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Plex (software)

Developer(s) Plex, Inc.
Stable release (server) / November 24, 2014 (2014-11-24)
Preview release (server) / December 5, 2014 (2014-12-05)
Operating system Mac OS, Microsoft Windows, Linux, iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Ouya
Platform x86, ARM
Type Media server, media player
License Freemium
Website .tvplex

Plex organizes video, music and photos from personal media libraries and streams them to Microsoft Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X.[1] Plex also offers streaming apps for Xbox One, Xbox 360, Ouya, Roku and Chromecast.[2] Integrated Plex Channels provide users with access to a growing number of online content providers such as YouTube, Vimeo, TEDTalks, and CNN among others. Plex also provides integration for cloud services[3] including Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, Copy and Bitcasa.[4]

Plex's front-end media player, Plex Home Theater (formerly Plex Media Center[5]), allows the user to manage and play video, photos, music, and podcasts from a local or remote computer running Plex Media Server. In addition, the integrated Plex Online service provides the user with a growing list of community-driven plugins for online content including Hulu, Netflix, and CNN video.[6]

Plex Media Center (previous version) and Plex Home Theater (current version) are based on XBMC,[5] Plex Media Center's source code was initially forked from Kodi on May 21, 2008, when it was still called "XBMC"; this fork is still used today as a front-end media player on Linux for Plex's media server back-end media host component.[6][7][8] Plex Media Server, unlike the open source frontend, is a combination of open & closed source code, with the majority of the code being closed source.


  • Background 1
  • Plex Media Server 2
  • TV and streaming device apps 3
  • Mobile apps 4
  • Media formats 5
  • Development 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


Plex began as a freeware hobby project but since 2010 has evolved into a commercial software business that is owned and developed by a single for-profit startup company, Plex, Inc. It is a high tech company based in the United States that is responsible for the development of the Plex Media Server and media player app front-ends and back-ends, its client–server model, and all accompanying software under the "Plex" brand name, as well as the exclusive copyright of the closed source proprietary software parts, both when distributed on its own or when it comes as a third-party software component in products by other manufacturers via a strategic partnership.[9][10][11]

Plex Media Server

Plex Media Server is the back-end media server component of Plex, which consists of closed source code as well as some modified open source code.[12] 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 also available for Linux. Plex Media Server can be configured to index content in any directory on the machine it is run on, as well as automatically acquiring iTunes, iPhoto, and Aperture content. 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 of these 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.[6][13][14]

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.

TV and streaming device apps

Plex media player software supports a wide range of multimedia formats and includes features such as playlists, audio visualizations, 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 thumbnails and synopsis of movies, TheTVDB for TV show thumbnails and metadata, CDDB (via FreeDB) for audio CD track listings, and AMG for album cover images. It also has music and video playlists, slideshows, a karaoke function, and many audio visualizers and screensavers.

Plex media player software is able to decode high-definition video up to 1080p, as well as 10-bit H.264 sources.[6][16][17] With the appropriate hardware, Plex supports hardware decoding of H.264 video.[18]

Screenshot of the Plex App for iOS on a 4" display for iPhone

The Video Library, one of the Plex 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, one of the Plex ID meta tags, like title, artist, album, genre and popularity.

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

Mobile apps

Plex mobile apps exist for iOS (version 4.1 onwards), Android (version 1.6 onwards), and Windows Phone (version 7.5 onwards) and Windows 8. 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.[19][20] Third-party applications are also available on all three platforms for remote controlling Plex.

Media formats

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/DTS audio directly to an external audio-amplifier/receiver via S/PDIF.

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

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 movies, 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 digital picture/image formats with the options of panning/zooming and slideshow with "Ken Burns Effect", with the use of CxImage open source library code.


Plex Home Theater source code was initially forked from XBMC Media Center on May 21, 2008; this fork is used today as a front end media player for Plex's back end server component.[6][7][8] Plex Media Server, unlike the completely open source Plex Home Theater frontend, Media Server consists of proprietary software used in conjunction with some modified open source code. Plex Home Theater is still distributed under the GNU General Public License, with source code on GitHub. Elan Feingold, one of the founders of Plex, was part of the official XBMC development team for a short while.

