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Plex and I do not get along

After hearing my The Committed podcast cohosts rave about Plex (a free media server), I thought I’d give it another shot: I’d tried a few months back, but because of the way I store my personal videos (using our own Usher app), it was going to be a big migration project, and I just never got into it. So today, I resolved to try again.

And today, I’m giving up again. I’ve spent the last few hours fighting Plex, and despite the awesomeness of the streaming (it *is* awesome), it’s just not worth the aggravation in configuration and setup—to me, of course. Plenty of others find it works just fine.

But for me, it doesn’t work at all, basically. Here’s a short list of some of the things that bother me about Plex…

  • There is no app; all the configuration is done via a web browser interface. And it’s a decent interface, but it’s run in a web browser, which means it sucks compared to even the worst-possible app. There’s no contextual menu when you think there really should be one. Hitting the Back button one too many times takes you out of the “app” entirely. Hitting Escape does different things depending on where you are in the “app.” Accidentally close the window? There goes your “app.” I could go on, but the short of it is that web browsers make horrid app hosts. I’d gladly pay for a “real” app that was more than just a web view wrapped in an app container.
  • I could not get the iTunes Video channel to work. The iPhoto channel and iTunes Music channels work fine, but the video channel replies “server not responding.” How can that be true, given the others work?
  • In an attempt to go around the iTunes video issue, I created a new library, and pointed it directly at the iTunes > Movies folder on my hard drive. Plex proceeded to find every single movie…and every single special feature associated with those movies, and presented all 597 matches on a single massive web page. Ugh.
  • I then tried to delete the special features from the library, because I don’t really need those in Plex anyway. Nope. You can’t do it: There’s no way to remove an entry from a library without also removing the file from the source media folder. (Though I don’t think Plex can do this to the iTunes folder, I didn’t want to take the chance.) So if I wanted to use this non-channels iTunes video solution, I’d be stuck with scrolling through nearly 600 items. Sigh.
  • Plex continually thought many of my (not in iTunes) special features clips were full-blown movies. For instance, a featurette on the Mad Max: Fury Road Blu-Ray is titled “The Cars.” It’s about the cars they used in Mad Max, obviously. Plex saw the title, and decided it really must be Pixar’s Cars movie. So my little 12-minute featurette now has a Cars box cover and cast/crew metadata. Hey Plex, how about matching on title and length, so as to not destroy many similarly-named items? (This happened to a good dozen of my featureettes; they all became various feature length movies.)
  • This incorrect-metadata issue remained even after I disabled as many “agents” as I could (some can’t be turned off). If there’s a way to disable this auto-lookup of movie information, I never found it. (Apparently I have to create a Home Videos library to avoid this issue. Yea, that’s logical for these clearly-not-home-video snippets.)
  • A library can can contain multiple folders, but Plex won’t present them in their by-folder structure—all real (i.e. Finder) folders within the library are treated as one folder within Plex. So instead of having a nicely-organized section of Behind the Scenes stuff, grouped by movie, I wound up with one huge list of featurettes (many of which acted like movies, thanks to the prior problem). if I want to avoid the huge-list problem then I have to create a huge number of separate libraries. The way around this issue, I guess, is to use Playlists. But that doesn’t solve the problem of having to see/navigate a huge list of movies on the Library screen.

I really wanted to like and use Plex, I did. But unless I’m missing something really major, I just can’t see how to make it work properly with my desired organizational structure. Add on the fact that I have to do all the setup work in a web browser, and it refuses to see my ripped movies in iTunes (I understand it can’t play purchased content), and it’s a non-starter.

To those who love and use Plex regularly, what am I missing? Why is this so bloody difficult, given that the “app” is well-regarded by so many?

10 Comments

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  1. You can get it to ignore iTunes extras. create a .plexignore file in the root of your Movie folder and include the following line:

    *.ite/*

    I think you need to rebuild your database (not too hard)

    Yep, it’s ugly but it works great.

    1. Thanks for that tip; maybe I’ll try this again with just the iTunes bit, ignoring all my collected video snippets, and see how that goes.

      -rob.

  2. I think it only really works well if you’re willing to do everything its way and give up on trying to straddle iTunes (i.e. arrange your files the way it would like you to, with -behindthescenes tags and years and whatever). Which I had no problem with because I was mightily sick of the terrible TV interface in iTunes.

    Also, reliable background syncing to iOS devices, if that matters to you. I could never get iTunes Wi-Fi sync to work reliably without manual intervention.

