Take your video library with you

February 22, 2012 8:31 pm 1 comment

When the iPad was first introduced it was panned as being solely a media consumption device. A couple years and thousands of apps later that supposed limitation has evaporated like morning fog- but the description may not have been entirely derogatory or inappropriate. The iPad does excel at media consumption: even the 16 gigabyte models easily accommodate movies, TV, and video podcasts, and our favorite iOS device is the best streaming video content device we’ve ever used. While services like Hulu and Netflix are everywhere, the iPad provides arguably the best mix of performance and portability to those and other streaming services.

What do you do when you have a large video library at home, though? Do you revert to the early days of the iPod, where your library outstrips the storage capacity of  your device forcing you to shuffle media between the two? While iTunes Match is a great answer for your audio content, Apple hasn’t even hinted at a video version. Your favorite streaming service may not have the content you’ve accumulated at home, either- especially if you take advantage of software like iMovie to create your own videos.

Well friends, we may have an answer for you in the Plex Media Center and accompanying iOS app. We’ve long advocated Plex for home theater PC systems; our Mac Mini gets far more use than any other component in our entertainment center. Plex is friendly to both technophiles and neophytes- the learning curve for it’s initial setup isn’t steep, and once configured practically anyone can navigate and use it right away. While this makes for a great media solution at home, it didn’t do much for those of us that don’t get to spend much time in the comforting glow of a huge LCD TV.

Fortunately, the folks that brought you Plex have a solution. Thanks to recent additions to Plex you can set up your very own home media server, accessible via the Plex iOS app! The service requires the installation of MyPlex (requiring a router that supports NAT-PMP and UPnP) and some configuration of your network. The MyPlex section of the website lists all steps needed to get you up and running; our initial experience was straightforward and didn’t incur any problems (your mileage may vary depending on your level of technical savvy, but the instructions provided by the Plex crew are direct and easy to follow). Download and install the Plex iOS app, log into your account, and you’re ready to go.

Watching movies and TV shows via the iOS app was great; the streaming service works well and can be configured for use over 3G networks. Video quality rivals that of other paid service like Netflix, and app is dead simple to navigate. The app does more than video: it provides access to everything in your Plex library including music and photos. In addition to being able to access your library when out and about, the Plex iOS app also works as a remote for your home setup. During testing of the app we used MyPlex’s sharing feature with a close friend in Tokyo using both an iPad and iPod Touch to stream saved TV shows with great results. You can share as much of your media with friends (via email invite) as you like, only the content explicitly shared will be accessible.

The best part of the Plex Media Center’s streaming service is the price- free. The media center software has more functionality that we can adequately share with you here; if you have a budding media library (or plan on collecting one) we strongly endorse Plex as one of the best streaming solutions. Plex is compatible with OSX, Linux, and Windows; the Plex app is available for iOS and Android.

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