Emby media center is a worthy Plex alternative for Windows


Plex and Kodi are both perhaps more well known, but neither is the only solution for your Windows-based media center. Emby is one option that may have slipped by unnoticed, but it's a service with good support for Windows 10, mobile and Xbox One. And that makes it worth a serious look.

Getting set up with Emby

The general set up process with Emby is very similar to that of Plex. You download a server application that will do the heavy lifting of actually cataloguing your media, while a separate client app will be your front end for media consumption.

The Emby Server app is available for just about any platform you could imagine, including for some NAS drives, without the need for it to run on a PC.

Download Emby Server

The server will pull artwork and metadata for your media — as you'd expect from any good media center — but you have ultimate control over exactly what it is you want.

At the initial set up of your server, you can also plug in your live TV if you're using something such as an HDHomeRun, which is a nice touch. Unfortunately, I don't have one of those, so I can't say how well the feature actually works.

Getting up and running with Emby is a mostly pain-free affair. You just grab the companion apps from the Windows Store or on your Xbox One and then enjoy your lovely content ... at least if you purchase Emby Premiere first.

Emby Premiere is a must-buy

Emby Premiere

Plex has Plex Pass, and Emby has Emby Premiere. In both cases, to get the most from the service you need to pay up. In Emby's case, if you actually want to use any of the apps properly beyond just the server and its web app, you need to pay.

It'll cost $4.99 a month, with plans available for a year as well. You can pay using PayPal and set up a recurring debit so you don't ever forget about it. Once you've paid, you get a license key, which for the life of me I couldn't get the Windows 10 app to accept. Instead, I went to the Emby Server and entered it there.

So what do you actually get for your money? From the company:

Emby Premiere is a membership or subscription that gives you access to advanced core and plug-in features across your whole Emby installation (per household) as well as free full access to core-team provided Emby Apps.Most of the functionality in Emby is free but there are some advanced features that are available only to active Emby Premiere members. This system provides cost-offsetting compensation that allows us to continue to grow and maintain the entire Emby environment.

Emby for Xbox One

The Emby app for Xbox One

Feature wise that translates to:

  • Cover art — A plug-in that provides advanced image enhancements for your media artwork.
  • Mobile and cloud sync — Synchronize your content to your mobile devices or cloud account for offline viewing in supported Emby apps.
  • Server configuration backup — A plug-in that allows you to back up critical configuration settings for your Emby Server, both manually and on a schedule.
  • Genre and studio cleaner — Plug-ins that help manage your genres and studio metadata, eliminating redundant or irrelevant information.
  • DVR functionality — Advanced recording functionality in the built-in Live TV features of the server.
  • Cinema mode — Turn movie night into a real theater experience with current trailers and other intros before your feature.
  • Free apps — Full access to the Android mobile, Android TV, Fire TV, iPhone, iOS and other apps provided and supported by the core Emby team. (Note: Some apps are provided by third parties and you don't get free access to those.)
  • Good Karma — That incredible feeling you get when you support all of the hard work that goes into developing, growing and maintaining the entire Emby ecosystem.

You can find more details over in the Emby forums.

The apps

Emby Theater

Emby gets a big thumbs up for having official apps available for Windows 10 PCs, tablets and phones, as well as for Xbox One. If you're using Emby Premiere, you get access to them completely free of charge to enjoy all your content.

Visually, the official app is a bit of a throwback to the Windows 8 era, not like the sleek, Windows 10-inspired Plex app, for example. Choosing a server is straightforward if you're on the same local network, or you can use Emby Connect to sync across the cloud.

Emby also has the benefit of third party support, with a few apps available in the store to choose from. The best of these is probably Ember, but it's not free. It does have a free trial, though the full version will cost you $5. It's essentially everything you get from Emby officially, just wrapped up in a nicer application.

Emby and Kodi

Emby on Kodi

Ah, Kodi. The one stop shop for all things media center gets a mention here because it integrates beautifully with Emby servers.

The official Emby for Kodi add-on integrates with the native Kodi library, which means smooth, speedy access through your system. Emby does the heavy lifting with server-based transcoding, too, which means you can also integrate it into a mobile Kodi system and still get excellent performance.

Installing is as easy as any other Kodi add-on, and Emby has the leg up over Plex here — also available on Kodi — by natively integrating into the Kodi system. It doesn't pull you into another interface to get at your content. It's all Kodi, all the time.

Find out all you need to know at the links below.

Emby bottom line

Emby Theater

Emby is a super-solid media center for Windows users, with the added bonus of support for mobile and Xbox One. If you're already using Plex, there's not necessarily a reason to switch, but if you're not using anything else yet definitely give it a look.

Where Emby edges ahead is when you hook it up to Kodi. Plex will require the use of its own interface, which might put some people off. Emby, which is priced similarly to Plex, is a more natural fit for Kodi users because it hooks into the native library while still offering server-side transcoding.

Whichever you go for, though, using Windows 10 isn't a hinderance in any way to getting a top quality media server up and running. Windows 10 users are actually spoiled for a change.

Richard Devine
Managing Editor - Tech, Reviews

Richard Devine is a Managing Editor at Windows Central with over a decade of experience. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore as well as Windows Central. Currently, you'll find him steering the site's coverage of all manner of PC hardware and reviews. Find him on Mastodon at mstdn.social/@richdevine