Intro, Goals, and Hardware
Regular PC Perspective readers probably know that we're big fans of Plex, the popular media management and streaming service. While just about everyone on staff has their own personal Plex server at home, we decided late last year to build a shared server here at the office, both for our own day-to-day use as well as to serve as the backbone of our recent cord cutting experiment.
You can run a Plex server on a range of devices: from off-the-shelf PCs to NAS devices to the NVIDIA SHIELD TV. But with many potential users both local and remote, our Plex server couldn't be a slouch. So, like the sane and reasonable folks we are, we decided to go all out and build a monster Plex server on AMD's Ryzen Threadripper platform. With up to 16 cores and 32 threads, a Threadripper processor would give us all of the transcoding horsepower we'd need.
It's now been several months since our Plex server was brought online, and so we wanted to share with you our build, along with some discussion on why we chose certain hardware and software.
Subject: General Tech | September 26, 2017 - 09:00 AM | Jim Tanous
Tagged: plex server, plex pass, plex news, plex, news
Plex has always been an excellent way to organize the movies, TV shows, and other media that you already have, but one area in which it has traditionally lacked is outside content. The Plex team has taken steps to address this in recent years, first with the introduction of DVR support in late 2016 and followed by the ability to watch live TV this past June. Now Plex has set its sights on another area of outside content: news.
Plex today announced Plex News, a new service that aggregates recent video clips from over 190 global and local news publishers and integrates them "seamlessly and beautifully" into your media library. The initiative is based upon Watchup, a personalized news aggregation service that Plex acquired last January. Users can choose the topics and sources of news they prefer, and Plex will create custom video feeds containing each day's news. "AI and machine learning" will then learn the type of content each users prefers and automatically adapt the user's news feed as new videos and content sources are added.
Plex News is especially exciting to us because it follows a progression we started with Live TV and DVR where we’re bringing you great media from outside your library in a way which integrates seamlessly and beautifully. This makes it easier than ever to start using Plex if you’re new, and gives you another universe of content to explore outside of your own media, without ever leaving Plex.
In addition to clips from expected sources like CNN and the CNET, Plex claims that it has reached a deal to provide users with local news in more than 80 percent of U.S. markets as well, which positions Plex as a unique source for both enjoying your on-demand content library and keeping up with important events in the "real world."
Plex News is launching as a free ad-supported service and will roll out to all users over the next two days, starting first with Plex Pass subscribers. It is available at launch for Android TV (including NVIDIA SHIELD), Apple TV, Roku, Android Mobile, and iOS, with support for other platforms to follow.
Subject: General Tech | June 1, 2017 - 09:00 AM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: shield, plex server, plex, nvidia, live tv, dvr
We’re pretty big fans of Plex around the PC Perspective offices, using it for storing, accessing and sharing loads of local content to our phones, PCs, consoles and more. (If you haven’t read Jim’s amazing Plex setup story from a couple years ago, do so.) Back in September the company rolled out a beta feature called Plex DVR that was able to record live OTA (over the air) TV directly to your library. There was a very important catch though – you could not watch the content until AFTER the recording was complete, and you had no way to watch the OTA TV channels live.
This changes today with the release of the Live TV upgrade! For Plex Pass subscribers, it’s built directly into the Plex Media Server and works with quite a few modern tuner devices including the HDHomeRun series, and many more from companies like Hauppauge, AVerMedia, and DVBLogic. These tuners connect to an OTA antenna to bring you live television through a network or USB connection, and now Plex will support them to showcase the live channels available in your area.
Limitations of Live TV viewing exist for now though – only Android TV and iOS devices support playback of LIVE content. Plex has promised us more, including Android devices and Apple TV, inside of 60 days.
There are some pretty impressive features that go along with Live TV being available as part of your Plex Server. For starters, you will soon be able (iOS and Android TV only for today) watch TV on any Plex client, anywhere in the world, regardless of region or device. Want to catch the live baseball game while sitting at the airport on your iPhone? You can do it now, and the Plex Server handles video transcoding on the fly to make sure you get it at the bandwidth best suited for your situation.
For those new to the Plex DVR feature set, recorded shows and movies are integrated right into your library, with metadata added, making them a searchable and shareable part of your system. You can then watch those recorded shows anywhere in the world, on any device.
Plex Server support for Live TV is currently supported on Windows and Mac, supported NAS devices and Android TV. The most interesting option here is likely the NVIDIA SHIELD, a device that already supported server and client application. The SHIELD will be able host AND VIEW Live TV through Plex, again making it the preeminent cord cutting hub for modern consumers of content.
For many cord cutters, combining the Live TV feature with expanded and improved DVR functionality (including overlapping recordings, whole season support, etc.) and the built-in library you may have with Plex already running, this is CLOSE to the Holy Grail. In my talks with Plex this week I implored them to look at integrating support for over-the-top services like Sling or DirecTV NOW, giving me (and many others) a single hub location for all of our cord cutting content.
There are some eccentricities I would like to see worked out, including a more linear program guide display option, and faster "channel surfing", but the initial rollout seems solid from my 24 hours of testing.
I am actively working on a multi-part series exploring my own cord cutting experiences at home (taking into account family considerations) and it looks like Plex has found an even more prominent place in it.