Plex Media Server Ultimate Guide (5-minutes to Mastery)

If you have a large selection of movies and you want to have access from anywhere, then you might need Plex Server.

Plex allows you to stream all your media right from the Internet, organizes your entire collection and centralizes it on a single device.

But to have the best experience with Plex, you need a high capacity server.

Having this type of server at home can be challenging, as it can be difficult to set up and maintain.

You need to buy top performance CPU and storage and on top of that your electrical bill might increase a lot.

But there is another option…

Using a Seedbox server in the cloud that protects your online identity can make things easier.

Implementing Plex with a RapidSeedbox Seedbox will allow you to confidentially store and load your media collection right from the Internet.

How does Plex Server work?

Plex uses three main elements to function:

  1. Plex media server: This is the engine behind everything. This software can track, organize and give access to your media files.
  2. Plex client: This is installed on the device. It connects to the server to see what media files are available, displays a menu and plays them.
  3. Plex Central Server: Stores and maintain your Plex account. Plex Central Server can allow you to have remote client access to your media anywhere you are.

What is the role of a Seedbox Server? With Rapid SeedBox, Plex server is a pre-installed application. So you don’t need to break your head and do much installation and configuration. As shown in the picture below, the pre-set server will connect to the Plex central server to get your membership and account information.

Once your identity is recognized, you can connect to the Plex server with a client, through a secured VPN.

Since you are storing all your content in the Seedbox, you can stream to your clients right from the Web browser.

Table of Contents:

 

1. Preparing your Plex media server.

To run Plex Server from home, you will need a computer to house all your media files and run the software. Before going shopping for the most powerful server, it is important to define your needs.

Who are your users and how many? What type of media you have and how much? Knowing your network requirements early on can give you a clear idea of which type of server you will need.

  • Plex hardware requirements:

Good options to install the Plex Server software are NAS “Network Attached Storage”, Desktop or Standalone server. While no one is better than the other, their internal components such as CPU and storage make all the difference. The installed software is compatible with Windows, Linux or MacOs.

While having a large storage is essential for Plex Server, processing power is more important. Plex uses a lot of processing power to be able to transcode files (change media formats on-the-fly) and to stream many users at the same time. Check the official CPU guidelines recommended by Plex.

  • Plex bandwidth requirements:

To stream content from a server in the cloud, you need an adequate bandwidth. Plex clients are able to adapt their quality by lowering the bitrate to match the bandwidth speed available.

If you are trying to stream media to many users over the Internet then bandwidth is a critical component.

  • What are other options?

When choosing a server for Plex software, it is important to choose one that is always on. This will guarantee that you can access all your media files anytime and anywhere.

But as we know a home server has its limitations, it can be broken, it can be difficult to set up and can be expensive.

Having a Seedbox server instead, gives you the flexibility to access your stuff anywhere from any device. RapidSeedbox provides reliable and secure servers, so you can keep all content centralised and anonymous.

 

2. Preparing your media collection.

To make things easier for Plex, it is important to organize and name your media files in a clean folder structure.

Once Plex is installed, it will automatically find and match whatever content you appointed it to. Although the next tips are not mandatory, they will ensure a better experience from Plex.

  • Centralize all your files into one device and under one main folder, for example “/Media Content”.
  • Keep main files format separated. Movie files together in one main folder “/Movies”, music files together in another main folder “/Music”, and so on. An example is shown below:
  • For more information on media preparation, check Plex own guidelines here.


3. Installing Plex Software.

  • Create an account and sign-in to Plex. Go to “plex.tv” and “Sign Up” for your new account. The Plex account is free but they also offer a premium account with many add-ons and extra cool features.
  • Going Premium? If you like what Plex does for you, increase its value by going premium. Subscribing to a paid service will include features such as mobile sync, cloud sync, premium libraries, among many others. The pricing plan (as per the year 2017) is shown in the picture below.
  • Plex server download: You can either download a version for computer or NAS platforms. The software will automatically detect your OS to ensure its compatibility. To install the application with a different OS, like Linux or OSx, check the following guide.
  • *Note: Rapid Seedbox comes with a pre-installed Plex application; If you are using a Seedbox, skip this step. For more information, click here.
     
  • Install the Plex Media Server. 

    Before installing the software, give full admin permission to the Plex Server installer. Follow the guidelines on the setup. Once the installation is finished go ahead and “Launch” the software. Plex will not show a user interface like most applications; instead, it uses your web browser.

