How To Use Plex on AppleTV

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Well. That was easy.


As I've discussed at some length, the AAAD plan is to have a dedicated Mac Mini acting as the home server.

That Mac Mini will house the entire iTunes library, and a Plex Server,

Plex has been one of the biggest names in home media distribution for years.

It allows you to access, essentially, any media you may own, and watch it anywhere.

You can rip your DVD collection, and Plex acts as a beautiful front-end for accessing that content.

But it's never been available on the Apple TV without jailbreaking.

In fact, the existence of Plex is philosophically opposite from everything that Apple was trying to do with the AppleTV.

Previously, AppleTV was a way to access your iTunes library, from your television.

You could access anything in your iTunes world... and that was pretty much it.

Then Netflix was included, and Hulu, and a number of other "channels" - providing you were paying for that content stream.

It was a walled garden - you got what Apple allowed you to pay for.

With the 4th Gen AppleTV the walled garden came crashing down.

The new AppleTV still makes your iTunes content available - but it's a free-for-all, too. Third-party content providers willing to create a tvOS app can join the platform.

The big name here - Plex.

What is Plex?

Plex is a media player app that allows you to stream content from your own "personal cloud".

You set up a computer (or a NAS device) as your "Plex Server", and designate folders containing various content libraries.

Plex then organizes your media, adds artwork and descriptions, and makes the media available for playback almost anywhere.

And, it's free. 

Wait, it's free?

Yes.

You can upgrade to their Paid version, called Plex Pass, which allows some additional functionality, including different user profiles, and streaming to Android and iOS devices.

We're going to be streaming to our AppleTV - and that's completely free.

Test Run

Our kids are excited for Star Wars VII next week - so much, in fact, that they wanted to watch all of the old Star Wars movies with their friends over the next week.

I have the "non-Special-Edition" versions of these movies ready to go as .MP4 files, on a USB hard drive.

I DON'T have an easy way to play .MP4 movies on my home theater.

And I haven't set up my Mac Mini-based home server yet, either. The basement is a construction zone, and I haven't even purchased the Mini yet.

So, I figured, why not set up the Plex Server on the iMac - with all of the Star Wars trilogy on my USB drive?

And it worked. Immediately.

  1. Sign up for a Plex account at Plex.com. 
  2. Download the OSX Plex Server application. 
  3. Download the Plex app from the tvOS App Store.  
  4. Point the OSX  Plex Server application at the folder containing your content. (In this case, it was a USB hard drive plugged into the iMac.) 
  5. The Plex Server immediately starts tagging your content. 

For some reason, Plex REALLY thought that "Star Wars - A New Hope" was "Star Wars - The Force Awakens."

Plex, if I had a bootleg copy of The Force Awakens, that would be quite a story!

After playing around with the Plex Server App, I found a setting for "Incorrect Match", and selected "Star Wars" from a list of alternatives. Problem solved.

Now, I went to my living room, fired up the Plex tvOS app, and signed in.

Immediately, the Star Wars films were shown as available - with full movie poster artwork. (It's the recent DVD covers... I'm going to go back and put in the vintage movie posters after work.)

Honestly, it looks exactly like a standard AppleTV content service. And the movies streamed without incident.

At this point, the external HD seems like a fantastic interim step as we wait for our home server.

I'm going to start ripping DVDs and Blu-Rays to external media, and I'll consolidate all of that to a single storage device once the Mac Mini Server is in place.

In the meantime, though - Plex is an unqualified winner.

This is a software platform that single-handedly justifies the purchase of the AppleTV, and finally allows the casual user to dump physical media for video.

FOUR STARS

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