Plex 8 Review
BOTTOM LINE: Plex is hands-down the finest media manager/player available for the Mac HTPC enviornment. Gorgeous and exponentially more flexible than Front Row, it rules HD playback, handling 1080p material with ease.
STUNNING TO BEHOLD…WITH LITTLE TO NO EFFORT
The screenshots do more to illustrate how beautiful this program can be than any words I can string together. I’ll simply say it’s everything I could ask for in a graphical interface. The transitions are smooth and intuitive. And the art…oh, the art! I’ve always been a fan of movie posters and Plex displays them beautifully for all of the titles in my collection.
And this is where Plex leaps through hyperspace to another level of functionality, pulling posters for all of your files automatically. Just backed up a DVD? Fire up Plex and it scans your folders, sees the new files, runs to the internet, grabs art (in addition to plot synopsis, cast, running time, and a ton of other info), and displays it, on average, in under thirty seconds. Done.
Plex uses skins to allow users an amazing amount of flexibility over how they want the interface to look. One popular option is xTV, which very closely resembles Front Row. But the undisputed king is Aeon. It’s what I’m using.
1080P HD PLAYBACK, ANYONE?
Playing back 1080p material on my 1.66 Intel Mini has always been a dicey road to travel, smoothed out most of the time by various tweaks to my beloved VLC. But Plex’s HD playback is nothing short of revolutionary. Even the toughest files that used to kneecap VLC inside of a minute are whipped smooth by Plex, with NO noticeable frame drops so far.
It’s difficult to describe the exponential jump forward this experience is in my HT experience. Although EyeTV has always delivered beautiful playback of it’s native files, this is the first time I have an app that I can throw ANYTHING at. And, like the rest of Plex, the interface is beautiful, simple, and offers up just what you need.
LET ME ORGANIZE THOSE TV SEASONS AND EPISODES FOR YOU
Some of my most prized media files are entire series of my favorite TV shows…”The Larry Sanders Show”, for instance, is something I really treasure. I have an external drive called “Television” with all of my shows stored in a very simple file structure…I create a folder with the show’s title and drop all of the episodes inside.
Plex reads the files and divides them automatically into seasons and attaches plots/titles to each episode, just like it does with films. You can even set it to create thumbnails for each episode. I do.
One way a media manager can really shine is how it handles a large number of files – in this case by shuffling my seasons of TV into an easily-accessible library. And Plex shreds through this task by creating a structure that’s intuitive, informative, and unimposing for anyone to navigate. I’ve always felt that Tivo was the undisputed champion of UI in this arena. Plex easily surpasses them, in my humblest of opinions.
Are there any problems with Plex? Sure…I’d love a scrubbable timeline (which VLC does offer). There’s no way to integrate an HDTV tuner (a la HDHomerun), so using Plex as a traditional PVR is out. And full access to my iTunes playlists could be easier – but that’s less to do with Plex’s developers and more to do with Apple’s software.
But this is really nitpicking given the robust set of features Plex offers. And there’s one other huge plus I haven’t mentioned.