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Plex: Hey, it's not just for pirates anymore

Jared Newman | Feb. 26, 2015
You don’t have to skirt the law to take advantage of Plex. Here's how to use the popular media server software—even as a law-abiding cord cutter.

To set up Plex It, you will need a Plex account. Create one, sign in through the Media Manager on your computer, and you should see a "Queue" option added to the main menu. Click the "?" button, and you'll head to a web page where you can drag the Plex It button onto your browser's bookmarks bar. Now, you can just click the Plex It bookmark button when you're on a page with video, and Plex will add it to your queue.

I wish Plex It supported more sites, but the current list of working sites has a handful of gems. Try using it at Adult SwimNBC, Discovery Channel, and Disney Channel to stock up on videos you might want to watch in the living room.

Whole-home DVR, for hardcore cord cutters
Another interesting use for Plex is as a server for videos from an over-the-air DVR.

I recently purchased a cheap USB TV tuner for my desktop computer, and set it up to view and record broadcast TV through Windows Media Center. (More on that in a future column.) Every recording goes into a "Recorded TV" folder on my desktop, and I've told Plex media server to serve up any video that appears in that folder. So now when I use the Plex app on my Roku or Fire TV, any show I've recorded on my PC is automatically available for viewing.

The one problem I ran into was getting Plex to recognize the files, which Windows Media Center saves in Microsoft's proprietary .WTV format. Plex only recognizes these files if you add the library as a "Home Videos" folder, rather than a "TV Shows" folder in the media manager. Converting the files is an option, but I like that the recording and viewing process is automated. It's a nice way to grab interesting shows from over the airwaves and save them for later viewing.

Extra goodies: Stream your photos and music
Beyond video, Plex is also a handy way to bring your music collection and personal photos to other devices around the house.

For photos, just open the Media Manager, hit the "+" icon in the left sidebar, choose Photos, and then add the folder you want to share. Plex's apps have a built-in slideshow mode, so it's a great background option if you're honoring someone's graduation or anniversary.

Adding music is a similar process: Open the Media Manager, hit the "+" button, choose Music, and then add the folder where your music files are stored. You can then import playlists from other programs like iTunes, or create new playlists through the Media Manager software.

 

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