With Plex installed, you’ve got the basics of a home media network up-and-running. But Plex is so much more than that. Dig deeper into the settings and you will discover how to turn Plex into a home media powerhouse. Here are 10 Plex media center hacks you need to try to get the most out of Plex.
Fix Your File Names
When you set things up in Plex for the first time, you probably pointed it at your media files and let it index away. That might not have been a good idea. As Plex indexes each movie, episode and track it automatically pulls artwork, metadata, and other content from online databases. This creates a much richer experience as you bring content up in the Plex interface.
But if Plex doesn’t recognize your naming system….
Wait, you do have a logical naming system, right? One that you’ve applied consistently and thoroughly over the years?
If your file names aren’t formatted properly, you may be missing out. Renaming your media in ways that it understands will guarantee that you get the most out of Plex and its extended content.
Fixing your movie file names
In the case of movies, Plex likes to see file names structured in a specific format. It starts with the film title, followed in parentheses by the year it was released and then the extension:
Point Break (1991).mkv
If you aren’t certain whether the film’s name was Ocean’s 13 or Ocean’s Thirteen, your best bet is to check IMDb. While it will check Rotten Tomatoes and other databases, IMDb is Plex’s preferred source. Making your file names consistent with IMDb will get you the best results.
Fixing your TV Show file names
Your best bet here is to check TheTVDB since that’s where Plex gets its info. One-off shows and made-for-TV movies follow the same Title (broadcast year).extension pattern as movies.
You’ll need to pay a little more attention to episodic TV series, though. In this case, you should have a folder for the entire series and folders for each season. Name the individual episodes using the series title, followed in parentheses by the year it was first broadcast. Then, use s##e## for the season and episode numbers. Lastly, plug in the extension:
../TV/Peppa Pig /Season 04 Peppa Pig (2004) - s04e03 - Basketball.mp4
In the case of TV shows organized by date, use the show name followed by the data aired, optional text and then the extension:
PBS News Hour - 2017.01.19 - Eve of Trump.avi
Fixing your music file names
Plex is more accommodating with music since your music files already have metadata from when you ripped your CDs or bought them from iTunes. It’s entirely possible, however, that you have a few files from sources that don’t provide metadata. (Ripped vinyl tracks, for example, are annoyingly free of metadata.)
If you have a bunch of files that lack metadata, make sure your folders follow an Artist Name – Album Name format and that the individual files follow a Track Number – Track Name format:
../Music/Taylor Swift - 1989 01 - Welcome to New York 02 - Blank Space
Plex will download additional content and metadata based on those names. If you have the free version, Plex will check last.fm. For Plex Pass users, it uses sonic fingerprints to check the Gracenote database.
Changing your file names to the format Plex wants and commiting to using those formats from now on will make your media experience that much more enjoyable. It will also ensure that you get the most out of Plex Pass. With Plex Pass, you get artist bios, song lyrics and other enhanced features.
Switch on Enhanced Video Previews
Once the Plex Media Center indexes your videos and downloads any additional content, you get an elegant interface in your apps that lets you browse through thumbnails to find something to watch.
With a few settings adjusments, you can enhance your video browsing experience even further.
TV theme music
The Plex web app can play a TV series theme song when you navigate to the show’s top level. Simply go to Settings – Web – General and check the box next to Play Theme Music. The Plex Media Center will download thirty-second clips of each TV series’ theme music (if Plex has it in its database).
Video timeline thumbnails
When you use a video’s timeline to scan back and forth in a video, Plex can display thumbnails to give you a better idea of where you are in the video. Plex leaves this off by default since it places an burden on your server’s CPU and requires on-going allocation of storage space.
Go to Settings – Server – Library and choose whether to create thumbnails whenever a video is added or on a regular schedule.
- Note: You can enable/disable this setting according to library. If you have a library of short YouTube videos, for example, you may not want thumbnails. Just go into that library’s Advanced settings and uncheck the thumbnails option.
You can create a more theatrical experience when you watch movies by having Plex play trailers before your movie starts.
