Plex: Your Home Media Server with Remote Access

Plex Media Server is a program designed to create a media server and receive remote access to audio and video files with transcoding support on various devices, whether it’s Smart TV, mobile device or a PC.

The main advantage of Plex media server is the multiplatform which supports smartphones, tablets, and PCs that use OS X, Windows, Linux, smart TVs and NAS.

Like any high-quality software media server, Plex Media Server promptly aggregates any media content and provides it with additional information from the Internet (adds posters, descriptions and information about the genre or the director of a movie, and when speaking about music: it adds covers and info about the performers). The surprising thing is: to play your own collection of media files remotely, you only need a web browser and the Internet. Enter into the address bar of your browser and log in to your account to access your entire media library. In addition, you will be able to download movies to watch them offline.

In this article we are not going to speak about the selection criteria of best NAS for Plex, because has already done it – and quite professionally. Instead, we’ll look at the features of this program and its configuration.

To turn your PC into a home media server, all you need to do is install Plex Media server program. After installing Plex, your web browser will automatically start. Register and perform a step-by-step configuration process using the web interface. Name your Plex server and indicate your collection of movies, music and photos, so that Plex Media Server can scan your media content folders to aggregate and download additional information from the Internet.

Plex Media Server and Applications

Plex Media server offers an ability to access media collections via DLNA. Thus, any DLNA clients (TVs, TV set-top boxes, mobile devices, video and audio systems) will have access to your media files. To see additional information about the files, you need special applications that also allow you to continue watching the movie from where you left off (for example, on a mobile device). Similar support applications for Plex server are available for Xbox, PlayStation, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Samsung TV, etc., but if you do not have a subscription with Plex, you need to purchase one.

Plex application comes in a package when you buy a Samsung TV, so no subscription (Plex Pass) is required. The only drawback is that Smart TVs require a remote control with a gyroscope (or a wireless mouse) to control the Plex player, because a conventional remote control will not work with its interface. Plex application for SmartTV provides a perfectly working rewind feature, a convenient search bar and the Movies tab that has all the movies recently uploaded to the server or PC.

Instead of a web browser, you can use convenient Plex applications for smartphones, tablets and other devices. Unfortunately, all the features do not come free, but you are paying for noticeable comfort. I must emphasize that, if necessary, Plex media server converts files into a needed format, but only with the help of a special application, because, for example, a local access to DLNA deprives you of transcoding.

To obtain access to all applications and all features, you need to purchase a Plex subscription (monthly – $5, yearly – $40, limitless – $150). For example, with such a subscription an application for a mobile device (smartphone or tablet on iOS or Android) automatically uploads a collection of stored photos to your Plex server to provide access to them from all user devices, and you can access the entire music archive.

It is quite important that Plex program identifies tracks without metadata – that is, by an audio signal. Plex subscribers can synchronize their home server with cloud storage (Amazon Cloud Drive, Dropbox or Google Drive). As a result, you can get access, even remotely, to your media library in any place that offers access to the Internet.

Access to Media Collection from the Internet to NAS

When you install Plex Media Server application to NAS and add a media collection to it, you can share it with any user on the Internet and choose which collections each user will be able to see and have an option to read/record it. With Plex Media Server you can also provide your friend with an access to your favorite TV series by setting up his Smart TV just once.

Plex Media Server can be configured through the web interface using an account created on the official website of the application and the whole procedure includes the following steps:

  1. Registration with the website
  2. Configuration of the server part of Plex Media Server to get access from the Internet
  3. Configuration of the client who received an invitation
  4. Distribution of rights to NAS and Plex Media Server folders

1. Registration with service

To register, go to the website and click SIGN UP. Fill out your information in the form that appears in front of you.

2. Configuration of the server part of Plex Media Server for getting access from the Internet

The server uses UPnP by default, and most routers support this protocol, and no additional manipulation is required. If your router is an older model, you will need to open a port on the router or use one of the opened ones. Indicate a specific port in the Settings -> Server -> Connect -> Indicated port and open it on your router. The ways to open the port in most models of routers is described on Plex Media Server uses port 32400 by default.

Attention! Opening the port is only necessary for remote administration of Plex Media Server. The users do not need to open a port to share the content!

After opening the port and registering, log in by clicking on the person icon in the upper right corner and click Login (enter your login and password). Once you log in, you can share the resources of your media server with your friends and family on the Internet.

Attention! Only those users who are registered on website can connect to your home server. The downside of creating one guest entry for everyone is an inability to manage access for each one of your friends individually.

In the web interface of the server, go to Settings > Users to see a list of users with access to your NAS. In this tab you will get information about the number of available folders and the date of the most recent visit. Here you can click on “Invite a friend” button.

In the field “Share with”, enter the user’s nickname on the website (if he has already finished the registration) or his e-mail address to send an invitation to. Here you can choose collections that will be available to your friend. Click “Invitations”.

3. Configuration of the client who received an invitation

You must click on “I accept the invitation”. If the recipient of this letter does not have an account with Plex service, he will be redirected to account setup page; otherwise, he will be redirected to the web with the following message in his personal account:

After authorization of the invited user with the help of any Plex-client (browser, Plex Home Theater, Smart TV, mobile device application), he will see the following message (an example from the browser):

Invited users can view the media collection in all the folders, but no editing or deleting of the content is allowed.

The registered user’s access capabilities are not limited to NAS only, since the account can combine access to different servers in different locations. Thus, you can create large shared media collections.

4. Distribution of rights to NAS and Plex Media Server folders

Attention! Plex Media Server uses the NAS administrator account to access folders on the network storage. The rights assigned on Plex server do not cross the rights assigned to folders with NAS settings!

For example: we have the My Films folder. In the NAS interface we will close the access to it for all users (Deny), and leave access to it only to the administrator (RW). We invite a friend in Plex server and give him access to the movies from this folder. The user will have access to the movies, because he accessed NAS with administrator rights, but Plex media server limits those rights to ReadOnly. More possibilities for allowing access are available with the paid subscription called Plex Pass.