  • Setting up your server: Once the installation is complete, Plex will start to automatically load up your server. Give it a personalized name and choose whether you allow remote access to your media.
  • Add media library for the first time. To allow Plex to start building your media library, specify your media folders with the “ADD LIBRARY” button.
  • Finding and opening your Plex App. If you cannot find Plex icon on the desktop is because Plex is a web-based application. Go to “https://plex.tv”, sign-in to your Plex account and click the “Launch” button. Plex will redirect you to “https://app.plex.tv/web/app#” which is your web app. To open local Plex Web app, type “http://localhost:32400/” web in your web browser. For more information, click here.
  • Enjoy Plex on your server. Once Plex finishes scanning all your media, it will organize it. Plex will display your media with cool posters and descriptions. It will make the visual experience really awesome.

 

4. Your Plex client.

Plex can be viewed on any device that can open the “plex.tv” website through its web browser. But there is also specific client software for specific devices.

Plex is compatible with a large variety of third-party hardware such as XBox1, Roku Stick, FireTV, Android, iOS, just to name a few.

  • Testing media playbacks: After installing and setting up your server, you can test a media playback right on your server. If it is working ok, try downloading the client application to another device, log in using your account and try playback from that device.


5. Adding libraries.

A library is a group of media files that relate to each other. You can define your own libraries, for example, a music library and a movies library.

Plex allows you to have any amount and variety of libraries. You can add your media collection during the initial installation and customize it later on.

  • Adding a new library: In the main dashboard or Home, hover over libraries and then click the + icon.
  • Adding media to the library: Select the library type, give it a name and add your media folder. Plex will start gathering information from its metadata to make your content visually stunning. For more information, click here.

6. Setting up Remote Access.

The beauty of Plex is that you can access your media anywhere and share it with friends. The Plex Central Server plays an important part on this because it keeps all servers’ information and allows remote access to all devices.

Once you log into Plex with any client, it will display your own server’s dashboard.

  • Making your local server reachable anywhere. 

    Enable the “Remote Access” button, in the Home>Remote Access page. If remote access is correctly configured you can connect to your Plex media server anywhere you are by going to “plex.tv”.

  • Troubleshooting remote access connection. 

    Plex configures and makes sure that your local server can be accessed remotely. But, sometimes you’ll need to troubleshoot a failure or check the connection status. In case remote access is not working, check the following:

    • Check whether there is a VPN or proxy in your network.
    • If the public IP address is displayed without port, your router might have UPnP or NAT-PMP disabled. Go ahead and enable any of these services or allow port forwarding on your router. For some help, click here.

 

7. Streaming with Plex.

When streaming media from a Plex Server, the client can play the file as the data is downloading from the server. To allow an uninterrupted media stream, the server finds out about the client and adjusts its services accordingly.

Plex knows that playing media on a high-resolution TV is not the same as playing media on a Smartphone. Changing media formats or resolution for different clients is a task that requires high CPU performance. Streaming can be an overwhelming job for a regular home server.

How can we make it easier for Plex? Offloading the job to lightning fast VPSs “Virtual Private Servers” with unlimited bandwidth can make this a reality. RapidSeedbox servers were built with streaming in mind. So you don’t have to worry about micromanaging your CPU’s server, just let somebody else do the computation.

To provide content, Plex uses the following automatic methods depending on the client’s ability to access Plex:

  • Transcoding:

    A Technique used by the Plex media server to find out about the type of client requesting service and adjust the file format and resolution. Transcoding reduces the size of any media file without affecting its final quality. Without transcoding, you couldn’t stream play a high-resolution movie on your iPhone.

    As mentioned above, a rule of having your own Plex Server is having high CPU power to be able to transcode files on the go.

    • Changing transcoding settings: Plex will transcode automatically. But to match your CPU’s performance, you can change the default settings. You can decrease the quality of the transcoded file and allow the CPU some room to breathe. Alternatively, you can increase the quality of the file but let your CPU pay the consequences. To change this values go to the Home menu, then go to Settings > Transcoder.


      Another way to change streaming quality: 
      You can predefine a streaming quality by forcing the player’s local/remote quality from the Plex server. Go to Settings>Web>Player.
  • Pre-transcoding.

    While pre-transcoding is not an automatic method of streaming, it can help offload pressure from the CPU. There are several tools out there that can help you manually transcode media files. Plex’s Media Optimizer allows you to specify media content, optimize it and save it as a different version.

    If you know the file formats and containers that your client can play, then pre-transcoding is a good option. You can help your Plex Server run smoothly by skipping any transcoding.

