What Is Plex Live TV And Should I Use It?

Live TV at your fingertips

Plex Live TV allows you to watch and record live television on your computer, smartphone, tablet, and other compatible devices, instead of just on your television. It isn't a television streaming service, as it relies on free over-the-air television broadcasts to provide live television, but it can act as a cable replacement for cord cutters just like traditional streaming services.

How Does Plex Live TV Work?

Plex Live TV is based on Plex Media Server, which is software you can use to organize your digital media library and stream it to virtually any internet-connected device. It adds a digital video recorder (DVR) function to Plex Media Server as well as the option to watch live television through the same software.

The way Plex Live TV works is you install Plex Media Server on a computer or network-attached storage (NAS) device, then connect it to an antenna with some special hardware. Plex Media Server is then able to receive free over-the-air television broadcasts, convert them into a digital format, then either store that video for later use or stream it live to any compatible device.

Plex Media Server is free to download and use, but the Plex Live TV feature isn't free. To access Plex Live TV, you need to sign up for the Plex Pass service. This is cheaper than streaming services, but it does require a small monthly cost unless you opt for the lifetime subscription.

Required Equipment

To use Plex Live TV, you need Plex Media Server installed on a computer or NAS and a few other pieces of hardware. Since Plex Live TV relies on local over-the-air television broadcasts, you essentially need to give your computer everything it needs to mimic the functionality of a real television.

Antenna and HD television tuner devices

Here are the basic equipment requirements:

  • Hardware capable of transcoding, storing, and streaming video files: This can be a computer or a compatible NAS device. It runs Plex Media Server and connects to an antenna via an HD tuner device.
  • Hardware capable of receiving television signals: This has to be some type of HD tuner device, which mimics the functionality of a television. It receives a television broadcast from an antenna and makes it available to the computer or NAS.
  • An antenna: This has to be an antenna capable of picking up digital television broadcasts. The type of antenna you need depends on the strength and locations of the television transmitters in your area.

Transcoding, Storing, and Streaming Equipment

The core of your Plex Live TV setup needs to be hardware capable of recording, storing, and streaming video. Here are the main options:

  • Computer: The easiest way to use Plex Live TV is to install Plex Media Server on a computer that has enough processing power to encode video and enough storage space to hold video files. A wired Ethernet connection to your network is also good.
  • NAS: The other option is to use a NAS device capable of encoding video, but not all NAS devices fit the bill. Most NAS devices use the Linux operating system, so setting up Plex Live TV will be tough if you're only familiar with Windows or macOS. NAS devices typically also lack the processing power required to encode and stream live television.

Plex Live TV HD Tuner Equipment

The next thing you need is an HD tuner, which is a device that's capable of receiving an HD television signal and providing it to your computer. Here are the main options:

  • USB HD tuner: This is the most universal option. You plug this tuner into a USB port on your computer, then connect it to an antenna with the same type of coaxial cable you would normally connect to your television. You can use these with both desktop computers and laptops.
  • PCMCIA HD tuner: These cards are designed to plug into the Personal Computer Memory Card International Association (PCMCIA) slot in a laptop, and they include a coaxial connection for an antenna. You can only use these cards with laptops, and the laptop needs to have a compatible PCMCIA slot available.
  • PCIe HD tuner: These cards are designed to plug into the Peripheral Component Interconnect Express (PCIe) slot on the motherboard of a desktop computer, and they include a coaxial connection for an antenna. This is the best option if you have Plex Media Server installed on a desktop computer that has an open PCI Express slot.

Plex Live TV Antenna Equipment

The last thing you need is an antenna that's capable of receiving over-the-air HD television signals. If you have an antenna mounted on your roof, you can use that. If you don't, here are your antenna options:

  • Window-mounted HD antenna: These antennas are easy to install, but they have a limited range. If you live in an area where the nearest television stations are more than 30 or 50 miles away, this type of antenna won't work.
  • Attic-mounted HD antenna: These antennas have a greater range than window-mounted antennas. If the nearest television stations are too far away, you'll need a directional antenna instead.
  • Roof-mounted HD antenna: These antennas have the greatest range because they're mounted outside on your roof. Ideally, this type of antenna should be located high enough that it isn't obstructed by your roof or any of the houses or trees in the immediate area.

The availability of over-the-air HD television broadcasts varies based on your location. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) provides a DTV reception tool you can use to see what channels are available where you live and what type of antenna you'll need.

How to Set up Plex Live TV

The first step in setting up Plex Live TV is to install Plex Media Server, preferably on a computer that has a fast processor and a wired connection to your network. After you have Plex Media Server installed, you'll need to purchase an HD tuner device and an antenna if you haven't already done so.

How to install your television tuner device and then connect it to an antenna

Here's how to get Plex Live TV working:

  1. Sign up for a Plex account.

  2. Purchase a Plex Pass subscription.

  3. Install Plex Media Server.

  4. Mount your antenna.

  5. Connect a coaxial cable to the antenna, and route it to your computer.

  6. Install an HD tuner device in your computer.

  7. Connect the coaxial cable to your antenna.

  8. Launch Plex Media Server on your computer.

  9. Run the Live TV & DVR setup wizard in Plex Media Server.

How to Use the Plex Live TV & DVR Setup Wizard

Once you've installed a tuner device and connected it to an antenna, you're pretty much ready to go. The last thing you need to do is run the Plex Live TV & DVR setup wizard. This will walk you through the process of setting Plex Media Server up to work with your tuner device, scan for local channels, and even download a programming guide for your area.

Here's how to set up Plex Live TV & DVR:

  1. Launch Plex Media Server.

  2. Using a web browser, navigate to app.plex.tv/desktop.

  3. Make sure you're logged in to the Plex TV web app with the same account you use for your Plex Media Server.

  4. Go to to Settings > Server > Live TV & DVR.

  5. Select SET UP PLEX DVR.

    If you haven't signed up for Plex Pass, you won't see this option. Instead, you will see Plex Pass signup button.

  6. Wait for the system to finish searching for your tuner.

  7. If the system finds your tuner, select CONTINUE.

    If the system doesn't find your tuner, select Don't see your device? Enter its network address manually, then enter the address.

  8. Select the DVR and verify any discovered channels.

  9. If you see all the channels you expected to receive, select CONTINUE.

    Select SCAN CHANNELS if the system didn't automatically discover all your local channels.

  10. Select your language, enter your ZIP code, then select CONTINUE.

  11. Verify that the channel guide matches the identity of the channels you're able to receive and make any changes you need to. Select the checkmark next to any channel you want to leave out of your DVR.

  12. Select CONTINUE.

How to Watch Live TV on Plex

Once you have Plex Media Server set up on a computer or compatible NAS, and you've hooked up both an antenna and a tuner device, you're ready to watch and record live television. You can watch live TV through the Plex app on your main computer, any other computer or laptop, your smartphone, television streaming device, or even a game console. Just make sure you sign into the Plex app using the same account you used when you set up Plex Media Server.

Here's how to watch live TV on Plex:

  1. Launch the Plex app on any compatible device.

  2. Select More.

    Depending on the device, you may simply select Live TV & DVR.

  3. Select Live TV & DVR.

  4. Browse the Programming Guide for a show you want to watch.

  5. Select the show you want to watch.

  6. Select the red record icon to record the show to your DVR.

  7. Select the play button to watch the show.

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