Do you want to see trailers for movies you’ve seen already? Or just movies that aren’t already in your library? Navigate to Settings – Server – Extras to decide how trailers appear. (Optionally, you can also go to Settings – Web – Extras to enable trailer playback in the Plex Web App.)
All Plex users can add trailers manually. Just follow the folder and file naming rules described in tip #1 above, then enable the Local Media Assets agent in Settings – Server – Agents and then refresh your library.
How to automatically download trailers
Plex Pass members get access to automatic trailer downloads and other cool movie extras. You can activate that benefit in the Settings – Server – Agents section by clicking the Movies tab, the Plex Movies sub tab and then the gear next to the Plex Movie agent. That opens another setting screen where you can tell Plex to find trailers and extras automatically.
Plex will now download extras (if they exist) whenever you add a new movie to your libraries. To download extras for existing content, refresh individual movies or entire libraries to force Plex to download the extras.
Create Better Playlists
If you have a large music collection – or if you forgot to put podcasts and other non-music files into a separate folder – you will want to create playlists for a better listening experience.
Custom filters and smart playlists
Creating a standard playlist is straight forward – just find the audio track you want to add and select the add-to-playlist icon. However, the way Plex implements smart playlists is a little more involved.
The Plex Web App lets you create multi-layered custom filters to narrow down the tracks you want to put into a playlist. Click on the first drop down (it probably says All) and choose Custom filter… at the bottom of the list. Each line item lets you include or exclude by metadata field until you get the track list you’re looking for.
The playlist you create will always use that combination of filters so tracks you add to your library in the future will always get included.
- Tip: Note my use of the word “always” here. You can’t edit the filter options once you save the playlist. If your criteria changes, you must delete the old playlist and create a new one.
Here’s another cool but often overlooked playlist feature: you can create video playlists as well. Let’s say you’ve downloaded videos from a web series. A playlist gives you the ability to play the videos without the hassle of merging them into a single file.
Plex Pass playlists
Members of Plex Pass get to access special music playlists as part of the Premium Music Libraries feature. Tell Plex that you like a song, and it plays a Plex Mix of similar tracks. The enhanced metadata provided by Plex Pass includes mood info for each track. Using the filter, you can identify all of the Cheerful, Dreamy, or Bittersweet tracks in your library.
Speed Up Your Plex Media Server
If you installed your Plex Media Server on a network attached storage device or an old computer, an underpowered CPU could undermine your video experience. It struggles because Plex must convert your audio and video files into formats your devices can use before it can play them. Video files in particular have complicated combinations of audio formats, video formats, captioning and other variables. Not all devices support all of the possible combinations.
Related: How to Install Plex on a Raspberry Pi – Raspberry Pi Plex Server
The Plex Media Server must convert the video on-the-fly into a format that your Plex app knows how to play. This transcoding process puts a huge burden on the server’s CPU – a burden less powerful processors can’t always handle.
If you’re experiencing video playback issues, then these tweaks should help you get the most out of Plex video streaming.
Plex Media Optimizer
The Plex Media Optimizer evaluates the capabilities of all the devices you connect to the Plex Media Server. It then saves optimized versions of your files into your libraries. Your storage device might take a hit since you will have multiple versions of each video. On the other hand, your devices know how to play the new files and can stream them directly.
Navigate to the file you want to optimize or use filters to create a list of files. Then select the Optimize option in the … menu.
- Tip: Optionally, you could tell the Plex Media Optimizer to convert all of the files in a library– but you need a lot of storage space to pull it off.
Share Your Content with Friends
The power of Plex lies in its ability to share media files with anyone in your household as well as with friends and family.
Related: Plex Vs Kodi – Which is the best media server/media player?
Add people to your Plex network by going to Settings – Users – Friends. Send invitations to friends and family who have Plex IDs and they will have instant access to your Plex Media Server. (If they don’t have a Plex ID, they can register for a free Plex account.)
Since you may not be equally friendly with all your friends, you can edit each friend’s profile. You can restrict their access to certain libraries, give them remote access and block them from adding Channels. Premium subscribers have even more control of the features Friends can access.