    • Selecting the file: Choose the media that you want to transcode in the Home page, hover over the file and click the … on the bottom right.
    • Optimizing it: Click Optimize… in the menu displayed afterward.

    • Adjust it: Optimize your file for Mobile, TV, Original Quality or Custom. Selecting the “custom” option will give you a broader choice for specific OSs or resolutions.
    • Can’t find your video format? Pre-transcoding might be limited in Plex. If you can’t optimize a file in Plex, you might need to look somewhere else.RapidSeedBox comes with a pre-installed open-source video transcoder that supports many video formats. Handbrake can encode, reduce the size, make it black & white, customize audio and even embed subtitles. For a complete guide on using Handbrake, click here.
  • Direct Play.

    This is the least CPU-intensive method for a Plex Server. Direct Play allows access to a media file without any modification. If the media file is 100% compatible with the client, Plex Server will take the raw file and send it to the client’s Plex App as it is.

    Streaming a file with Direct Play to a remote location puts a little stress on the CPU but demands a fast upload bandwidth. For more information on Direct Play, click here.

  • Direct Stream.

    This is yet another streaming method that introduces very little CPU utilization. Sometimes the media file is not 100% compatible with the client, for example, the audio/video codecs are ok, but the file container is not.

    In this case, Plex Media server will stream the codecs but will transcode the file container. For more information on Direct Stream, check here.

 

8. Going deeper.

Plex does not only organize and stream your media; it also has a lot of cool features to play with. Below is a list of the free and paid features that the Plex service offers.

  • Plexit! 

    A free bookmark applet that lets you queue, share and play videos from third-party supported video sites like “youtube.com” or “vimeo.com”.

    • Adding Plexit! Bookmark: You can add it right from the main dashboard on the left side. Go to the “Watch Later” option at the bottom.
    • To install it, click the”?” button next to “Watch Later”.

    • Follow the instructions, shown in the next page. And click the “Plex It!” orange button.
    • Once a video is saved to your Plex Queue, you can also recommend it to your friends and fling it.
    • Go back and check the Watch Later menu, you should see a new item.
  • Server Sharing. 

    This allows other media servers to connect to your Plex Media Server and share your content. To share media to your friends outside your local network, enable “Remote Access” and send them an “Invitation”.

    • Sending an invitation: Ensure that your server is signed-in to Plex with your account. Go to Settings on the top right hand of the home menu, go to Users>Friends”>Invite a Friend.
      Next, you will need to specify your friend’s username or email.

    • Accepting an invitation: If instead, you received an invitation from a friend, ensure to accept it by going to Plex Server > Settings > Users > Friends. Accept the invitation by clicking the green check mark. For more information on Server Sharing, click here.
  • Adding subtitles. 

    By default, Plex will not use existing subtitles or download new ones. If you want to include subtitles in your movies and TV shows, you can go to Settings>Server>Languages. Check the box “Automatically select audio and subtitle tracks” to guarantee that Plex displays a subtitle.

    When you are adding subtitles, make sure to select the correct subtitle mode and language.

    “Subtitle mode” indicates if a subtitle is added automatically when watching media or not. You can toggle subtitles on and off from the video player or you can set “Always enabled” to have them always on.

    • Local Subtitles: If you have an external subtitle file or the subtitles are embedded in the media file, Plex will look for the movie subtitles and display them. For a list of supported subtitle formats check, here.
    • Automatic subtitle download: If you don’t have the subtitle file, you can make a “subtitle agent” go online and look for the right file on the Internet. Go to Settings >Server >Agents. Choose the library and agent that you want to change. In this case, select Movies library and Plex Movie. Make sure that OpenSubitles.org is selected and placed on top of the list. Only second to Local Media Assets.


      Once “OpenSubtitles.org” agent is selected, click on the gear icon next to it to configure it. Be sure to select the correct language so that Plex agents go into OpenSubtitles.org and download the correct file.

      Finally, refresh library’s metadata to accept the changes. By going to your library menu on the left pane, click the … then “Refresh all”.
  • Plex Channels. 

    Channels, like CNN, Disney or MTV, are Internet-based media available for the general public. If a channel is supported by Plex, you can add it as an extension to the Plex server and watch it in all your Plex devices.

    • Installing a Channel: Go to Channels on the left pane of the home menu. Click, “Install Channels”.
    • Click, “Install Channels”.

      Choose a channel from the list and click “Install”.

      For more information on adding and editing a channel, click here.
  • Advanced Features with Plex Pass. 

