As of October 2013, Plex has introduced a new CloudSync feature that enables users to sync their media files and play directly from the cloud through their favorite cloud apps like Dropbox and Google Drive.
In this review, we take a look at how the new CloudSync feature (currently in Beta) is changing the user experience for the Plex community – and why it may be a good idea for you.
The Plex Story
Plex began as a freeware project based on the open-source Xbox Media Center (now simply called XBMC) to build a media server and media player system for Home Theater PCs (HTPCs) and network-attached storage (NAS) appliances.
But has since 2010 become a full-featured commercial and proprietary platform consisting of the Plex Home Theater and Plex Media Server (for remote streaming of media files) as well as a growing collection of online content plugins like Hulu, Netflix, Pandora, and Vudu.
CloudSync from Plex
CloudSync is an interesting new feature available for Plex users designed to improve the remote streaming features of Plex as well as to combat media syncing and storage limitations on local devices connected to the Plex media server.
Before CloudSync, Plex users used PlexSync (a service released in November 2012) to remotely sync and stream their media files from the home unit to other devices (including NAS appliances) connected to the media server.
This proved very useful for travelers or people without access to Wi-Fi, and largely boosted the popularity of Plex.
The major limitation of the service was simple – devices have limited storage. The Plex team introduced CloudSync a year later to remove storage limitations for user media files while boosting the overall user experience of the service.
What Services Are Available and How Does it Work?
The service, though professional, is still in development, and currently offers a number of attractive features for users:
- Configure multiple cloud storage providers (the list of supported cloud services is limited, but features some of the most popular options
- Set individual limits for each cloud service (such as how much space to use in each case). This is useful if you have different storage plans on a number of platforms and would like to manage your total cloud storage in a particular way
- Create cloud sync rules for each supported service, so you can automate common sync tasks across your supported cloud applications
- Faster scanning speed than on non-CloudSync versions of Plex
- Improved remote file streaming and real-time file conversion to match devices (let’s say you were watching a movie in a particular format on your Android phone but decided to take your iPad on a trip instead – CloudSync will allow you sync and stream the content in the best format for your iPad)
Other user experience improvements since the CloudSync version was launched. Once a user has synced the content they want to view on their mobile devices, they can access the content online from any location as well as any pre-downloaded content locally on their devices.
And because Plex is great at managing metadata, the user experience can be seamlessly continued across multiple devices in a fluid way (such as watching the same movie and resuming from where you stopped earlier on another device).
CloudSync is available on Plex Media Server v.0.9.8.10 or better.
Alternatives to Plex
Plex is not the only popular media player and server for Home Theater PCs and appliances with NAS support. Its major competitor is actually the system on which it was initially based: XBMC (formerly the Xbox Media Center). Recall that XBMC is completely free and open-source, while Plex is commercial and proprietary.
Though it is not free, Plex is relatively inexpensive and the company has slashed the cost of its mobile app on all platforms by 50% for a limited time only according to the latest news from the company. This source confirms that the Plex app for Android now costs $2.49 from $4.99 earlier.
Since all Plex apps used to cost $4.99, we can safely say the same applies to other platforms including iOS and Windows phone.
There has been an extensive debate about which of the two streaming media providers Plex and XBMC provides the best service, and we’re going to take a side-by-side look at these two from three (3) perspectives that matter most to users, in order to give you a rough guide on what to expect:
Factor 1: Customization
Let us define customization as the extent to which you can configure the service to best suit your exact needs. In this regard XBMC performs much better than Plex. If there is anything that makes XBMC ideal, it is the extent to which you can customize it to your heart’s desire as described in this article on LifeHacker. Plex tends to be a bit limited in terms of customization (in fact, it’s rather plug and go) but there are other areas in which it does very well such as organizing content, managing metadata and streaming files remotely.
Factor 2: Ease of Use
Both systems (XBMC and Plex) do very well in terms of ease of use, but Plex tends to outperform XBMC in the simplicity of its applications across multiple devices and platforms. XBMC may be a bit less easy to use, but it officially supports a lot of plugins and can be extended in many unique ways to offer a more comprehensive user experience.
Factor 3: Availability
Though both services are widely available across popular device platforms including Windows, OSX, iOS, and Android, support for specialty platforms like Google TV, set top boxes, television, and Windows phone is more readily available with Plex.
You can access Plex and Plex CloudSync by downloading the free Plex Media Server from https://plex.tv/downloads. Once you have downloaded the application for your platform (PC/Mac/Linux), you have to create a free account with Plex to start using the service. Plex allows you to connect your devices and start enjoying your media right away.
To enjoy Plex on your mobile devices, download Plex mobile apps from the appropriate app stores (Google Play, Apple App Store, etc).
For premium access, you have to get a Plex Pass. This paid service will allow you to enjoy exclusive features as well as early access to new service improvements. Learn more at https://plex.tv/subscription/about Plex CloudSync is available on Plex Media Server v.0.9.8.10 and above.
Are you using Plex? Do you currently use CloudSync with your Plex installation? Tell us your experience!