What Is Plex And How Does It Work?

Find out if Plex is right for you

plex running on a laptop

Nipitphon Na Chiangmai / EyeEm

When you get into the habit of buying digital movies and songs or ripping and encoding your own digital media files from movies and albums you own, it's very easy to build a library that becomes too difficult to manage and move from one place to another. If you find yourself in a situation like this, Plex provides a way to easily access your entire digital library from any compatible computer, smartphone, or streaming device, without the tiresome need to manually transfer files.

What is Plex?

Plex Media Server is a digital media player and organizational tool that allows you to access the music, pictures, and videos stored on one computer with any other computer or compatible mobile device. You can install the Plex Media Server software on a Windows, Mac, or Linux computer, or even on a compatible network-attached storage (NAS) device, then play it back on any other internet-connected device capable of running the Plex app.

In addition to playing digital music and video files you already own and viewing your digital photograph collections, Plex also supports plug-ins that allow you to watch content from popular sources like Comedy Central and MTV.

The Plex Photo Timeline allows you to easily scroll through your pictures remotely.

How to Use Plex:

  1. Install Plex Media Server on the computer or network-attached server (NAS) device where you store your music, videos, and other media files.
  2. Install the Plex app on your other computers, smartphones, tablets, television streaming devices, phones, and even game consoles.
  3. Launch the app, and use it to stream your media files from Plex Media Server.

What You Can Do With Plex:

  • Use any compatible device to watch movies, listen to music, and view pictures stored on your computer that's running Plex Media Server.
  • Access media files stored on your Plex Media Server computer remotely via the internet.
  • Allow friends and family to access your movies, music, and pictures via the internet.

Which Computers and Devices Can Run Plex Media Server?

Plex Media Server runs on all of the major operating systems, but there are other devices that are also capable of running it. Here's what you can use to run Plex Media Server:

  • A computer running Windows, MacOS, or Linux.
  • An NVIDIA SHIELD.
  • A Netgear Nighthawk X10 router.
  • A compatible NAS device.

Which Computers and Devices Can Access Plex?

To access music, videos, and pictures stored on a Plex server, you can use:

  • Any major web browser, including Chrome, Firefox, Edge, Internet Explorer, and Safari.
  • Most smartphones, including Android, iOS, and Windows Phone.
  • Android, iOS, and Windows tablets.
  • Smart TVs from most manufacturers, including LG, Samsung, Sony, and Toshiba.
  • Most television streaming devices, including Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, Sonos, and TiVo.
  • Video game consoles like the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One.

How to Set up Plex Media Server on Your Computer

Before you can use Plex to stream your music and videos, you need to sign up for an account with the service and install the server software.

How to sign up for Plex.

Here's how to get a Plex account:

  1. Navigate to Plex.tv.
  2. Select Sign Up.
  3. Select Continue With Google, Continue With Facebook, or Continue with Email.
  4. Enter your Google or Facebook login information, or enter your email address and choose a password, then select Create An Account.
  5. If the Plex Pass advertisement pop-up appears, select the X to get rid of it.

Once you've successfully signed up for a Plex account, you're ready to download and install the Plex Media Server software. With this software installed, you'll be able to stream all of your media files from one central computer to all of your other devices.

How to download and install Plex Media Server.

Here's how to download and install Plex:

  1. Navigate to app.plex.tv/desktop.
    1. Note: If you've just finished signing up for a Plex account, you should already be on this page.
  2. Select Download Plex Media Server.
    1. Note: If installing on a NAS, select Download for NAS Platforms instead and follow the instructions on that screen.
  3. Select the operating system you're using.
  4. Select Download.
  5. Launch the Plex Media Server file you just downloaded.
  6. Select Install.
    1. Note: If the User Account Control window pops up, select OK.
  7. Select Launch.

Tip: When you finish launching the Plex Media Server software, it will automatically run in the background. If you want to make any setting changes, you need to navigate to app.plex.tv/desktop.

Required Plex Apps

There are two different apps you need if you want to use Plex:

  • The server application that runs on the computer where you store your media files.
  • A separate Plex app that runs on your other computers, phones, tablets, and streaming devices.

The Plex Media Server app is the software you need to install on the computer where you have your media files stored. For Windows, macOS, and Linux, you can get it straight from the Plex Media Server Downloads page.

The Plex media player app is the software you need to install on your other devices. Here's where to get it:

Tip: In addition to the standalone Plex media player app, you can also access your Plex account and all of your media through the web app using your favorite web browser to navigate to app.plex.tv/desktop.

Is Plex Free?

Plex is totally free to download and use, but you don't get access to all of the features unless you pay a subscription fee. All of the locked features are available if you subscribe to the Plex Pass service, which has monthly, yearly, and lifetime subscription options.

You can still do a lot with the free version of Plex, but certain features like mobile sync and live television are locked behind the Plex Pass service.

Plex Pass

Plex Pass is a premium subscription service that includes access to a wider range of features than a free Plex account. Subscribers also gain access to new Plex features earlier than non-subscribers. Some of the most important Plex Pass features include the ability to sync and access media files on mobile for use offline, the ability to connect an antenna and tuner to watch live television, and greater user control, including parental controls.

Plex Pass benefits and features.

The features you get with Plex Pass that aren't available with the free subscription include:

  • Premium music: Provides lyrics for songs you stream on Plex and is capable of generating playlists in a manner similar to Spotify.
  • Premium photos: Includes auto-tagging for your photos, and makes it easier to sort and access the photos you're looking for. You also get the option to automatically upload new photos from your mobile devices.
  • Movie & TV extras: Allows you to watch cinematic trailers before you stream your videos, just like in the theater. You also get access to extras like deleted scenes and behind-the-scenes featurettes.
  • Live TV: Requires a tuner device and an antenna to receive local HD television channels and stream them to your devices. Also includes a digital video recorder (DVR) feature and the ability to skip commercials in a manner similar to TiVo.
  • Offline sync: Allows you to download movies and music to your mobile devices for access when the device is no longer connected to the internet.
  • Parental controls: Allows you to install the Plex app on your kids' devices and lock them out from any content you don't want them to access.
  • Plex perks: Subscribers also gain access to partner discounts and get to take advantage of new features before free users.

What Are Plex Channels?

Plex Channels are plug-ins for Plex Media Server that allow you to access content from popular sources like Comedy Central, MTV, PBS, and the BBC. Since these channels are plug-ins, they aren't included when you download the Plex Media Server software. They're free, but you have to install them individually after you have Plex Media Server up and running.

How to install Plex Channels.

Here's how to install Plex Channels:

  1. Navigate to app.plex.tv/desktop.
  2. Select Plugins.
  3. Select Install Plugins.
  4. Locate a channel you want, then select it.
  5. Select Install.
  6. To install additional channels, repeat steps 4-5.
  7. To watch Plex Channels, look for the Plugins section in the Plex web or mobile app.
  8. Once you've installed some Plex Channels, you can access them by launching the Plex app on any compatible device, then tap Plugins.
View Plex Channels on a mobile device.

Important: Some Plex Channels are only available in specific countries, and others require a subscription. You may also have to subscribe to Plex Pass to access certain channels from the mobile app.