Plex is one of the hottest new apps in the cord cutters’ toolbox, but you’d be forgiven for not knowing what it is: Plex has only risen to prominence over the past few years, and it still lags far behind companies like Netflix and Hulu in both subscribers and name recognition. So what is Plex, and how has it become so important?
Your crash course in Plex
In a market increasingly crowded by streaming and casting services, Plex offers something a little different. What Plex does is organize local content on your computer and make it available anywhere. In other words, digital copies of your favorite movies (whether purchased legally, ripped from your DVD collection, or acquired by less MPAA-friendly means), don’t have live in a messy desktop folder anymore. Plex puts your personal collection in the cloud, allowing you to enjoy your movie and TV collection anywhere.
To put it simply: Plex can turn the movies on your hard drive into a sort of personal Netflix library.
Plex has added “channels” that offer online streaming content from providers like YouTube and Vimeo, so it’s not completely avoiding competition with other aggregators like Pluto TV. Still, the service’s selling point is what it can do with local content. Most streaming and casting options can’t help you play all of those .avi and .mp4 files you have hanging around from your Pirate Bay heyday, but Plex can.
But wait, there’s more
Plex’s paid app (called “Plex Pass”) offers more than just the ability to take your local content everywhere. It also offers music (through Gracenote and the music video streaming service Vevo), movie trailers, and more through various channels and apps. Plex subscribers can tweak controls so that different users see different options, so you can share Plex with your family without letting the kids stream your digital copy of Pulp Fiction.
Another key feature of Plex is that it dresses up your local content in a way that’s reminiscent of Netflix, Hulu, and other services. Plex provides plot summaries and covers and lets you flip through your collection visually. It’s a major step up from clicking through folders for .mp4 files.
Setting it up
Plex works pretty simply. Once you’ve made an account on Plex’s website, you can download the Plex Media Server on the computer that’s holding all your content. Then just download apps to your phone, Roku, and other devices.
As you might expect from a software that aims to bring your content everywhere, Plex is pretty versatile as a program. You can get a version for your Mac or Windows computer, plus apps for all of your mobile devices and gaming consoles. Xbox One (and 360), PlayStation 4 (and 3), Android and iOS smartphones, Fire TV, and Roku are among the app’s supported platforms.
Plex hasn’t been around as long as big names like Netflix and Hulu, so it’s hard to handicap its odds of taking the world by storm. Still, its swift and recent rise to prominence is a good sign. If Plex is limited by anything, it’s that the audience the service targets (viewers who own digital content and have it saved locally to their computer) is starting to look like a shrinking demographic. That said, Plex’s integrated channels and streaming content aggregation options remind us of some of things we liked about Pluto TV.
If you’re a major believer in Plex, you have the chance to bet on it: one of Plex’s payment options is a lifetime subscription for $149.99 (the monthly rate is $4.99, and a year’s worth of Plex will cost you $39.99). If Plex becomes a must-have cord cutting tool, the lifetime deal will prove to be an absolute steal within a few years.
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