What Is Plex and How Does It Work?

Find out if Plex is right for you

Plex provides a way to easily access your entire digital library from any compatible computer, smartphone, or streaming device, without the need to transfer files manually.

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 a compatible network-attached storage (NAS) device, then play it back on any other internet-connected device capable of running the Plex app.

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

Plex Media Server runs on all major operating systems, but other devices are also capable of running it, including the following:

  • Computers with Windows, macOS, or Linux.
  • NVIDIA SHIELD.
  • Netgear Nighthawk X10 routers.
  • Compatible NAS devices.

To access music, videos, and pictures stored on a Plex server, you can use any of the following devices:

  • 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.

The instructions in this article apply to the desktop version of Plex.

How to Set up Plex Media Server on Your Computer

To use Plex, install the Plex Media Server on the computer or network-attached server (NAS) device where you store your music, videos, and other media files. Install the Plex app on your other computers, smartphones, tablets, televisions, streaming devices, and game consoles. Then, launch the app and use it to stream your media files from Plex Media Server.

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

  1. Navigate to Plex.tv.

  2. Select Sign Up.

    A screenshot of the Plex website with the Sign Up button highlighted
  3. Select either Continue With Google, Continue With Facebook, or Continue with Apple. However, you can skip those options and enter your email address if you want to sign up that way.

    Create Account options on Plex website
  4. Enter your Google or Facebook login information, or enter your email address and choose a password, then select Create An Account.

    If the Plex Pass advertisement pop-up appears, select the X to get rid of it.

Download and Install Plex

After you successfully sign up for a Plex account, you're ready to download and install the Plex Media Server software. With this software installed, you can stream all your media files from one central computer to your other devices.

  1. Navigate to plex.tv/media-server-downloads.

  2. Select the operating system or platform you use.

    Plex platform options on download page
  3. Select Download.

    A screenshot of the Plex website with the Download button highlighted
  4. Launch the Plex Media Server file you just downloaded and select Install.

    If the User Account Control window appears, select OK or Yes.

    A screenshot of Plex with the Install button highlighted
  5. Select Launch when the installation is complete.

When you launch the Plex Media Server software, it automatically runs in the background. If you want to make any setting changes, 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 store your media files. For Windows, macOS, and Linux, get it 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:

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

Is Plex Free?

Plex is free to download and use, but you don't get access to all the features unless you pay a subscription fee. 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 Features

Plex Pass is the fully-featured premium service, which has monthly, yearly, and lifetime subscription options. 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.

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 want. You also have the option to upload new photos from your mobile devices automatically.
  • Movie & TV extras: Allows you to watch cinematic trailers before you stream 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 these channels to your devices. It 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 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 can take advantage of new features before free users.