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Plex is a client-server media player system and software suite comprising two main components. The Plex Media Server desktop application runs on Windows, macOS and Linux-compatibles including some types of NAS devices. The server desktop application organizes video, audio, and photos from a user's collections and from online services, enabling the players to access and stream the contents. There are also official clients available for mobile devices, smart TVs, and streaming boxes, a web app, and Plex Home Theater (no longer maintained), as well as many third-party alternatives.
Plex sells a premium service called Plex Pass, with features like synchronization with mobile devices, cloud storage integration, metadata and matchings for music, support for multiple users, parental controls, live TV and DVR, trailers and extras and cross-selling offers.
Plex began as a freeware hobby project in December 2007 when developer Elan Feingold created a media center application for his Apple Mac. He decided to port the media player XBMC (now known as Kodi) to Mac OS X. Around the same time, Cayce Ullman and Scott Olechowski—software executives who had recently sold their previous company to Cisco—were also looking to port XBMC to OSX, and noticed Feingold's progress via XBMC online forums. They contacted him and offered support and help with funding. Feingold, Olechowski and Ullman formed as a team in January 2008 and founded Plex, Inc. in December 2009.
The developers worked on the XBMC project until May 21, 2008. Due to different goals and vision from the XBMC team, they shortly forked the code to become Plex, and published it on GitHub. The code was kept roughly in sync with the Linux code.
The new name was announced on July 8, 2008. Ullman came up with the name Plex² or Plex Square, due to the unavailability of plex.com, and the availability of plex2.com. Feingold suggested Plex² was too unwieldy and the single word, Plex, was ultimately chosen because the "plex" suffix evokes "comprising a number of parts". The team began to work on a media center component to aggregate not only local content but also to bring together web-based multimedia services. The new library system was redeveloped from scratch. The CenterStage UI group, a team aiming at improving the home theater PC UI interface, teamed with Plex to develop the idea further. To make the project viable, the team looked to bring the Plex experience to other devices, without the need for users to dedicate another computer as a HTPC.
In December 2009, the project evolved into a commercial software business owned and developed by a single for-profit startup company, Plex, Inc., a U.S.-based high tech firm that is responsible for the development of the Plex Media Server and media player app front- and back-ends, its client–server model, all accompanying software under the Plex brand name, as well as the exclusive, copyrighted, proprietary parts, whether distributed on its own or as a third-party software component in products manufactured via a strategic partnership. Elan Feingold, Scott Olechowski and Cayce Ullman were the three founders, with Ullman and Feingold taking on full-time roles as the CEO and CTO, respectively.
At that time, Plex had 130 apps, the most popular of which were Apple Movies Trailers, YouTube, Hulu, Netflix, MTV Music Videos, BBC iPlayer and Vimeo. In an interview for TechCrunch, Feingold declared Plex apps had been downloaded about 1 million times.
In 2014, Plex raised $10 million from the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins. In an interview at CES 2014, Scott Olechowski, Plex Chief Product Officer, added that Plex was considering eventually adding paid music downloads, or teaming up with a music subscription service, to give users a chance to grow their music library. These partnerships, like the one with VEVO, were costly for Plex, which led to fundraising from Kleiner Perkins.
Relations with content companies
Plex initially developed applications for services such as Hulu and Netflix. Hulu deployed "counter-measures" by creating changes deliberately to prevent Plex from parsing their HTML. Netflix and Hulu services are no longer officially available with Plex.
The relationships with content companies were not completely adversarial. Some companies contacted Feingold to add their content to Plex, including music streaming service Spotify.
Plex Media Server
Plex Media Server (sometimes called PMS or PMS Software) is the back-end media server component of Plex. It organizes audio and visual content from personal media libraries and streams it to their player counterparts, either on the same machine, the same local area network, or over the Internet. It can run on Windows, macOS, Linux, FreeBSD, NAS devices, or on Nvidia Shield TV.
The device can acquire content from sources such as iTunes, iPhoto and Aperture. The music library is another of the Plex metadata databases. This library allows for the automatic organization of a music collection by information stored in the ID3 or M4A tags, such as title, artist, album, genre, year, and popularity. Plex Pass users also have the ability to access the whole music video catalog from VEVO.
Player apps are Plex's front-end allowing the user to manage and play music, photos, videos and online content from a local or remote computer running Plex Media Server.
- Plex Web App – Plex released a web UI for all users on November 16, 2012.
- Plex Media Player – Plex Media Player, announced on October 20, 2015, uses hardware acceleration for a consistent user interface across all devices. While Plex Media Player is reported to be open source and its code available on GitHub as GPLv2, not the whole software is actually open source. Only the host parts of the application can be contributed. Plex Media Player is compatible with Windows 7 and upwards, OS X Mavericks and upwards, embedded platforms like the Raspberry Pi 2 and Intel NUC, with some Linux compatibility.
- Plex Home Theater (discontinued) – Previously known as Plex Media Center, Plex Home Theater is a front-end media player that was the software component used for Plex's back-end server component. On October 28, 2011, support for Windows was announced for Plex Home Theater, which brought integration with Windows Media Center. In October 2015, Plex Home Theater was discontinued in favor of the Plex Media Player. It is still distributed as open source under the GNU General Public License (GPL), with source code on GitHub.
Plex also released apps to run on other platforms and devices:
- Amazon Fire TV – Plex announced an application for the Amazon Fire TV, the same day it launched on April 2, 2014.
- Android – On February 16, 2011, Plex announced its Android application. On June 25, 2014, support for the Android TV platform was announced.
- Apple TV – With the fourth generation of Apple TV, third-party developers could write their own applications, removing the main limitations of previous models.
- Chromecast – On March 13, 2014, Plex announced free support of Chromecast in its iOS and Android applications.
- iOS – An iOS application was released on August 30, 2010 and provided a way to use iOS devices to remotely control a Plex Media Server and view media.
- LG – On September 2, 2010, Plex announced a partnership with LG to integrate the software component into LG 2011 NetCast-enabled HDTVs and Blu-ray devices. Only NetCast models from 2013 and models running webOS were supported.
- Opera TV – An app for Opera TV was announced on December 12, 2014.
- PlayStation – Plex announced their apps for PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 on December 17, 2014.
- Roku – On May 3, 2011, Plex announced a client app on the Roku, available by installing the Plex private channel.
- Samsung – On August 3, 2012, Plex announced support for Samsung TV and Blu-ray players.
- Sonos – On July 20, 2016, Plex announced product support for Sonos devices.
- TiVo – TiVO DVRs have a Plex app from software version 20.4.7a or higher.
- VIZIO – On October 15, 2014, Plex announced a partnership with VIZIO in order to have rights to release a Plex application on their devices.
- Windows – On March 30, 2012, Plex announced the availability of Plex for Windows Phone. On December 4, 2012, Plex announced a client application for Windows 8 using the new Metro interface.
- Xbox – On October 5, 2014, applications for Xbox 360 and Xbox One were announced, supporting voice and gesture control of the devices.
On July 2, 2015, Plex revealed the machine hosting its blog and forums had been compromised. Personal information such as IP addresses, forum private messages, email addresses, and hashed and salted passwords had been accessed. This access was gained via a 0-day vulnerability in their forums software. Following this intrusion, Plex migrated its forums to Vanilla Forums to reduce the burdens of sysadmin maintenance and security.
- Emby, a partially open-source alternative to Plex
- List of video players (software)
- RasPlex porting of Plex for OpenELEC on ARM for Raspberry Pi
- Comparison of video player software
- Comparison of DVR software packages
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