    Buying premium will extend and improve your service with added features. For more information, click here.

    • Parental controls. This feature allows you to restrict content that you are sharing to specific users. For more information on restricting content, click here.
    • Premium Music Libraries. This feature is an improvement to your music libraries. This includes better artwork, automatic lyrics, biographies, etc. For more details on creating a Premium music library, click here.
    • Mobile Sync. This feature lets you synchronize media when you are away from home and possibly without an Internet connection. You can save a movie on your smartphone’s local storage and play it without being connected to the server. For more information on Mobile Sync, click here.
    • Camera Upload. You can synchronize photos or videos to your Plex Server right from your Plex device’s camera roll. For more information, click here.
    • Plex DVR. This service allows you to record free digital broadcast channels such as NBC, FOX, ABC, and MTV, and view them later in any device and anywhere.  For more information on setting up your DVR, click here.


9. Accessing Plex from your Seedbox.

With RapidSeedBox you don’t have to worry about deploying your own physical server. Instead, you are assigned a server with Plex already installed. If it is available in your plan, you can access right from the “My Services” page.

  • Uploading content. To let a Seedbox server do all your media hosting, you need to upload the content through a secure protocol like SFTP. You can later organize it as shown before and create your specific libraries.
  • Creating a new Plex server in your Seedbox for the first time. To configure the Plex Server, access your Seedbox and log into “http://localhost:32400/web” through the web browser. Log in with your Plex account and you might encounter “This server is unclaimed and not secure”. Clicking the “Claim Server” will synchronize the current Seedbox Plex Server with the Plex Server web app. For more information, click here.

    Once the server is yours, you can proceed to add libraries as shown before.
  •  Two servers, one account? If you initially configured Plex with a server other than Seedbox and used your Plex account on both, Plex will show your home content in both servers. At this step, you might end up having two servers, your home server, and the Seedbox server into one account.When you log into any server through “plex.tv” you will be seeing both servers. In case you don’t see the server names you might need to restart the application on each one.

    You can use one account for two servers, but as a best practice is good to have different accounts for different servers. If you want to let only Seedbox host all your media, you need to log off your account from the old server and reset Plex app in both servers.

10. General Troubleshooting.

  • Plex Server is Unavailable. 

    After launching the application from a Plex client, the server is not found, it is unreachable or unavailable.


    Check the following:

    • Make sure that your Plex Media Server and client are signed-in with your Plex account.
    • Make sure that you are using the latest version of Plex Server. Go to Settings>Server>General. If you need to update your Server, click the “Check for Updates” button or go to Plex downloads.
    • If you are using a VPN or proxy on your computer or router, make sure to turn them off.
    • Make sure that your firewall is not blocking communication for Plex.
    • Make sure that the Plex application in the server is up and running. The Plex icon is shown in the bottom right corner of the task bar of a Windows PC, it means that the application is open. If not, open it again from the Applications Menu.
    • If after taking the above steps your server is still unavailable, sign out your account from both server and client. Restart the Plex Application, sign in first to Plex Server and second to the Client.

 

  • Content Unavailable. 

    You are trying to play a media file and the message “There was a problem playing this item” appears on the video player or the “Unavailable” box on the media description.
    Check the following: Access “Media Info” from the top right corner by clicking “…”.
    Record the filename and check whether:

    • The name has changed in the media file itself.
    • The file has been moved to another folder.
    • The drive where the file has been mounted has changed its name. For more information, check here.
    • To avoid this problem eject drives and USB properly. Make sure the drive is the same as in the Media Info description.
    • Change file names to match those on the “Media Info”.
    • Refresh your media library.
  • Plex Server settings are unavailable. 

    You cannot access the Plex Media settings, following a message “Server Settings are unavailable”.


    Check the following:

    • Make sure that you are using the latest version of Plex Server. Go to Settings > Server > General. If you need to update your Server, click the “Check for Updates” button or go to Plex downloads.
    • Stop Plex Media Server.
    • Go into the plug-ins folder; If you are using Windows, navigate to “%LOCALAPPDATA%\Plex Media Server\Plug-ins\”. If you are using Linux go to: “$PLEX_HOME/Library/Application Support/Plex Media Server/Plug-ins”. For OSX “~/Library/Application Support/Plex Media Server/Plug-ins”.
    • Delete the directories: Framework.bundle, System.bundle, and WebClient.bundle.
    • Re-start the Plex Media Server.
    • For more information on Plex Media Setting lockouts, click here.