Plex (software)

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Not to be confused with PLEX (programming language).
Developer(s) Plex, Inc.
Stable release
  • Server: ([1]) [±]

Development status Active
Operating system
Platform x86, ARM
  • Server:
    90-105 Mio (compressed, depending on the platform)
Available in
  • Server:
Alexa rank Increase 1,829 (June 2016)[3]

Plex is a media player system and software suite comprising many player applications for 10-foot user interfaces, and an associated media server that organizes personal media stored on local devices. It organizes audio (music) and visual (photos and videos) content from personal media libraries and streams it to mobile devices, smart TVs, and streaming boxes. Plex is available for Windows, Android, Linux, OS X, and FreeBSD.[4] Additionally, Integrated Plex Channels provide users with access to a growing number of online content providers, such as YouTube, Vimeo, TED Talks, and CNN, among others. Plex also provides integration for cloud services[5] including Bitcasa, Box, Dropbox, and Google Drive.[6]

Plex's front-end media player, Plex Media Player (formerly Plex Home Theater[7]), allows the user to manage and play music, photos, and videos from a local or remote computer running Plex Media Server. Additionally, the integrated Plex Online service provides the user with a growing list of community-driven plugins for online content including Netflix, Hulu, and CNN video.[8]

Plex Media Center (previous version) and Plex Home Theater was originally based on Kodi[9] (formerly XBMC); Plex Media Center's source code was initially forked from Kodi on May 21, 2008, when it was still called "XBMC". This fork continued to be used as a front-end media player on Linux for Plex's media server back-end media host component until Plex fully replaced it with a proprietary version in October 2015.[8][10][11][12] Plex Media Server is a combination of (mostly) proprietary software, unlike the initial free front-end that was based on XBMC open source software.


Plex began as a freeware hobby project but since 2010 has 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.[13][14][15]

Plex Media Server[edit]

Plex web interface: Users can manage their libraries, server settings, and watch content from this browser-based interface

Plex Media Server, the back-end media server component of Plex, comprises closed-source code as well as some modified open-source code.[16] Introduced in 2009, Plex Media Server is used to host the content and plugins that are then streamed to Plex big screen apps (including Plex Home Theater) and Plex mobile apps, either on the same machine, the same local area network, or over the Internet. In addition to the platforms supported by the front end, the server is available for FreeBSD, Linux and nine different NAS devices. Plex Media Server can be configured to index content in any directory on the machine it is run on, as well as to automatically acquire content from such sources as Aperture, iPhoto, and iTunes. Content may be transcoded by the server before it is streamed, in order to reduce bandwidth requirements or for compatibility with the device being streamed to.

Plex Media Server allows extensibility through the addition of plug-ins. Many such plug-ins are available through the built-in Plex Online digital distribution service. This service can be used directly within Plex Home Theater or Plex Media Center's GUI.[8][17][18]

Plex uses the metadata from several free open-source online libraries to automatically find all artwork, media descriptions, and theme music for the entire library.[citation needed]

TV and streaming device apps[edit]

Plex media player software supports a wide range of multimedia formats, and includes features such as audio visualizations, playlists, slideshows, and an expanding array of third-party plugins. As a media player software, Plex can play most audio and video file formats, as well as display images from many sources, including the Internet, local area network shares, optical disc drives, and USB flash drives. DVD playback is not yet fully integrated and requires the use of helper applications like Apple's DVD Player.[19] Plex media player can also play files from a local hard disk drive, or streaming over a network or ReplayTV DVR. Supported network protocols include Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA), Server Message Block (SMB) shares (Windows file sharing), and Universal Plug and Play (UPNP). Plex is designed to take advantage of an Internet connection if available, using, by default, AMG to obtain album cover images, CDDB (via freedb) for audio CD track listings, TheMovieDB (TMDB.ORG) for synopses and thumbnails for movies, and TheTVDB for TV show metadata and thumbnails. It also has many audio visualizers, a karaoke function, music and video playlists, screensavers, and slide shows.

