I’m going to share with you a little gem I discovered recently that relieved me of all my digital media player headaches. That gem is of course, RasPlex – a Linux based distribution that is optimized to run Plex client software on the Raspberry Pi, a single board computer. For the layman, this is more or less taking a $35 computer and turning it into a Roku/FireTV/Chromecast/AppleTV device. This is generally achieved by running the XBMC/Kodi operating system, but in this post we’re focusing on a version specific to Plex. There are two parts to Plex: the server and the client. The server does all the heavy lifting like transcoding while the client (the app that runs on various devices like your phone/Roku/Chromecast) receives that data and sends it to your television screen. Plex has come a long way in the last few years and their developments for the Raspberry Pi (which was forked from XBMC, another popular media center OS) are no exception. Working together, the Plex server and client devices can stream high quality media to any of your TVs or devices on the network for free. To top it off, the software also provides metadata such as cover art, descriptions, and IMDB/Rotten Tomato ratings. I was surprised to learn that there is even an option to have a show’s theme music play when browsing the episodes.
What you need
- Plex server
- Raspberry Pi
Plex offers software for a wide range of operating systems, so you can download the server software for your Windows/Mac, OR you can do things the right way (also the harder way). Getting your Raspberry Pi set up has been made so simple it should only has a few more steps than #1 – download the image file here (channel: stable for the most stable, channel: prerelease for the bleeding edge) and unzip it (7Zip can do this). Then get a SD card flashing program of your choice (win32diskimager, Plex’s installer) and flash your Pi’s SD card. Insert the flashed SD card into your Pi and boot it with a keyboard/mouse and TV hooked up and click through the installer. The only thing you’ll need to enter in is your Wifi password. As long as your router isn’t blocking traffic on Plex’s ports, your Raspberry Pi should automatically establish a connection with any Plex servers on the local network and display their contents.
Although most TV remotes are able to work with RasPlex’s dashboard, some of them may not have all of the functions working. For instance, the “back” button on my remote does not back out of a Plex library. Forunately, since Plex was forked from XBMC, you can use Kodi’s phone app (“Kore” on android) as a remote control for Plex. Download the app and connect to your Wifi and the will connect with the RasPlex client and allow you to navigate through the dashboard. This is of course also free and works extremely well.
This is only half of the equation though. While Plex does a great job of providing working, free and (mostly) open source software, they are not providing the content itself. For that, you’ll need to buy a Blu-ray drive bay and rip your DVDs to your computer, of course. Once you’ve done that, you can invite friends to view your library – just as though they were to coming over to your house to watch the movie/TV show on DVD. This is a very promising, and often overlooked (but not by this subreddit), feature of Plex. Be careful though, each friend you invite will require a certain amount of processing power to serve them a stream, so make sure you plan accordingly! Newer processors with 4-8 cores should be good for 3-4 high quality streams. The Plex client software also supports music libraries and third party channels, though I have not had the time to explore the latter.
Are you using Plex? If not, what is your media center solution (OMV, Emby)? Comment below, all views are welcome!