By David Nield:T3 THE GADGET WEBSITE
When it comes to ways of enjoying movies, TV shows, music and photos, there are now a ridiculous number of different options to pick from – whether you want to pay a few pounds a month for Netflix or keep everything local and set up your own media centre.
New to the fray is Plex Cloud, a cloud-based add-on for the popular Plex service. To help you decide if it’s right for you, we’re going to explain the ins and outs of the Plex apps, and how it stack up against all the other entertainment options you’ve got to choose between.
What is Plex?
Plex is basically a suite of media centre software programs – you can use it to get at your movies, photos, music and so on. It works a bit differently to the likes of iTunes though because there are two main components: a server app and then a choice of client apps.
The server app gets all your media together in one place. It typically runs on your computer, cataloging all of the films and televisions shows and everything else you’ve got, pulling in metadata from the web as well to make sure everything’s correctly labelled.
Then you get the client apps: they’re available for iOS and Android, for example, and for the Apple TV. Or, you can just log in through your web browser. Whatever app you use, it connects with the server program to find your media and pipe it all straight to you.
Access to all of Plex’s basic features is free, but for a monthly, annual or lifetime fee you can upgrade to a Plex Pass. This gives you some extra features, like the option to sync content offline on your mobile devices, and more advanced user control features.
The Plex Cloud option
That’s Plex – so what’s Plex Cloud? It’s a newly introduced feature that accesses all your media files (movies, music and images) through Amazon’s cloud locker rather than your own computer. Essentially, you no longer need to have your own local media server.
Using the traditional Plex approach you get the program to find all the media on your home computer and then access it through various client apps – but you can only stream your shows and so on if your home machine happens to be switched on at the time.
Plex Cloud takes away that requirement – you don’t even need a home computer. What you do need is a premium account (the aforementioned Plex Pass) and enough space on Amazon Drive to hold all your files – an unlimited account currently costs £55 a year.
Plex Cloud is still in an early beta stage – you might come across one or two bugs, and you need to wait in line for the chance to try it – but if you’re willing to pay a bit extra it gives you a more flexible way of streaming all your content to pretty much any device you like.
Setting it up
If you’ve upgraded to Plex Pass, have an Amazon Drive account, and can get invited to the beta test (apply here), setting up Plex Cloud isn’t difficult at all. Follow the invite email in your inbox and you’ll first be asked to link your Amazon Drive and Plex accounts together.
After that you need to upload your movies, television shows, music, photos – anything you want to access through Plex Cloud – to your Amazon Drive account in the normal way. You can transfer files through a web browser or via the client apps for Mac and Windows.
Plex will take some time to scan through the media you’ve uploaded and after that process is finished it’s available through the web or the Plex apps as normal – sorted by category and all correctly tagged and labelled, ready for you to start your streaming.
If you’ve got a normal Plex server set up too then the new Plex Cloud one appears alongside it and you can switch between them as needed. You can set up playlists, change audio and video streaming quality, and access all the usual Plex settings inside the apps.
How does it compare?
Plex Cloud is going to be perfect for some people but it’s not right for everyone. If you’re happy leaving a server running at home around the clock then you can save yourself some money and get pretty much the same end result by sticking with the free version of Plex.
And if you don’t need to get at your media from outside the house then you don’t really need something like Plex at all – although it does do an admirable job of getting all your various files organised and sorted using information pulled from the web where required.
Plex Cloud is a cheaper option than signing up for Netflix and Spotify though there are a bunch of pros and cons to consider: full control over your media (no disappearing movies), no access to Spotify’s millions of tracks, no access to Netflix original series, and so on.
For those who’ve spent a long time building up a local media library and want to be able to get at it from anywhere, then Plex Cloud is a solution that’s good value and simple to use. For everyone else, it might just be enough to tempt you into the world of Plex.