I never thought I would be called “old fashioned” — at least, not THIS soon — but that’s pretty much what happened. In a time when a small monthly fee can get you access to stream countless audio files with Spotify and the like, I suppose it could seem a bit old fashioned to have an extensive MP3 library sitting in your living room. My old fashioned-ness seems especially egregious considering that my phone, a Nokia 920, is limited to just 32 gigs of data. I can only enjoy a small fraction of that library when I am on the go. But the Plex Media Server is putting an end to all that by creating my own personal media cloud.
It was just a few weeks ago when I was introduced to Plex in a random blog post. It peaked my interest as it seemed to offer audio and video streaming both on my local network and through mobile devices, but I didn’t want to rely on an always-on desktop to feed the stream. However, I was surprised to learn that Thecus was in the process of implementing a Plex Media Server module for use in their NAS devices. I just so happen to be running a Thecus N4200 that has treated me well for the past 6 or 7 years. After a bit more digging, I found a Thecus forum thread (forum.thecus.com) with links to a beta version of said module. Bingo. I can now take advantage of the Plex service without the need for an additional running PC.
I am REALLY impressed with Plex for a few reasons. Its “libraries” manage my entire media collection: Music, Movies, TV Shows, Photos, and Home Movies. Plex brilliantly identifies and categories media based on meta data captured in your files and marries that information with data downloaded from its servers. …assuming that you already have these files broken out on your server, which I did. I find that you don’t have to be particularly anal when it comes to naming conventions, but there are some general guidelines that you should follow when organizing your media. Plex has the ability to constantly scan your libraries for changes and acts accordingly.
Most importantly, I can access my media from anywhere on a range of devices: The Plex Web site allows streaming through your browser, a Windows 8 app is available for any Windows 8 system ($5), and a new Windows Phone 8 app is available ($0, for a limited time) which allows me to stream over my 3g or 4g data connection. Plex also provides a transcoding function which will stream content at a lower bitrate allowing for decent performance on slower data connections. I was particularly impressed when I started watching an episode of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos on my Surface tablet in my office and was able to pick up where I left off on my Windows Phone while lounging in bed.
Not the least of its advantages is its beautiful user interface. Cover Art and additional artists’ photos for music, TV shows and Movies cascades throughout the app on various screens. The touch-friendly interface is clean and intuitive. The search feature works quickly to find exactly what you’re looking for. One obstacle I’m facing is the large amount of time it takes to scroll through music artists if you have an extensive library. On my Surface, only 12 artists (along with artist photo) are displayed on a single screen, so you can imagine trying to scroll to the end of a 500-artist library would take quite a few swipes. It’s possible that there are ways around this; I just have been unable to find one.
HOW TO SET IT UP
Here is the rough process that I followed to get things up and running on my Thecus N4200 NAS Server:
- I made sure that my N4200 was chugging along on the latest firmware update. I can’t remember if this is required, but it’s not a bad idea in general.
- There are some pre-requisite modules that you need to install before installing the Plex module. You should be able to find the modules at the links below and install them via the NAS Application Management screens:
A. Fajo ModeBase1 1.04.01 (for pkill command)
B. ffmpeg 126.96.36.199+
- Be sure those modules are activated.
- Grab the latest version of the Plex module from the Thecus forum thread I mentioned earlier, install it and activate it as you did the others.
- Access the Plex Media Server configuration screens and complete the installation. You will want to create a Plex account to access streaming content via the internet.
- Depending on your setup, you may have to use the port forwarding on your router to the port specified in your Plex Media Server settings. The default is 32400.
- Once the port forwarding is setup and working, you can publish your server to your Plex account allowing you to access your own content from anywhere. If you have issues publishing, you will want to re-check your port forwarding using the http://www.canyouseeme.org website. If you still have problems, make sure you don’t have a “Double NAT” setup — this is if your server is two routers deep from your IP address. You want to make sure that the router your NAS is connected to has your WAN IP Address.
That’s all the hard part. Once it’s setup, to access your libraries is as easy as logging in on their website or the client app on your device. Easy peasy…
If you use a Windows Phone 8 device and/or a Thecus NAS system, there is ZERO reason not to install the Plex server and client. The WP8 software is free for the time being, and afterwards will most likely be $5. It is a solid system with impressive capabilities and… hey… It’s your own personal cloud! There’s no beating it.