Plex beginner's guide: What it is, how to use it, and why you need it

Plex (Image credit: Rich Edmonds / Windows Central)

Plex is one of those services that has been around for some time but many of us might have passed over for some reason, be it a lack of understanding of what it actually does, thinking it couldn't possibly be useful to you, or something else entirely. The truth is, Plex could be just what you're looking for to help you manage your media collection.

Setting up a media server sounds daunting, but Plex makes it super simple — and dare we say, enjoyable. You just need to know where to begin, which is where we come in. Read on for our quick Plex beginner's guide.

Updated June 5, 2017: We added fresh information on live TV, DVR and the Plex Media Server for the Netgear X10 router.

What is Plex?


The official Plex website describes the service quite well:

One window into all your personal media. No matter where you are.

All the media you own, everything you have on your computer is accessible everywhere. It's all on your mobile devices, through the web, and even on some smart TVs and set-top boxes.

Setting up Plex


Before you can use Plex to access your media on your other devices, you first need to set up your home server. This isn't nearly as daunting as it sounds and involves downloading the Plex Media Server app to your computer. It comes in flavors for Mac, Windows and Linux, as well as in a form designed for NAS drives. So it covers lots of bases.

Once installed, getting set up is a simple matter of following instructions in the web client — all your Plex-ing on your computer will be done in a browser — to tell it where to look for various media content. You'll be hosting the content yourself, so you'll need to make sure you can get to it at all times if you want to be streaming while away from home. That means storing it all on a laptop you take with you probably isn't the best idea.

If you have a supported NAS drive, a standalone desktop computer or even a spare Windows Box, these will be the best options. Ideally, you want something you can leave turned on, connected to the web and most importantly, something you don't throw in a rucksack and take on the road with you.

Plex Media Server has also been built for the Netgear X10 router. This is an expensive bit of kit, but it's also one of the most powerful, fastest Wi-Fi routers on the planet. By installing the special Plex Media Server build on it you can run the very same system as if you had it on a PC. You can hook it up to a network attached drive, and you don't need a PC to be running at all.

When you're telling Plex where to find your media, it's important to make sure the files are named in a way the software will understand, and that they're stored in a folder structure, in the case of TV shows. Plex has some handy hints{.nofollow} on how to best prepare your media for your server.

Download Plex Media Server

Plex channels


Plex (Image credit: Windows Central)

Beyond just your own content, Plex has a bunch of different built-in content channels for you to use within the various Plex apps across the platforms.

However, those channels are region dependent. So if you can't get BBC iPlayer on the web where you're located, Plex won't be able to help. There's a good selection of stuff from global providers, though. The great thing about channels is that they're all available to watch in the mobile apps, too, for on-the-go enjoyment.

However, you don't want to get too carried away; Plex's selection of channels isn't as large as other services, such as Kodi's offerings. However, if you check out what there is you'll probably find something you like.

More about Plex Channels

Plex Pass


If you find that you like Plex and want to get the most out of it, Plex Pass is something you should consider. It's an add-on that you can pay for monthly, yearly or as a lifetime subscription.

Here's what it does, direct from the Plex support pages:

  • Early access to new Plex features.
  • Access to preview release versions of the Plex Media Server and other apps before they're released generally.
  • The latest Plex apps for Android and Roku are yours free.
  • Premium features like Plex Sync, Cloud Sync and Camera Upload.
  • Access to dedicated Plex Pass forums where you can ask the Plex Ninjas questions as well as vote up new feature requests.
  • A way to show your direct support for Plex.

We're not short on photo backup services, but with Plex you'll be combining it with the rest of your media collection and as such can access it on any device with a Plex app. It's also worth paying for if you ever want to offline your media and take it with you.

As for pricing, you'll pay $4.99 a month, $39.99 a year or $149.99 for a lifetime subscription.

Subscribe to Plex Pass

Plex DVR

Plex DVR

Some of the more recent features of Plex Pass really take your home media center up a notch, such as live TV and DVR. Initially, you'll only be able to use a limited number of devices with live TV, but the feature will eventually roll out to all apps on all devices, including Xbox One and Windows 10.

Better still, on Xbox One you'll be able to use the Xbox OTA TV Tuner to get the channels inside your Plex app.

DVR actually arrived before the ability to watch live TV, and setting it up in your Plex Media Server means you can record your favorite shows and then watch them in any of the Plex apps.

How to set up Plex DVR

Plex apps


Fans of Windows 10 aren't left out in the cold when it comes to app support with Plex. Neither are fans of pretty much any other platform. Plex is one of the most widely available applications on mobile, desktop and gaming consoles, with access on the Xbox One and Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4, various smart TVs and set-top boxes such as Roku and NVIDIA Shield.

It doesn't end there, either, with Plex branching out into Kodi support, too. If you're looking to create a home theater PC as well as a server, there's the free Plex Media Player app for your home theater, which is available on Mac, Windows, and even Raspberry Pi.

When it comes to your media, the device you choose shouldn't hinder your enjoyment. Plex is one service that eliminates that problem almost entirely.

Download Plex from the Windows Store

Got Plex tips?

If you're a Plex master and have handy hints or general advice for those looking to jump into it for the first time, drop us a line in the comments below and share the wealth of your knowledge.

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