Plex media player software is able to decode high-definition video up to 1080p, as well as 10-bit H.264 sources.[8][20][21] With the appropriate hardware, Plex also supports hardware decoding of H.264 video.[22]

Plex can automatically fetch metadata information and artwork from sites including IMDb, TheMovieDB, TheTVDB, freedb and Allmusic using built-in web scraping functionality.

The Video Library, one of the Plex metadata databases, is a key feature of Plex. It allows for the automatic organization of video content by information associated with the video files (movies and recorded TV shows) themselves. The Library Mode view in Plex allows the user to browse video content by categories such as genre, title, year, actors, and directors.

The Music Library, another of the Plex metadata databases, is an additional key feature of Plex's. It allows for the automatic organization of a music collection by information stored in the ID3 tags, such as title, artist, album, genre, year, and popularity.

For audio playback, Plex includes the audio-player called PAPlayer, which was originally developed in-house by the XBMC developers. Some of this audio-player core's most notable features are crossfading, cue sheet and Ogg chapter support, on-the-fly audio frequency resampling, and ReplayGain.

Mobile apps[edit]

Plex mobile apps exist for Android (version 1.6 onwards), iOS (version 4.1 onwards), Windows 8, and Windows Phone (version 7.5 onwards) devices. The apps allow remote controlling the required Plex big screen apps, including Plex Home Theater. They also allow browsing and streaming content directly to the device from a Plex server, using transcoding when necessary, as well as from various online content "channels". Both require a MyPlex account for remote access (over the Internet) to Plex servers. Unlike the desktop versions of Plex, these apps are not freeware.[23][24] Third-party applications are also available, on all three platforms, for remote controlling Plex.[citation needed]

Media formats[edit]

An example of the TV Episode interface on Plex. Includes fan-art background

Like other XBMC-derived media players, Plex uses FFmpeg and other open source libraries to handle all common multimedia formats. It can decode these in software, using hardware video decoding where available and optionally passing-through AC3 or DTS audio directly to an external audio-amplifier/receiver via S/PDIF.

Plex video-playback uses a video-player "core" which was originally developed in-house by the XBMC developers as a DVD player for DVD-Video contents, including the support of DVD menus. This video-player "core" supports all the FFmpeg codecs, and in addition the MPEG-2 video codec, and the audio codecs DTS and AC3.

PAPlayer handles a very large variety of audio file-formats.

Plex handles all common image file formats with the options of panning, zooming and slideshow with "Ken Burns effect", with the use of CxImage open source library code.


Developers can make plugins for the Plex Media Server proprietary plugin architecture using Python and XML. Many plug-ins for Plex Media Server leverage WebKit to display video from online sources using the same Adobe Flash and Silverlight players that the sources provide for web browsers.[8] For most popular video and audio codecs, Plex includes native support through free and open-source libraries, such as LAME, faad (for faac), libmpeg2, and libavcodec (from the FFmpeg project). These source code libraries are released under open source licenses.

The new Plex Media Player front-end clients, and Plex Media Server, the back-end server that all plugins for Plex are dependent on, is a combination of open and closed source code. The server installer is bundled with the GPL licenses and links to download the open source parts of the code which are mostly modified versions of the FFmpeg project. Plex also includes libdvdcss in order to support playback of DVD-Video movies encrypted using the Content Scramble System (CSS) encryption scheme.

Plex Home Theater (no longer developed)[edit]

Elan Feingold, one of the founders of Plex, was part of the official XBMC development team for a short while, and Plex Home Theater source code was initially forked from the completely open-source XBMC Media Center software on May 21, 2008; this fork was for a long time used as a front-end media player for Plex's back-end server component.[8][11][12] Plex Media Server, unlike the initial Plex Home Theater front-end, consists of proprietary software used in conjunction with some modified open source code. Today, since the release of a new Plex Media Player front-end client for Linux desktop and embedded in October 2015, all of Plex front-end media player clients are solely based on proprietary code.[25]

The old and now obsolete Plex Home Theater is still distributed as open source under the GNU General Public License (GPL), with source code on GitHub. This client media player was primarily programmed in C++, and made use of the Simple DirectMedia Layer (SDL) framework with an OpenGL renderer. Some of the third-party libraries that Plex Home Theater depended on was written in C, but are used with a C++ wrapper and loaded as shared libraries when used inside Plex. Since Plex Home Theater was based on XBMC Media Center it shared its flexible GUI toolkit and robust software framework. With themes based on a standard XML base, skinning and personal customization which was very accessible. Users could create their own skin (or simply modify an existing skin) and share it with others via third-party public websites for XBMC skin trading.

