In the world of media servers/players, Kodi and Plex are probably the most well-known products. Both serve a similar purpose: to bring content to your TV. They also both share a common lineage and some elements of Plex were derived from XBMC (the ancestor of Kodi) almost 10 years ago. But the similarity pretty much ends there and, as you’ll see, they are two very different beasts. In this article we do a head-to-head Plex Vs. Kodi comparison to help you understand what you need for your media management needs.
But the real question one usually asks is “Which one is the best?” Well, this is a complicated matter and there might not be just one answer. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, its pros and its cons. We’ll try to sort them all out so you can figure which one is the best… for you.
A bit of history
Before we begin comparing these two great products, let’s see where they’re coming from. Kodi started as the Xbox Media Center (XBMC) back in 2004.
It was then an open-source software that ran exclusively on a modified first-generation Xbox game console and allowed users to watch movies and listen to music on their TV. Through successive releases, it evolved into a cross-platform software that eventually ran on Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android and a handful of other operating systems and hardware platforms (including, for example, the Raspberry Pi) and support for the Xbox platform was eventually abandoned. In 2014, with the release of version 14, XBMC was renamed Kodi.
As for Plex, it started as a derivative of XBMC in 2007. The initial goal of its developer was to port XMBC to more powerful hardware than what was supported by XBMC. Due to different goals and vision, the team eventually split and Plex became a product of its own. It is that different vision that caused Plex to evolve into a uniquely different product. Today, Plex and Kodi are much more different than they are alike.
Two very different products
With about ten years of separate development, Kodi and Plex have grown to be very different. And while their purpose might be the same, the way they accomplish it is not. The main difference is that while Kodi is a media player, Plex is both a media player and server. Another difference is the way your content is brought to your TV. Kodi runs on a device (computer or other) connected to your TV. It can play content locally (stored directly on the connected device) or get content from a remote source through the local network or the internet (for example, scraping websites for different kinds of video streams). Plex, on the other hand, has a server component that runs on a computer and communicates with other devices via the Plex app. Some recent smart TVs even have the Plex app built-in.
Some other important differences include their visual customization options, the number of available add-ons, the way video format conversions are done and the possibility to stream content to other devices anywhere, even on the Internet. The table below lists the main differences.
|User Interface Look and feel||Highly customizable||Limited customization|
|Format conversions||On the client||On the server|
|Client-side supported hardware||Lots of hardware supported||Even more hardware supported|
|Extensions available||Lots of them||Limited number|
|Cost||Totally free||Free server, paid client ($5) and options|
|Accessing content from other devices/locations||Difficult||Easy|
With so many differences, let’s go into more details on each product. We shall then be in a better position to figure which one is the best.
Kodi in a nutshell
Kodi is an open-source media center application. It will run on a vast array of hardware platforms including computers of all kinds, TV set-top boxes and hand-held devices. It is one of the most popular and feature-rich media center software you can find. It allows you to consolidate all your media — videos, music, photos and more — and access them through a customizable interface. Kodi is totally free and easy to install. And it even comes pre-installed on some set-top boxes.
One of the biggest strengths of Kodi is probably its huge base of third-party extensions—Kodi calls them add-ons—giving you access to tons of streaming content from all over the world. There are add-ons for virtually any type of content you can think of. Chances are that if something can be watched over the Internet, an add-on exists to watch it within Kodi.
For example, one of the most popular Kodi add-ons is USTVNow which allows you to watch live TV from several major US networks. It’s only available in the US but that restriction can be avoided by using a VPN. The FilmOn TV add-on is another popular one. It is similar to USTVNow but offers mostly content from the UK. Also, it is not restricted to any location and it can be accessed from everywhere. Quite popular is also the YouTube add-on that will allow you to watch content from YouTube on your TV.
Recommended Reading: The Ultimate Kodi Guide: Addons, Builds, and Kodi Tips and Tricks
Note: If you are planning on streaming content from add-ons that are not found in the official Kodi repository (aka addons that stream content from questionable sources), we recommend using a VPN.
Recommended Reading: Why do I need a VPN for Kodi?
Many add-ons are installed directly from the official Kodi add-on repository. If you want even more choice, there are several “unofficial” add-on repositories. What you find in these might not always be legal, though, whereas all add-ons from the official Kodi repository are. Also, the installation and configuration of these repositories and add-ons might require a bit more work.
Where Kodi also shines is in the way it organizes and presents your media collection. It will scan different sources (local storage, remote computer or server, etc.), consolidate all content in its local library and present it in an easy-to-use, highly customizable, 10-feet user interface. It will also pull information about your content from the internet, adding meta information such as episode titles, cover art, credits and summaries to its library for an even better content browsing experience. Your content is easily viewed and managed right from the user interface.
And talking about the user interface, its look and feel are highly customizable, thanks to downloadable skins. And with Kodi being an open-source project, there are tons of skins for you to choose from, created by a plethora of different developers.
What about Plex?
Plex is a two-component system. First, there is the Plex server. It runs on your computer and just like Kodi, it will organize your media, fetch information about it from the Internet, and store it in its library, on the server. The second component is the Plex App. This is an application running on a device attached to your TV that communicates with the Plex server. Most everything happens on the server. The Plex server will take your content, and convert it on the fly into a format that can be easily played by your client device. All the Plex App does is to take content from the Plex server and display it on your TV screen.