    1. iOS syncing is periodically awesome, frequently painful. I haven’t figured out how to get it to just work. But when it does, it’s something you wish iTunes had (e.g. Syncing when away from your Mac)

  3. I ran Plex Server on a Mac for a couple of years. (Past Tense). If I had to pick the most annoying peace of SW that I’ve ever dealt with, it would be the Plex Server. Yeah, sure, the SW promises, and occasionally fulfills some desirable traits….but the price paid for those traits is too high. Plex server for a family of 2 (husband/wife) is the only SW that can bring an i7 to it’s knee’s continually re-scanning and scraping the web (even when nothing has been updated). With default settings it just grinds a powerful server for no reason at all. (I kick myself that I put up with and paid for their non-sense for so long….it was a very happy day to rip their crap off of my machine….it was like getting a free computer….one missing in action for a long time).

  4. I rip all my blu rays and I have found that you have to set it up so that Plex scans the data correctly. I used to rip all my dvds to mp4 and I ended up deleting purchased content (Downloads from purchased blu rays) from my iTunes library because it couldn’t be played through plex. I do have some movies with added scenes and you need to put them in folders like this

    /Movies
    /Avatar (2009)
    Avatar (2009).mkv
    /Behind The Scenes
    Performance Capture.mkv

    Other examples are here:
    https://support.plex.tv/hc/en-us/articles/200220677

    I get it its a pain but unfortunately iTunes purchases have DRM so plex won’t play and how they do the database is different from iTunes. 90% of the problems I see with friends media is how its tagged and where its placed. Once you see how it scans the data it makes more sense.

    http://www.filebot.net works great standardizing most content that Plex uses from TVDB and themovieDB.

    For me any content purchased from iTunes can be streamed to device and or the apple tv. Only movies i have in iTunes are old DVD’s that I haven’t repurchased on Blu Ray. I only use iTunes for music at this point. Once I went to plex I haven’t looked back. Good Luck

  5. Funny enough it’s all the Apple fan boys that are whinging about Plex… honestly for me, this is one of the best pieces of software out there, running nicely on my HP ML10 v2 (and N54L before that) CentOS 7.3 server that I use as a NAS, and a TimeMachine back-up server, and general play machine for what-ever… It even presents my (iTunes organised) music library nicely… So no complains for me. And the App… really? A Web Browser as a management interface works perfectly, and gives a whole lot more screen real-estate to work with than an App on a small (so called) smart phone…

    But no worries… go back to your crap iTunes with Apple TV and other locked down over-paid for Apple stuff…

    1. If you’ll actually read what I wrote, they’re all functional complaints. Nothing about how well the basic structure does or does not work, nor how good the app is at its intended purpose – which appears to be quite good.

      But for me, hence the title specific to me, the issues I had made it impossible to use with my video collection: 99% of which is not iTunes-purchased DRM’d movies. I purchase Blu-Rays and rip them myself, and have a huge collection of home videos.

      And my “browser as app” complaint had nothing to do with phones, and everything to do with the desktop, where I would do most of my management. In that scenario, web browsers are horrid apps. “Oops, I clicked close.” “Oops, hit the back button.” This doesn’t make Plex awful, but it does make using it on the desktop a bad experience compared to a native app (or even an app wrapper around a WebKit view).

      I’d love to use Plex, but the issues I ran into made it impossible to get working as I need it to work. But then again, that’s specific to me, and why I titled the post “Plex and I do not get along” instead of “Plex sucks.” I think what they’ve done is amazing, but it’s not for me.

      -rob.

  6. My experience…. the autologin doesn’t work. I check it and save it and next time.. nope, I have to log in. I start the server at login and then manually click the player and I get “search”, “search”,”search”,”search”,”search”,”search”.. I have to login the player too and it tells me to go to the plextv site and input the 4 letters. Why can’t it remember this??

    If you really want to shoot yourself in the foot try the Plex skill with the Amazon Alexa app. The hype is: you can voice command Plex.. woohoo…!! It’s hard to setup. Alexa can’t find the player and when you do get it set up you have to carry on a thesis style conversation with Alexa to get the damn thing to play anything. A remote is so much easier, but after you’ve spent 15 minutes logging in to the server and player and getting it going each time you want to use it. It’s a huge pain in the ass..

    I finally gave up and now just go to my movie folder and click my Aurora player.. two mouse clicks and away it goes…. a movie…. so much easier.

    1. Wow, I’m not sure how to solve your problem but it’s definitely not the usual experience. I have tried on about a half dozen players and they all work as soon as I enter the PIN. Have you asked on the forum?

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