Plex Home Theater is primarily programmed in C++, and makes use of the SDL (Simple DirectMedia Layer) framework with an OpenGL renderer. Some of the third-party libraries that Plex depends on are written in C, but are used with a C++ wrapper and loaded as shared libraries when used inside Plex. Since Plex Home Theater is based on XBMC Media Center it shares its flexible GUI toolkit and robust framework. With themes based on a standard XML base, theme-skinning and personal customization are very accessible. Users can create their own skin (or simply modify an existing skin) and share it with others via third-party public websites for XBMC skin trading.

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 Flash and Silverlight players that the sources provide for web browsers.[6]

Plex Home Theater uses a skin called RetroPle by an skinning artist named se.bastian,[21] while the latest version of Plex Home Theater uses a modified version of the "MediaStream" skin as its default skin, a skin that was originally designed by Team Razorfish for XBMC.[22]

Plex Home Theater is licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL) by the developers, meaning they allow anybody to redistribute the Plex media player source code under the conditions of that GPL license. 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.

For most popular video and audio codecs, Plex includes native support through free and open source software libraries, such as LAME, faad (for faac), libmpeg2, and libavcodec (from the FFmpeg project). These source code libraries are released under open source licenses.

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

Plex includes libdvdcss in order to support playback of DVD-Video movies encrypted using the CSS (Content Scramble System) encryption scheme.

See also


  1. ^ Janko Roettgers (2011-10-31). "Plex gets Windows client, cloud service, media sharing".  
  2. ^ "Plex on the Chromecast! It's Official. - Plex Blog : Plex Blog". Plex. December 6, 2013. Retrieved 2014-08-07. 
  3. ^ "Plex on the App Store on iTunes". Apple. 2014-07-31. Retrieved 2014-08-07. 
  4. ^ "Cloud Sync Storage Provider Setup – Plex". Zendesk. Retrieved 2014-08-07. 
  5. ^ a b Plex desktop app rebranded as Plex Home Theater
  6. ^ a b c d e f Nicholas Deleon (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. 
  7. ^ 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. 
  8. ^ a b Kevin Anderson (2009-10-07). "Thinking inside the box". Guardian. 
  9. ^ "Plex and the Future of Television". Plex Inc. 2010-09-02. Retrieved 2010-10-21. 
  10. ^ "Plex to Enable Next Generation of Netcast Connected TV's". Plex Inc. 2010-09-03. Retrieved 2010-10-21. 
  11. ^ Stevens, Tim (2010-09-03). "Plex announces partnership with LG, pledges to beat Boxee Box and Apple TV for free".  
  12. ^ 
  13. ^ Arya, Aayush (2009-06-29). "Plex media center software competes with Front Row".  
  14. ^ Weintraub, Seth (2009-02-23). "Plex Media Center blows us away with App Store". Retrieved 2009-11-19. 
  15. ^ Vähäkainu, Matti (2008-10-12). "Plex media player hands-on". Retrieved 2009-10-31. 
  16. ^ "Plex Review". 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-31. 
  17. ^ Fingas, Jon (2012-12-25). "Plex desktop app becomes Plex Home Theater, adds AirPlay and HD audio". Retrieved 2014-08-07. 
  18. ^ "Hardware Accelerated H.264 Decoding on Plex". Plex Blog. 2010-04-27. Retrieved 2010-04-27. 
  19. ^ Deleon, Nicholas (2010-08-30). "Exclusive Hands-On With Plex/Nine For Mac OS X & Plex App For iOS Devices".  
  20. ^ "Plex on iPad impressive, but not perfect". 2010-09-02. Retrieved 2010-10-31. 
  21. ^ Plex Home Theater 1.0 released
  22. ^ Team Razorfish. "MediaStream Skin by Team Razorfish". Team Razorfish. 

External links

  • Plex – official site
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