The look and feel of the Plex user interface are not as customizable as Kodi’s and will differ somewhat based on what Plex App you’re using, but it’s generally just as usable and pretty. You just have fewer options and less flexibility.
Plex is not open-source. It is proprietary software that has been released as “Freemium” software. That means that while the server software is available for free, you must pay for “premium” features. We’ll get to this in more details a little later. Not being open source also means that there are not as many extensions—which Plex calls channels—available, at least not officially. There is an Unsupported App Store for Plex which will give you access to many extra channels. It is comparable with Kodi’s “unofficial” scene.
Some of Plex’s most popular channels include TV Land which allows you to view full episodes of several TV shows from TV land. It is accessible only from the US so if you are somewhere else, you’ll need a VPN. Also quite popular, especially in Canada, is the CBC channel which offers content from… the CBC. And just like there is a YouTube add-on for Kodi, there is a YouTube channel for Plex with similar functionality.
The Plex server can run on Windows, Mac or Linux PC. In addition, it is available for some NAS (Network Attached Storage) boxes and for the Netgear Nighthawk X10 Wireless router. There is also a Plex Cloud option that does not require a local server. It will run in the cloud (on Plex’s own servers) and pull your content from your Google Drive, Dropbox or OneDrive accounts. It is one of those “premium” services that does require a payment, though.
As for the Plex App, it is available on way too many devices to list them all here. This is probably the biggest advantage of Plex. Since the server is doing all the hard work or decoding the video, the client can have limited power and still do a great job. There’s a Plex App for many smart TVs, for most mainstream game consoles, for all the popular streaming devices, for mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) and for computers. Some of the Apps are available for free while some others, such as the mobile Apps will require a (small) payment.
There is also the Plex Pass premium service that will add features to your Plex server and include app installs for all your devices. Among the interesting features of that premium service are the Plex Cloud server less setup mentioned earlier, and a new PVR and live TV feature that allows you to watch and record broadcast TV (using an Antenna and TV tuner).
Another cool feature of Plex is its ability to stream content to a Plex App anywhere, as long as it’s connected to the Internet. You’re not limited to the confines of your home to watch content. Just keep in mind that there might be hidden costs (bandwidth usage) associated with doing that, though. It’s probably not something you’ll want to do on your phone over the cellular data connection.
So, which one is the best?
This brings us back to our initial question: Which of Kodi and Plex is the best media server/player. Well, it all depends on what you want to do.
For sharing media between your devices: Plex
If all you want is to play content from your computer on your TV, go with the Plex server running on your computer with a Plex App on a TV-connected device.
You might already have a compatible device connected to your TV. If you own a recent PlayStation or Xbox, a Plex App is available for free and can be configured in minutes. If you own a recent Smart TV, a Plex App might already be included or available. Here again, it will only require some configuration. The free Plex App is also available on many streaming devices such as the Apple TV, Roku or Chromecast to name a few.
The big advantage of that setup is that it won’t cost you much, especially if you already own a compatible device that’s connected to your TV. Another big advantage is having the ability to stream any kind of content to multiple devices in your house at the same time. You could even start watching something on one device and finish it on another.
For streaming movies and TV shows over the internet:
On the other hand, if you want to take advantage of the huge number of add-ons to watch movies, TV shows, and live sports from third-party websites, or you absolutely want to be able to customize the user interface, go with Kodi. However, it might end up costing you a bit more if you are looking to hook Kodi up to your TV. You’ll have to either connect your computer to your TV via HDMI, use a casting device like Chromecast, or hook your TV up to a set-top Android box like the Amazon Fire TV, Nvidia Shield TV, or Matricom G-Box Q2. Some even come with Kodi preinstalled.
Recommended Reading: Best Kodi TV Boxes of 2017
They are widely available at a very reasonable cost ($50-$200), and many will include a decent remote control for a better user experience. If you want to go the computer-attached TV route, I strongly recommend you get yourself a remote control. It will make the user experience much better as the Kodi interface was designed to be remote-controlled.
Recommended Reading: Best Kodi Remotes and Keyboards 2017
What if you could get the best of both worlds?
As we’ve seen, both Kodi and Plex have great features. So, what if you want to benefit from the features of both? Given the low cost of either solution and the fact that the Plex App will run on so many different devices, why not just use both? You’ll get the large Kodi add-on base to watch all sorts of streaming content and Plex’s advanced features to watch local content or live TV on any device anywhere.
The easy route would be to use some Android set-top box with both Kodi and the Plex App installed. You start one or the other depending on whether you want to watch streaming content on Kodi or local or live content from your Plex server. And to make that even simpler, there is now a Plex App for Kodi. It installs as a Kodi add-on and will allow you to access your Plex content right from within Kodi. No need to switch back and forth between apps. However, it is currently only available as a preview to premium Plex Pass subscribers.
With so many great features in each product, it’s hard to find a clear winner here. They are both two equally good options in terms of quality and performance. Selecting one all depend on what your needs are. If what you want is to watch your local content with a simple and cheap setup, go with Plex. On the other hand, if you want to take advantage of its impressive selection of add-ons to view all sorts of content (and you probably do, even if you might not know it yet), then go with Kodi.