Plex Home Theater used a skin called RetroPle by a skinning artist named se.bastian,[26] while the last version of Plex Home Theater used a modified version of the "MediaStream" skin as its default skin, a skin that was originally designed by Team Razorfish for XBMC.[27]


Plex also offers streaming apps for Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, Xbox (Xbox 360 & Xbox One), PlayStation (PS3 & PS4), TiVo,[28] and other Smart TV platforms (currently LG, Samsung, VIZIO, & Opera TV).[29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Release Announcements - Plex Media Server". 
  2. ^ "PlexMediaServer Translations - Get Localization". Retrieved 2 July 2016. 
  3. ^ " Site Overview". Retrieved 2 July 2016. 
  4. ^ Roettgers, Janko (2011-10-31). "Plex gets Windows client, cloud service, media sharing". Gigaom. 
  5. ^ "Plex on the App Store on iTunes". Apple. 2014-07-31. Retrieved 2014-08-07. 
  6. ^ "Cloud Sync Storage Provider Setup – Plex". Zendesk. Retrieved 2014-08-07. 
  7. ^ "Introducing the Plex Media Player". October 20, 2015. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f Deleon, Nicholas (2010-01-15). "CrunchGear Interview: We talk to the lead developer of Plex Media Center for Mac OS X: It was doing Boxee-like stuff before Boxee was cool". CrunchGear. 
  9. ^ Plex desktop app rebranded as Plex Home Theater
  10. ^ Introducing the Plex Media Player
  11. ^ a b "XBMC for Mac forked for a separate project called PLEX (formerly known as "OSXBMC")". XBMC Community Forum. 2008-05-23. Retrieved 2009-03-15. 
  12. ^ a b Anderson, Kevin (2009-10-07). "Thinking inside the box". Guardian. 
  13. ^ "Plex and the Future of Television". Plex Inc. 2010-09-02. Retrieved 2010-10-21. 
  14. ^ "Plex to Enable Next Generation of Netcast Connected TV's". Plex Inc. 2010-09-03. Retrieved 2010-10-21. 
  15. ^ Stevens, Tim (2010-09-03). "Plex announces partnership with LG, pledges to beat Boxee Box and Apple TV for free". Engadget. Retrieved 2010-10-21. 
  16. ^ "Plex Media Server: LGPL/GPL violation". 2013-09-20. Retrieved 2015-12-24. 
  17. ^ Arya, Aayush (2009-06-29). "Plex media center software competes with Front Row". Macworld. Retrieved 2009-10-31. 
  18. ^ Weintraub, Seth (2009-02-23). "Plex Media Center blows us away with App Store". Archived from the original on July 19, 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-19. 
  19. ^ Vähäkainu, Matti (2008-10-12). "Plex media player hands-on". Retrieved 2009-10-31. 
  20. ^ "Plex Review". 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-31. 
  21. ^ Fingas, Jon (2012-12-25). "Plex desktop app becomes Plex Home Theater, adds AirPlay and HD audio". Engadget. Retrieved 2014-08-07. 
  22. ^ "Hardware Accelerated H.264 Decoding on Plex". Plex Blog. 2010-04-27. Retrieved 2010-04-27. 
  23. ^ Deleon, Nicholas (2010-08-30). "Exclusive Hands-On With Plex/Nine For Mac OS X & Plex App For iOS Devices". CrunchGear. Retrieved 2010-10-31. 
  24. ^ "Plex on iPad impressive, but not perfect". 2010-09-02. Retrieved 2010-10-31. 
  25. ^
  26. ^ Plex Home Theater 1.0 released
  27. ^ Razorfish, Team. "MediaStream Skin by Team Razorfish". Team Razorfish. 
  28. ^
  29. ^ "Plex on the Chromecast! It's Official. - Plex Blog : Plex Blog". Plex. December 6, 2013. Retrieved 2014-08-07. 

External links[edit]