Plex media server ups the media server game

plex media server screenshot

Plex has always been on my horizon as its part of the future change in home entertainment, however Technicalfault shared a link to a blog post from the Plex media server team.

In this aint your grandfathers DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance), the Plex media server team (PMS) outline why the inclusion of Plutinosoft’s fabulous DLNA SDK, makes PMS the best DLNA server.

The result (besides a lingering scent of cologne and flowers) is the world’s best DLNA server. No, really. I’m not prone to hyperbole. This DLNA server can do things that no other DLNA server on the planet can do. And the coolest part is that with this new release, all the content served up by your Plex Media Server is now accessible by an insane amount of new devices, including ones that may already be in your homes (your LG washing machine doesn’t have DLNA? Send it back!)

So somewhere between all the hype and banging of chests, there might be something interesting…

I’ve never bought into the Plex way of doing things mainly because XBMC works for me. Plex although based on XBMC favors a ecosystem which seems to be about streaming from the server to their client. But reading the news about the PMS beta, I thought maybe I could use it on my server instead of using UPnP servers like Ushare and Mediatomb. I had just build my new server and had not yet installed a UPnP server yet. So after twelve47 sent me a link to the ubuntu beta, I installed it and tried it out.

My first thoughts is it won’t change much of the way I do things at home. I haven’t created a Plex account and frankly the ability to do transcoding is pretty much lost on my setup. I tend to watch 99% of things on my XBMC box in the living room. I do have another XBMC box in my bedroom room but I tend not to use it much (although this changed recently when I replaced my desktop machine with the XBMC box). So now I listen to my podcasts in the morning using XBMC…

XBMC does actually have a DLNA server built in, so I was interested to see which one is most standard complaint or works with devices around the flat?

UPnP and DLNA from a early time years ago has always captured the imagination. When I had my Nokia N80 work phone, I tried to get DLNA working, and for the most part it didn’t quite work. You could see the devices, but for the most part the services wouldn’t be compatible. When Microsoft added DLNA to the Xbox 360, things started looking up. Interestingly the Playstation3 has always had it.

This is also why I find the whole Apple Airplay such a joke because as usual, apple make it simpler (as they do own the ecosystem and the products) then claim it as there own (or at least there fanboys do). Funny enough XBMC now even supports AirPlay.

You could see the XBMC UPnP server but not actually stream anything, or even browse. So I was interested to see if this would be be any different with PMS?

For music… I can tell you its better than the XBMC UPnP server, as I was able to stream music without too much of a problem. This has never quite worked with XBMC UPnP server but PMS handled everything just fine.

However for Video what surprised me was the fact XBMC UPnP server and Plex Media Server could both stream my whole movie and TV collection without too much hassle. Obviously work had been done on XBMC UPnP since I last looked at it. I guess Plex does have the upper hand on the Xbox 360 because of the transcoding, but as default it down samples my glorious multichannel audio down to stereo, which seriously sucks for me. Couldn’t see at a glance where to turn on AC3/DTS comparability in Plex. Pictures is another area which XBMC UPnP server seems to fall short, while Plex was able to handle my complete collection without breaking a sweat.

So with the Xbox 360 sorted… I tried the other device which I’ve been playing with, the Wifi UPnP enabled Picture frame I picked up very cheap a while ago. Unfortunately although it did see the Plex server, it couldn’t do anything with it…

Although it didn’t work, the interesting part of the Plex Media Server is the ability to get down and nasty with DLNA and a XML config.

DLNA is a rather broad and flexible standard, and different devices interpret the standard in different ways. Some by design, some due to device bugs accident. This makes it impossible for a media server that supports DLNA to provide a one-size-fits-all implementation of the standard. Instead, the server must adapt to different clients by recognizing them and changing its behavior accordingly. A client profile is the basic unit of information that Plex Media Server uses for this purpose.

And this is where it gets very interesting… I’ll attempt to reverse engineer my picture frame’s DLNA support so I can share pictures with it and hopefully be able push forward with the conversation I had with Jas about extending my digital artifacts out into the real world.

Anything I buy now pretty much must have support for DLNA and the ability to hack Plex to get it working with the different devices is a very good thing.

Android has some great DLNA clients and I’m already thinking about hooking up my Archos Tablet (which I’m using as a desktop alarm clock, thanks to the kick stand and my Samsung Tablet 7+) to other things around the flat. Even thinking once I get my HTC 1x (yes I ordered one) instead of selling my HTC desire, maybe I could hook it up into different parts of my flat? This is why I find the Google Open Accessory API (ADK) really interesting and a certain nod to the future…

For now I’m keeping Plex Media Server on the server, and it may find more use in the future but generally right now I’m using Samba and NFS to stream media around the flat. My hope is XBMC now on version 11 (eden) will spend a little time on their UPnP server, as it was the best for a long time.

Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.