Fine Tune Plex Permissions
Plex Home is another exclusive feature for premium-level subscribers. The primary Plx Home account holder can create up to fifteen managed users and grant them access to everything on the network or just specific libraries. Parents, for example, can create managed user accounts for their kids to limit which devices and libraries the kids can access.
Each app can switch quickly between managed users as the person who controls the living room TV changes. PIN codes provide an extra level of privacy and security, especially for parents. Best of all, each managed user has access to the primary account holder’s Plex Pass benefits – even if they don’t have their own subscription.
Set up Remote Access
Turn your Plex Media Server into your own personal streaming service by activating Plex’s remote access features. Your mobile devices will create a secure, encrypted connection with your Plex networks and will provide constant access to your media libraries.
With Plex remote access enabled, you won’t have to worry about geo-restrictions. Unlike Netflix, no matter where in the world you travel you can stream your movies the way you want.
Navigate to Settings – Server – Remote Access and tell Plex to enable the remote access system. The server will try to set everything up for you. With remote access on, you can connect your devices to the Plex Media Server from a coffee shop, from work or even from the beach.
Managing bandwidth caps
Plex Pass members get more control over the remote access system. A big bonus is the ability to adjust the bitrate of streaming video. This could reduce the burden on your Plex Media Server and help avoid hitting the bandwidth caps set by both your internet service provider and your wireless carrier.
Get More Content with Channels
Plex lets you extend its features by adding Channels to bring even more internet-based content into the Plex interface. Members of the extended Plex community develop Channels to address gaps they see in Plex’s core features. They then share the Channels with all Plex users free of charge.
Plex provides a directory of Channels that will get you started with the least amount of worry and fuss.
The Plex team sets criteria for getting into its Channel Directory that limit content to only the most stable Channels. There must be enough developers working on the project to ensure the Channel gets updated on a regular basis. Plex also insists that the content the Channel distributes must be legally obtained and does not contain obscene content.
Select the Channels option on the Web App’s home screen and then click the Install Channels button. You will see a list of the available channels that you can filter by category. Install the Channels you like, and they will show up in the Channels section. The Plex Media Server will automatically check for updates to ensure the Channel experience remains stable.
Get Even More Channels with the Unsupported App Store
Not every Channel can make it into the Plex Channel Directory. That doesn’t mean their developers are doing anything illegal. It could just be that a one-person development team doesn’t always get updates out on time.
The Unsupported App Store is the main source for these enthusiast Channels. But because it is unsupported you must manually load the software needed to get it working:
- Download Webtools
- Unzip the webtools.bundle.zip file
- Copy the resulting folder into the Plex Media Server’s plug-in directory
- Wait a few minutes or restart the server
You can find more detailed instructions and troubleshooting advice in the Plex user forum.
Integrate with Other Smart Devices
New developments let you extend your media network’s reach beyond the Plex ecosystem.
If yours is an Amazon Echo household (US and UK only), then you can ask Alexa to talk to your Plex. This gives you hands-free control over media playback as well as recommendations.
You must enable remote access (see above) to get Alexa integration working. Next turn on Alexa’s Plex skill and link it to your Plex account. After that, it’s a simple matter of telling Alexa to connect to your Plex Media Server and activating a Plex app on one of your devices.
Plex webhooks let more advanced Plex Pass members take a more DIY approach to automation.
If phrases like “webhooks are processed by posting a JSON payload to the configured URL” leave you baffled, webhooks aren’t for you. With a little coding, however, you can make Plex events like play or pause trigger actions that make your media consumption more productive or entertaining.
For example, people have figured out how to control Phillips Hue lights to dim or change colors in response to what happens in Plex. Others use notifications to build logs of their household media consumption patterns. Plex provides sample projects to help you get started.
Get the Most Out of Plex
You can certainly keep things simple by treating Plex as a much-needed replacement for iTunes. But with a little digging into its settings, you can transform your Plex Media Center and really get the most out of Plex.
Chris Casper is a former tech industry product manager who escaped from California for New Mexico. Now he writes about science and tech while searching for the perfect green chile sauce.