Plex is best known as a media management platform that simplifies access to your local library of content such as videos, music, and photos. It also lets you access media servers with a playback option to watch content in one interface.
That’s all changed with Plex’s introduction of a service we all secretly wished existed – the ability to access all video on-demand services under one roof. No more switching apps and scrolling through loads of content to find something to watch.
In a blog post shared on 5 April, Plex said on average, viewers in the US alone spend over 600 million minutes every single night trying to figure out what to watch, citing stats shared by Accenture, and added, “… for the golden age of streaming, that feels a bit… broken.”
Plex calls it the “streaming struggle” and thus, launched its new offering to make streaming a better experience. The Plex app is available on almost any platform: Roku, Android TV, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, iOS, Android, gaming consoles (PlayStation, Xbox), and smart TVs (Samsung, LG).
How to get started
Download the Plex app on any of the platforms mentioned above. I’ve been testing it on the 4th-generation Apple TV and Google Chromecast 4. Create an account for free – or if you have an account already, just update to the latest version and login.
Under the settings, you will see a list of services to link to. VOD services available locally include popular services such as Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV and TV+, DStv’s BoxOffice, BritBox, Google Play Movies, Netflix, Netflix Kids, and Showmax. If you linked local media libraries or have access to media servers, they will also show up in a streamlined view, alongside VOD content.
If you have workaround through a VPN to access to international services, you will see options like Disney+, HBO Max, Hulu, and YouTube Premium to add to your list.
If you don’t want to create an account and use it as a guest, you will see a selection of free content offered by Plex, which is also available to logged in users. It includes over 50,000 free titles, and 250 live TV channels such as Euronews, The Carol Burnett Show, eSports, Film Stream, Documentary+, Bloomberg Television, Reuters, etc. Other channels include a selection of kids, fitness, cooking, sport, and history.
How to find and customise content
The main navigation menu includes search, home, live TV, movies and shows, discover, web shows, podcasts, and music. Search is the most basic way to find content across all services and local libraries.
The Home tab is dedicated to free Plex content of over 50,000 titles, categorised by recently added, most popular, trending trailers, etc. When you click into a show from Plex, it will launch that individual streaming app. After you’re done watching and go back, you will be in the Plex interface once again. It also houses the “Watchlist” tab where you add favourites from across all your platforms to access it in one place.
The Live TV tab has 250 free channels in linear form (like DStv), which is great if you’re looking for new things to watch, but this doesn’t necessarily mean content is from 2022; a lot of it is dated.
The magic happens in the Discover tab (beta), which displays trending sections for each VOD service you added to the platform. It also has new movie trailers, direct access to your watchlist, new from your services, coming soon, top titles on other services, and family content. Once you go into a title, you can see which platforms its available to watch from, view the trailer, add to watchlist or mark it as watched.
More content can be accessed under web shows, podcasts, and music, which is limited to Tidal but can be removed or unpinned from your navigation menu, along with any of the tabs.
Let’s get technical
Before you start streaming, you may want to go into the settings and make sure it is set to your preferences, especially when it comes to the video quality of your stream resulting in the amount of data consumed. It lets you choose between maximum or 8-20Mbps at 1080p; 3-4Mbps at 720p; 1.5-2Mbps at 480p and the basic one at 0.7Mbps at 320p.
Other options include auto sign-in, play trailers, background volume level when browsing, auto play, to display content in a modern or classic way, and subtitles with location. The level of customisation is extensive when compared on standalone streaming apps.
Android and iOS apps
If you’re using Android or iOS, the interface is optimised for mobile, so you’d have to make an inward swipe from the left to see the navigation settings. It also supports downloads with storage limits, which works for podcasts for offline listening. You can also select the quality for audio downloads (128-320kbps).
Android and iOS apps are never created equally, subsequently, iOS has more features: pic-in-pic support, auto play, remembering tabs for each source, adjusting the volume of background music for trailers, and granular settings for streaming like quality, limiting data, etc. Android just has the option to “use low quality on cellular”.
Everything mentioned above is available on a free Plex account. A premium tier called Plex Pass is available at R79 per month for pro users who want additional features on their personal media servers.