So what is Plex anyway?
You can think of Plex as a streaming service like Netflix or Amazon Prime Video that is operated by someone you know instead of a huge company. What this means is that they have complete control over what content is available, and can often obtain shows and movies that you're looking for.
Is Plex free?
Server owners typically provide access to close friends and family only and don't charge for it.
Many server operators do pay a monthly or yearly fee for some additional features known as Plex Pass from the company that makes the Plex software. This helps to support ongoing efforts to make the Plex software better.
Additionally, Plex servers are a significant investment for the owner. The server hardware and storage devices are expensive to obtain and operate.
As a viewer, you can connect to and watch content on Plex servers for free through the Plex.tv web site. However viewing on the website often requires that the server transcode the media for you (more on that later). By using a Plex player that's specific to your hardware and platform, you'll get a better playback experience. On some platforms like iPhone and iPad as well as Android phones and tablets, you will have to pay a small one-time fee (around $5 US) to activate the Plex player on your iTunes or Google Play account. This will unlock the player on all the devices you use on your account.
Is Plex legal?
Plex is just a collection of software encompassing servers and clients. Plex itself is perfectly legal.
You can use Plex to stream content anywhere without worrying about copyright notices or the need to use a VPN or other means to hide your traffic.
Depending on where the server is located and how the available media on the server was obtained, there is a large grey area of legality surrounding copyright issues.
If you're here, you were probably invited to join my Plex server. The first step is to send me the email address you will use to create your free Plex account.
Shortly after you'll receive an email inviting you to join my server. Click the link in the email to accept the invitation and create your account at Plex.
Please don't share the account you create with others. If you know someone who you think would enjoy having access to this server, have them contact me. In most cases I'll be happy to add them with their own account.
Now's the time to connect your playback devices to your new account. Depending on what you're using, you may need download and install a Plex client for your device, or one may have come pre-installed.
This includes the App Store on iOS devices, the Google Play Store on Android devices, and other similar stores and libraries on other platforms like Roku.
Upon first use for most of these platforms, you will either have to log in with your username and password, or link the device with your account when prompted. To link your account, your Smart TV or streaming device will show you a code made of 4 letters or numbers. Simply visit plex.tv/link and enter the code (you may have to sign in first if you're not already). This linking process saves you from having to enter your username and password on your TV which can be frustrating.
Once you've entered the code, your streaming device should sign in automatically after a few moments.
You can visit the Plex downloads page to see a list of platforms on which the Plex player is available and be directed on how to install it for your device.
For convenience, Plex provides an online web client you can use to watch content at app.plex.tv. This makes it easy to catch up on your favorite shows while travelling or away from your preferred devices. However, using the web client should be avoided when possible as it is inefficient and puts unnecessary strain on the Plex server hardware.
Plex playback quality is dynamic and tries to adjust to the capabilities of your player and to the available internet bandwidth. However out of the box, the quality settings in most Plex players are very conservative.
To increase the quality of your playback experience, locate the settings in your Plex app, and navigate to the Video Settings section. Typically you should try to set Video Quality to Original or Maximum if possible. If you then find playback stutters or pauses frequently, reduce the quality setting until you achieve smooth playback. This will ensure that media is played on your device at the highest quality possible and can help reduce strain on the Plex server.
Plex servers are organized with Libraries in order to accomplish a number of things. Foremost this helps viewers locate the content they're looking for. Broad categories like TV Shows and Movies also enable the Plex server to obtain the correct information to fill in the details about content such as the synopsis, actors and other information about the media.
Libraries are often further separated into subjects like Reality TV, Kid's TV or Documentaries to facilitate finding what you want to watch.
Note: The Plex creators recently added a new Library that appears for all users called Movies & TV On Plex. Users should know that the ad-supported content in this special library is not provided by the owner of the Plex server and is available through a deal between Plex software and a number of movie studios. Plex server owners have no control over the content of this library. In most Plex players, you can find an option to Unpin this library from your list so it doesn't appear.
Depending on what device or platform you're using Plex from, the interface can vary slightly, but typically you will find a list of the Libraries on the server located in a table on the left side of the display. Clicking or tapping the name of a Library will change the content view on the bulk of the page to that Library. Along the top of the main view you can switch between Recommended, Library or Playlist.
This is a view of content the server selects that contains a mix of items in this library that are new or popular.
This view shows the full contents of the Library. In alphabetical order by default. But you can use filters and sorting to change how the list is presented.
If the server owner has curated playlists of content - such as all the films in a series - they may be presented here. It is normal if this page is empty.
Playback works very similar to how it does on other streaming services.
On streaming devices, if you push the play button on a title, playback should begin immediately. If you press select/OK/enter, you'll be taken to the information page about a title. For movies this will include a summary and other information. For a TV show, this will go to a list of seasons. And from there you can select a season to view the list of individual episodes.
On a desktop client, when the mouse is over the title image, a Play button will be visible - if you click that, playback should begin. If you click elsewhere, the process will be similar to selecting on a streaming device.