Background

The Plex project has been around almost as long as XBMC and was a fork of the original XBMC project. The focus of the Plex project was to give users a complete media center solution.

Plex is generally considered by the Plex community as a superset of XMBC, meaning it is everything that XBMC is, plus heaps more. Like XBMC, Plex indexes your media and downloads the cover art and associated text from IMDB for your movies and TV shows. It downloads the the theme music also. So while your browsing which TV show to watch next, the theme music is blaring through the speakers. I am sure the same functionality can be provided by XBMC via an add-on, but this is provided out of the box.

 

With XBMC the media server and the client exist on the same platform. This has both advantages and disadvantages. Having the server on the same platform reduces latency when browsing media. However if you have a fast network, then this is not a big issue. The biggest advantage of splitting the two systems is that you can have a centralized media server, providing media for multiple thin clients. Therefore only one media server needs to index your media and not a heap of media servers with local copies of the media index.

 

Plex Server

So in order to use RasPlex, you will required a Plex Server. The server can be downloaded for free from the Plex site (https://my.plexapp.com/). It is free and can be installed on many PC platforms (Windows, MAC, Linux, FreeBSD). It can also be downloaded to many NAS platforms also, like Synology DSM. When I firstly set up my Synology DS1813+ NAS, I installed the Plex server. It was available via the Synology DSM desktop and as simple as clicking a button. Running the Plex Server on the  NAS that houses your media frees up your network bandwidth and reduces network latency. Once the Plex server is up and running and configured (via a wed interface), you are then able to access your media via a thin Plex client. You can purchase  a Plex client for any android or iOS based platforms via Google Play or the Apple App Store respectively. I currently run the Plex app on both my Sony Xperia phone and my iPad.

 

Plex on the Raspberry Pi

The Plex client that is available for the Raspberry Pi is called RasPlex. I recommend you head over to the  website, to get hooked up with this OS (http://rasplex.com/). You need to be aware that this is a beta project so it isn't 100% complete just yet. But they are eager for beta testers, the more the merrier. The installation is fairly straight forward. Being a MAC user, I downloaded the MAC version of the installer. The installer is written in python, so I believe it is the same installer as the Linux one.

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Figure 1: Installer DMG (left) and the installer GUI including terminal in the background (right).

 

The installer will require an administrator password and the destination SD card inserted (via a USB SD reader). Clicking a few buttons on the installer gets the image written to the SD card. Even thought the installer is in its Beta version, it was very nicely polished.

After transferring the SD card to the Raspberry Pi it was time to test the systems performance. RasPlex was tested on a Model B Raspberry Pi using a WiFi link (See New Year’s Party Pack - To entertain the masses or just babysit the kids - Introduction for details).

 

Boot

Boot times -

          Version 9.9.16 (Bleeding Edge Experimental) : 1 minute to 1 minute 20 seconds.

          Version 0.3.1 (Stable) : 1 minute flat

 

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Figure 2: The boot screens: primary boot screen (visible for the first 10 seconds) (left), the main boot screen (right).

It needs to be said that the first boot is by far the longest and subsequent boots are much quicker. The boot times mentioned above represent the average boot time not including the first boot.

 

Plex Client

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Figure 3: Initial Configuration Screens: Wifi Network selection (left), MyPlex login screen (right)

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Figure 4: Home Screen: Scrolling up or down can select the various media options.

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Figure 5: Movie based screens: Movie overview (left), Movie playing (right).

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Figure 5: TV Show based screens: Hovering on the TV show link (top left), TV series selection page(top right), 

                    Season selection (bottom left) and, Episode choice screen (bottom right).

 

Conclusion

Even though version 9.9.16 is experimental and claimed to be almost polished enough to be version 0.4. It was still fairly obvious that more work need to be done before it could be considered stable. Both the experimental and stable versions tested, show great promise. However neither were at a level suitable to be used as a stable responsive media center operating system. The time between buttons presses and media center responses were a little on the large side for my liking. But I would like to make it very clear that this is a beta version that appears to be very infant. With this in mind I will be keeping an eye on this project as it shows great promise once the latency issues and minor bugs are overcome. So in the short term not my choice for the Raspberry Pi babysitter's OS, but in the future who knows. If this level of progress continues in this project, then it could very easily be the OS of choice for media centers in the future.

 

Continue this Raspberry Pi media center journey with "New Year’s Party Pack - To entertain the masses or just babysit the kids - XBMC: RaspBMC, OpenElec and GeeXBox go head to head"