Back in January, during CES, a nice lady from Lenovo and I were chatting over lunch. She says to me, “we have this huge collection of Baby Einstein DVD’s, but we have no way to play them on the go!” I thought about it for a second, and instantly knew the answer to her question. I told her I’d write about it (I gave her the solution right then and there too), and now, ummmm 10 months later, I’m making good on my promise.
The answer is a Plex server. A Plex server is basically a personal cloud storage for all of the DVD’s and other media that you own. Back when I was younger, and was trying to imagine the future of media, I thought what we would have is a large jukebox type thing where you just select which movie you want to play. It would grab the disc and play it in the DVD player without you having to touch it. Mainly I just didn’t want my kids to touch my DVD discs. I didn’t imagine how wonderful having ALL of your movies right there and easily selectable with a remote control could be.
So, how do you set up a Plex server? I’m so glad you asked.
The first thing I did, was I set it up on one of the computers in my house. I was not happy with the performance of this setup. The computer was on the wifi, the playback device (typically my Roku) was on the wifi, and playback was spotty at best. So, I knew I wanted a device that was a computer that we wouldn’t use on a regular basis, that I could plug directly into the wifi router. It needed to be small, so it would fit on top of the cabinet where my wifi router was, and it needed to have plenty of space. I researched, and finally settled on a Lenovo Tiny. It had everything I needed. I did make sure to get the 2TB model, so I could have enough space for the movies I’d put on it.
Once I got the computer, I went to the Plex website and downloaded the free software. When you are putting it on a Windows machine, it’s really just as simple as an install to get it running. If you are going to put it on something like a NAS device though (stands for Network Attached Storage, which just means a whole lot of digital space that is attached to your home network) the setup could get a little tricky. Luckily they have tutorials for you for each type of device.
They also have this great get started video.
As mentioned in the video, you can choose your media library, but if you are sitting on a mountain of DVD’s, how do you get those into files for importing into Plex? I’ve used DVDFab, Freemake, and MakeMKV. I like them all for various reasons, but my favorite one to use is DVDFab.
If you are going to be ripping a Blu-Ray, you will need to have a Blu-Ray drive for your computer, otherwise a regular DVD drive will be just fine. You simply put the disc in the drive and tell the software what kind of compression you want. Since I’m a total snob when it comes to video quality, I usually select “Passthrough” which means it’s not going to compress the file at all. It definitely takes up more space, but the quality is fantastic.
***Please note I DO NOT ADVOCATE STEALING! I only approve of making digital copies of DVD’s and media that you OWN.***
Plex is absolutely free if you are going to use it just on your home network. If you want access to your media remotely, you can purchase a monthly Plex Pass, which will also allow you to share your library with other people. I recently got my entire collection of Boy Meets World episodes up on my Plex server so a friend of mine could check them out! It’s awesome!
I still love my Vudu account for any movies I buy now, which is where I store all of my Ultraviolet movies. I love Plex though, especially for those movies that are not yet available digitally through vudu or Netflix, especially my vast collection of exercise DVD’s.
Please feel free to ask me any questions about getting your own Plex server set up!
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Sarah Kimmel has spent the last 16 years of her career as an IT Manager supporting over 100 small businesses. During that time she started Family Tech to help families understand and manage the technology in their home. She has regularly appeared as a tech expert on KSL News, BYUtv and Studio 5, and has been invited all over the world from tech companies like Lenovo, Verizon, Microsoft, Dell, and Samsung. Find out more on her website SarahKimmel.com