How to Use Plex

Discover different ways to use Plex

A woman using Plex on her phone, with a laptop running Plex Media Server.

Westend61 / Getty

Plex is software that's designed to let you watch your own digital media library on almost any internet-connected device in a manner that's very similar to streaming movies from Netflix or music from Spotify. This is perfect for anyone who owns a lot of movies on DVD and Blu-ray, and it's even better if you've already digitized your media collection.

What You Need to Use Plex

To use Plex, you need a digitized media collection, a computer that's powerful enough to stream music and video, and a home network. You also need a broadband internet connection that offers decent upload speeds if you want to be able to stream through Plex when you're away from home.

Here's a basic rundown of what you need, and why:

  • Digitized media collection - If you have a huge library of DVDs, Blu-rays, and CDs, that's great. But you need to turn that physical media collection into a digital one before you can use it with Plex. This involves taking the data off the discs, moving it to your computer, and converting it into a format that Plex can stream.
  • Computer - You can use a Windows, Mac, or Linux computer, but it needs to meet some basic specifications. If the computer doesn't have enough storage space for your digital library, you can connect an external hard drive.
  • Network-attached storage (NAS) - If you have a NAS device, you may be able to use it instead of a computer. This is more complicated than using a computer, so it's for advanced users only.
  • Plex Media Server - This is free software that you need to install on your computer or NAS. It lets you organize your media collection, and it's what allows you to stream from your computer or NAS to other devices.
  • Plex account - You need to sign up for a Plex account to use Plex Media Server.
  • Home network - The computer or NAS that runs Plex Media Server should be connected to your home network with an ethernet cable if possible. You can stream to other devices on your network via Wi-Fi.
  • Broadband internet - The upload speed of your internet connection determines whether you can stream from Plex when you aren't at home. If you don't have a strong internet connection, you'll only be able to use Plex on your home network.
  • Compatible streaming devices - Once Plex Media Server is up and running, you can stream to your phone, game console, other computers and laptops, and most television streaming devices like Apple TV, Roku, and Android TV.

How to Use Plex

To use Plex, you need to sign up for a Plex account, install Plex Media Server on your computer or NAS, install the Plex app on your other devices, and make sure to digitize your media collection.

Here are the basic steps you'll need to follow to start streaming with Plex:

  1. Download and install Plex Media Server.

  2. Sign up for a free Plex account.

  3. Subscribe to Plex Pass (Optional).

    Plex Pass is necessary if you want to stream and record live television, and it's also worth it if you want to stream to a lot of mobile devices. Without Plex Pass, you need to pay a one-time fee per mobile device to enable streaming.

  4. Digitize your media collection.

  5. Import your digital media collection into Plex.

  6. Install Plex on your mobile and streaming devices.

  7. Stream your media via Plex to mobile devices via the Plex app and other computers via the Plex web player.

Installing Plex Media Server and Signing Up For Plex

The first step to get up and running with Plex is to sign up for a Plex account, and install Plex on your computer. Signing up for Plex is free, and you can use your Facebook or Google account if you prefer not to make a new account.

A screenshot of the Plex signup page.

To sign up for Plex, navigate to plex.tv/sign-up/. Click continue with Google or continue with Facebook to use your existing Google or Facebook login with Plex, or click continue with email to make a new Plex account. Then follow the on-screen instructions to complete the sign up process.

A screenshot of the Plex Media Center download website.

To install Plex Media Server, navigate to plex.tv/media-server-downloads/. Using the drop-down menu, select your operating system, then click Download. When the download completes, open the Plex Media Server file that you downloaded and follow the on-screen prompts to complete installation.

Once you have Plex Media Server running on your computer, you can navigate to app.plex.tv/desktop to manage your server and organize your media collection.

Digitize Your Media Collection For Plex

The next step is to digitize your physical media collection. To accomplish this, you'll have to put your DVDs, Blu-rays and CDs into the disc drive in your computer and use software to convert each one into digital files.

A screenshot of Handbrake.

There are a lot of different software packages that can help you digitize your media collection. Some software only rips the files from the discs onto your computer, some only converts those files into a format that Plex can work with, and some do both in one seamless process.

Handbrake is one example of an application that can accomplish the entire process, start to finish, without requiring a second program. It's available for, Windows, Mac OS and Linux, and you can download it for free from the official site.

For more in depth information, including useful configuration tips, check out our full guide to using Handbrake. If you prefer to use a different program, we also have a list of the best DVD ripper programs out there.

Digitizing Music Collections

The easiest way to digitize your music collection is to use iTunes or Windows Media Player, which are free programs that a lot of people already use to listen to music. With both of these programs, whenever you have a CD inserted into your computer's disc drive, you have the option to convert it into digital music files.

For more information about importing music CDs:

Import Your Media Collection Into Plex Media Server

Once you have started to digitize your media collection, you're ready to import everything into Plex Media Server. This is a quick and easy process that doesn't actually involve moving files around. All you need to do is tell Plex where to find your files.

A screenshot of the Plex web app.

The first step is to navigate to app.plex.tv/desktop using a web browser like Chrome, Firefox or Edge. If you aren't already logged in, you will need to log in using the same account that you used to set up Plex Media Server.

Once the page has loaded, move your mouse over the LIBRARIES heading in the left menu and click the + icon that appears. This will allow you to add a new library of digital media files to Plex.

A screenshot of adding a media library to Plex.

In the Add Library menu, click the library type you want to add, then click Next.

If you want to further organize your media library, you create separate libraries for different genres of movies, TV shows, and music by entering a unique name before clicking Next.

A screenshot of adding a media library to Plex.

On the next screen, click Browse For Media Folder, and locate the media folder that you want to import. Once you have located the folder, click Add Library.

Repeat these steps to add all of your movies, TV shows, music, photos, and other media files to Plex.

Install the Plex App On Your Devices

Once you have added all your media files into Plex Media Center, you're almost ready to start streaming. The final step is to install the Plex app on all of your devices. It's available for mobile phones, game consoles, streaming devices, and more.

The Plex app accessing a movie from a remote Plex Media Server.

Here's where you can get the Plex app for your device:

The Plex iOS app works on iPhone, iPads and Apple TVs running iOS 9.3 or later. The Plex Android app works on Android phones, tablets, Android TV, and is capable of casting to Chromecast.

If your computer or device has a modern web browser, you can navigate to app.plex.tv/desktop to stream without downloading an app.

Streaming Your Media With Plex

Once you have Plex Media Center installed on your computer, and the Plex app installed on your devices, you're ready to stream. Just make sure that your computer stays turned on and connected to the internet, and you'll be able to stream to any of your devices whenever you want.

Screenshot of the Plex web player.

Streaming with Plex works best on high speed home networks, where it allows you to watch your media collection on any phone, tablet, computer, or television streaming device you like.

It's a great way to access your entire media collection on your television via a game console or streaming device, and it also allows you to pick up where you left off with a mobile device if you decide to finish a movie in bed.

If your home internet connection is capable of uploading data at a high enough speed, you can also use Plex to stream outside of your home network. That means you can stream movies and TV shows to your phone anywhere you have a strong enough mobile internet connection.

Just make sure to log into the mobile app with the same Plex account you used to set up Plex Media Server, and you'll always have your entire digital media collection at your fingertips.