PleXBMC – Unholy Alliance or Match Made in Heaven?

As a Mac household, and hater of all things cable, I’ve written a bit about my love of Plex.  I’ve been a staunch defender of it online and on the forums, even though there are numerous shortcomings.  Surprisingly, the biggest shortcoming of Plex is the playback capabilities of its client, the “Plex Media Center”.  Based entirely on XBMC, there are numerous threads on the Plex forums noting its shortfalls:  Its inability to adjust the refresh rate to match the monitor to which its attached, and its inability to play true 24fps material well.  For a long time, there was nothing to be done, and users were left with a choice – easier library management and remote flexibility vs playback.  Well, ever since Plex split is Media Server and Center software into to distinct packages, it enabled the ingenuity of a Plex user to come up with a solution: PleXBMC.  The hack, which is really an XBMC add-on, leverages the best features of both systems to deliver a truly terrific experience.  Essentially, XBMC become the Plex Media Server client (which can be setup in about 10 minutes).


To review, let’s review the pros and cons of each system (based on the opinion of this author)

Plex

Pros:

  • Content Setup
  • Centralized Library
  • System extendability (Roku, ATV, GoogleTV, Samsung/LG TVs etc)
  • Remote access (myPlex, transcoding for mobile devices)

Cons:

  • Playback

XBMC

Pros:

  • Playback

Cons:

  • Setup

 Step 1: Install Plex PMS

  1. Download and install Plex PMS
  2. Setup Library (see our guide here)
  3. Setup myPlex (for remote access, same link as #2)

Step 2: Download and Install PleXBMC Add-On

  1. Download and install XMBC from here.
  2. Download PleXBMC here.
  3. Ensure your PLex Media Server is up and running.
  4. Install addon directly via zip file in Step 2.  This is done in XBMC by going into Settings->Addons->Install By ZipFile
  5. Configure the Addon with the IP address of the Plex Media Server (only if XBMC is NOT on the same machine as the PMS).
  6. Start Addon from Video -> Addon -> PleXBMC

You can also find the XBMC wiki entry with instructions here  or on the Plex Forums here.

PleXBMC Video AddOn

Step 3: Download and Install PleXBMC Skins (Optional)

  1. Download Skins:
  2. Go back to the XBMC supplied confluence skin (system -> setting -> appearance -> skin)
  3. Go back to home
  4. Video -> File
  5. Add source
  6. Browse to “Home folder”, “addons”, “plugin.video.plexbmc”, “resources”, “dummy library”
  7. Add this folder as a source and select “movies” as the content. Ensure you select “Run automated scan”.
  8. Hit OK and the dummy file will be scanned into the library (it will appear as Aladdin (1992))
  9. now go back, switch to confluence.plexbmc, enable integration and it should work..

PleXBMC Home Page with Quartz Skin

Review

Having played around with PleXBMC for the past week, I’ve been very pleased with the results.  Playback is flawless and I can visibly observe that the PMS is not transcoding nearly as often or using as much CPU as when the Plex Media Center was the playback client.  With the integration of Plex into XBMC via the PleXBMC skins, (I prefer Quartz), as a Plex user, usability is nearly identical, including my use of my Harmony 890 remote, which I didn’t even have to program away from Plex to XBMC.  For users who are using XMBC but want to consider the benefits of Plex’s Media Server, XBMCs home page customization enables you to stick PleXBMC right on the homepage for easy access rather than having to go through the Videos -> Add-Ons menu route.

There has been some caveats.  The big one, at least for me, and that’s Netflix.  Currently, OSX users (which I am) are unable to get the XBMCFlix Add-On working, and as such, PlexFlix (insert link), which enables Plex users (and therefore PleXBMC users) the ability to integrate their Netflix queue right into one’s movie and TV show libraries, does not work.  For most, this is likely a minor annoyance, and one that will likely be fixed soon, but its a feature my family uses quite a bit.  Another caveat, which will likely impact an even smaller group, is the audio isn’t synced properly when watching Plex Channels via PleXBMC, that’s if the channel plays at all.  I test numerous Plex Video Channels, and it was hit or miss as to whether they played through PleXBMC.

All in all, I’m pretty pleased with PleXBMC thus far, and for those users who are looking for the best of both worlds, this could very well be the solution at least until either Plex gets its Media Center up to snuff, or XBMC catches up on ease of use/setup and remote connectivity.  Its definitely worth the effort, as soup to nuts it took me about 20 minutes total to get PleXBMC fully set up.

 

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