10 Plex Features You Should be Using

Close up photos of the Plexamp app
Andrew Heinzman / How-To Geek

Plex is a media server that lets you stream, organize, and share your media library. It’s free to download, easy to set up, and expandable with the optional premium Plex Pass if you like what you see. Here are some of Plex’s best uses and features.

Catalog Your Media Collection

Are you a bit of a hoarder when it comes to movies, TV shows, and music? If you prefer to collect your own media files and have the hard drives to prove it, Plex can help you make sense of your collection. The media server does this by scanning your library and downloading the appropriate metadata to show you within the app.

You’ll then see the correct covers, descriptions, and information about your movies as you browse your collection. Plex pulls in detailed descriptions, information about producers and directors, reviews and cast information, and even reviews and rating information.

Downloaded cover, description, and metadata in Plex

Plex builds what is arguably the richest media library using these scrapers of any such service. You’ll also see information specifically related to your specific version, including video quality, audio format, and whether you have subtitles available (if you don’t you’ll be able to search and download any that match).

This process happens automatically when you start adding media to your Plex library by nominating drive locations and media types.

Stream Locally or Remotely Using Plex Apps

Plex is first and foremost a media server, and it works both locally over your home network and remotely over the internet. Once you’ve set up your Plex media server you’ll be able to connect using Plex apps whether you’re sitting on the sofa or hundreds of miles away from home.

Streaming using Plex is straightforward using either the web interface (via a standard browser) or a dedicated Plex app for your platform of choice. If you’re streaming via iPhone (and iPad) or Android app, you’ll either need to pay for a premium Plex Pass subscription or pay an optional one-time fee to remove the streaming limits.

Make Plex available remotely over the internet

Progress on your watched items will sync between apps and screens, allowing you to pick up mid-movie or mid-season regardless of where you prefer to watch. For remote streaming, make sure your Plex server is reachable under Settings > Remote Access

Stream Movies, Shows, and Live TV

A local media collection isn’t the only reason you might want to use Plex. The media server now comes with a large library of ready-to-stream movies, TV shows, and live TV channels. These don’t cost a penny to stream, and you don’t need a Plex Pass premium subscription either.

Content is regularly refreshed, with new shows and movies added (and old ones removed). Though there’s a lot of not-so-great public domain content available, there’s a fair selection of “big name” shows and movies available too. Live TV consists of channels dedicated to streaming reality shows, rolling news coverage, and some sports channels.

Stream movies and TV shows for free with Plex

On top of this, you can nominate additional streaming services like Netflix, Disney+, and local catch-up TV services.

Enable the DLNA/UPnP Media Server

Plex has a huge number of apps available for all sorts of devices, including smart TV platforms from LG and Samsung, set-top boxes like Apple TV and Roku devices, and mobile apps for iOS and Android. Not all devices have native apps available, especially older smart TVs which is where DLNA/UPnP media streaming comes in.

Enable DLNA server within Plex settings

You can enable the Plex DLNA streamer under Settings > DLNA. Once you’ve done so you will be able to stream your entire library using the universally-recognized DLNA streaming protocol over your local network. This greatly expands the number of devices you can stream your Plex library to.

Share What You’re Watching with Others

Share your Plex library with other users to give your friends and family access to your movies, TV shows, and music collection. This works remotely over the internet, and you can easily grant or revoke access at any time. To manage shared access, head to Settings > Manage Library Access. You can grant access to specific libraries (like Movies) or individual media items.

Select "Watch Together" in Plex

Once you’ve granted access to your media, you can then use the “Watch Together” feature to watch movies and TV shows together over the internet. Progress is synced between watchers, skipping or pausing will affect anyone who is part of the session.

Create Optimized Versions of Your Media

If you’re a fan of watching media on the go, the ability to create optimized versions of your media may appeal to you. This allows you to save space on your device by saving a version of a movie or TV show that won’t take up unnecessary space on your local storage.

Create optimized versions of your media in Plex

To do this, use the “Optimize” option under the “three dots” context menu next to a movie or TV show. You can specify a mobile-friendly optimized version, or create a custom version instead. You’ll then be able to see which versions have been created (and clean them up) under Settings > Optimized Versions.

Expand Plex with Plugins

Plex has announced that plugin support is slowly being phased out of Plex, but for now, you can still install plugins manually. To do this you’ll need to find a compatible plugin (with the “.bundle” file extension) and place it in the plugins folder. This is different depending on which version of Plex you are running:

  • Windows: %LOCALAPPDATA%\Plex Media Server\Plug-ins
  • macOS:~/Library/Application Support/Plex Media Server/Plug-ins
  • Linux:$PLEX_HOME/Library/Application Support/Plex Media Server/Plug-ins

Plugins include everything from additional scrapers for finding even more metadata and gaming-focused plugins like RetroArcher for running emulators and streaming plugins for IPTV and other non-standard streaming services.

Listen to Music with Plexamp

Plexamp is a standalone music player for Windows, macOS, Linux, iPhone, iPad, and Android. It connects to your Plex Media Server and allows you to stream and download music via a separate lightweight and audio-focused app.

The app prides itself on search, discovery, and the ability to build mixes. One of Plexamp’s standout features is its ability to save your music offline, with full Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support. Other nice-to-have features include gapless playback, fades and transitions between songs, a sharp user interface, visualizers, and a variety of themes to choose from.

Plexamp CarPlay support

To use Plexamp you’ll need music added to your Plex Media Server and a Plex Pass premium subscription.

Use Plex as a DVR

Another feature that’s exclusive to Plex Pass subscribers is the ability to use Plex as a DVR. This lets you record live TV from an antenna right to your media server, as long as you have a compatible digital tuner of course. You can find out which digital tuners are available on the Plex Support website.

Once you’ve recorded live TV within Plex Media Server, you’ll be able to access your recordings via your other devices.

Automate with Plex Webhooks

Webhooks are custom URLs that can trigger specific actions related to your Plex Media Server. This allows you to automate actions like posting to Twitter, dimming your smart lights, and more when you do certain things within Plex. They’re an optional, high-level feature that’s exclusive to Plex Pass subscribers.

Cync Smart Light Strips
Hannah Stryker / How-To Geek

You can learn more about how to use webhooks, which events you can make use of, and how to write example payloads (to trigger actions) on the Plex Support website.

Want an Open Source Media Server? Try Jellyfin

Plex is a closed-source media server that makes establishing a media library a straightforward experience. There are lots of user-friendly touches and content that’s ready to be streamed, but you’ll need to pay for a Plex Pass to access everything and Plex is limited where other solutions are not.

If you’re finding Plex to be a bit too restrictive, you might want to check out some of the best Plex alternatives instead. A great place to start is the free and open source media server Jellyfin.

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