which all of your media is stored.

Download the program, follow the set-up process, and assign a dedicated, Internet-connected drive as your server. My desktop computer is my main server, and when it’s on and Plex is running, I can access all my media on my TV, phone etc. (We’ll get into that below).

While the program runs on your computer (on my iMac, in the upper right bar), all your actual set-up will occur in a web browser. Click the preferences option and it will bring you to a screen like this:

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Here you can see the server name I created (Chasm) and a variety of settings on the left-hand side. Most of these are highly technical specifications, but you’ll want to scroll through and see if you need to adjust anything.

Once you are set up and connected (I’ll troubleshoot an issue with connection below), your library is located and uploaded and you want to watch something, select Media Manager. On a Mac, this is here:

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This will bring you to your actual server destination. You can see all your content, separated into Movies, Music, Pictures and Channels. You can watch the content from here too, but know that you are looking at your actual server, not the remotely shared Plex interface. (I note the distinction because even though they look exactly the same, they are different.)

Sharing, Streaming and Compatibility

Alright, whew, you set that up! Bravo. Plex has gathered your endless, endless reams of media and is now broadcasting it beautifully to your browser. So, how do we interconnect it?

First, let’s talk about compatibility. The web-based version of Plex is free. It works on PC, Mac or Linux. The app, which is streamlined, awesome and handy, is available on Android or iOS, and costs $4.99. Platforms are also available for media systems like Roku and Amazon Fire TV and Chromecast, and those prices vary.

 

So, if you have any version of the above system, you can use your established Plex Media Server to stream all your super cool stuff.

plexFirst create a Plex account. This is not your server, but rather your Plex ID that allows you to participate in forums and log into various applications and servers. Once that is created, Plex will prompt you to log onto a server. Your local server (that you just set up and named) will appear, and voila! This page is where you can now watch all your media, from any computer or device that has Plex!

Better yet, your household members can create their own usernames (or use yours) and sign their own devices into Plex, find your server, and watch your media right along-side you. Plex, like Netflix, keeps track of who has watched what, where you are in a show or movie, and what you want to view to next.

Now, the real reason I went through everything above was to get pictures, movies and shows onto my TV. Streaming from my computer to my home theater allows me (and you!) to entertain guests, watch a movie with my dog and bump music into the night.

I like Plex so much I paid the $4.99 to get the app on my phone. This turned my mobile device into a fully functional remote, capable of both playing and streaming all of my media.

Troubleshooting (Yes, there’s some trouble)

While Plex is amazing, the technology employed in this process can give rise to some trouble. Luckily, Plex’s website is full of helpful information in case you get stuck, and they’ve got a robust forum for super specific issues.

The main and first issue I encountered was simply that my server, upon setup, would not connect. See my screen, below.

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I could not get Plex to map to a correct port, and therefore was unable to connect to Plex from any browser or app. This was frustrating and took a good deal of sorting.

If you run into this problem, there’s a chance your router is simply blocking Plex. A firewall could be in place, in which case you would need to allow Plex through. In my circumstance, I had two routers operating at once (unknown to myself), which created a sort of endless unconnected loop. I turned my router to Bridge mode (many new routers have this) and that solved the issue.

Your router will also need UPnP enabled, which allows many devices to connect and stream seamlessly.

If connection is not your problem, one potential issue could be the naming and categorization of your files. Plex warns you right off the bat: make sure your media collection is named appropriately. They have a specific way in which their program categorizes and loads your data, so you might have to alter file names to have it appear in correct order. (Think shows bunched into a TV series, or songs into an album).

The sheer number of devices on the market and the plethora of problems that could arise means I can’t address every issue here. Above are the most common, and my own tricky issue. Plex really does rely on its community, and if you want this to work but can’t figure it out, join the forums and start asking. (Or, of course, reply in the comments and I’ll see if I can help!)

My media’s all synced up, broadcasting beautifully and easily sharable. Do you want yours to be? Plex is the best solution for most platforms and is, for the most part, free. Oh, I forgot to mention: it streams in 1080p, collects digital art for you and projects gorgeous background ambience while you’ve paused to pay the take-out guy.

For BreakingModern, I’m .

All screenshots: Daniel Zweier

Daniel Zweier

Author: Daniel Zweier

Based in Oakland, Daniel Zweier covers culture, travel and tech here at BreakingModern. Follow him on Twitter @dbzweier and on G+ at +DanielZweier

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