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?