Plex Media Center
April 29, 2009 5:34 AM   Subscribe

Plex Media Center
A very versatile open source media center for OS X, that allows even non-technical users to manage and play almost any kind of content (videos, music and photos) on their computer or TV. It supports most remote controls right out of the box. It can gather and stream content from wide range of places : local disk, any networked Mac or Windows box via SMB or FTP, any existing iTunes library, UPnP, and ReplayTV. Plex also has the ability to automatically associate meta-data from places like imdb.com with your existing content. The unique thing about Plex is our App Store. The App Store is a (free) repository of plug-ins that allows anybody who knows a little bit of Python to write apps for displaying any kind of media. We introduced the App Store concept just 2 months ago, and the Plex team and its community contributors have already created over 50 plug-ins. An example of a few of them would be Academic Earth, BBC, CNN, Comedy Central, Cobert Report, Hulu, Joost, MTV, NBC, NetFlix, NPR, Pitchfork TV, TED Talks, Tivo, and Youtube for video. We support plug-ins for audio as well like Pandora and NPR. We also have photoblogs and image sources and we have plug-ins for Aperture Priority, Chromasia, xkcd and more. While Plex can run on any Intel Leopoard Mac box, most of our users have gone with a Mac Mini directly connected to their televisions.

A not so brief project history for those who are interested, or skip to the last paragraph if you just want to just read the important stuff :

The project was started about 16 months ago. The original four person team decided that the Mac Mini would make an excellent HTPC (Home Theater PC). Many of us had already built a Windows or Linux based Media Center. The problem we continually ran into was while you could get a cheap and small x86 platform to hook up to your TV, by the time you added everything required (wireless, IR remote control support) the result would end up being a tangle of USB based add-ons and not much less expensive that the Mac Mini. The Mac Mini is small, has built-in Wireless LAN, Bluetooth, DVD drive, an IR port in the front, and they are nearly silent (most of my previous white box HTPC efforts usually had to have the fans replaced, the CPU under-clocked, and other mods in attempt to keep the noise down.)

The next issue we ran into was the software. There are many great media players for OS X, VLC, MPlayer, Quicktime + Perian, etc. However, they are not "media centers", no easy to navigate content, see metadata, etc. Apple's Front Row was probably the closest thing to a usable media center for OS X, and had the benefit of supporting a remote control and being dead simple. The downside to Front Row is it doesn't play content from anywhere other than iTunes or the iTunes store. The group was familiar with XBMC (XBox Media Center) and in our opinion it was the best Media Center software bar none. The problem with XBMC is that at the time it really only ran on first generation hacked XBoxes. There was already a team working on porting XBMC to Linux as the original XBox platform was no longer being made, and I think people were looking forward to being able to run XBMC on a platform that didn't need to be hacked. Additionally, this would allow XBMC to run on platforms many times more powerful than the original XBox (this is especially important as more and more content is HD, a Mac Mini running Plex can play 1080p). The face and primary developer of Plex, Elan, started porting the Linux port of XBMC to OS X. He made very quick progress and we had a usable version of XBMC on OS X inside of 3 months. In the beginning the core Plex team joined on the XBMC team as the OS X platform developers. It became clear quickly that the XBMC team and the Plex team had very different goals, the Plex team really wanted to focus on making this more like an OS X app (where the XBMC team, understandably, wanted XBMC to be very consistent across platforms) and we had a few other ideas that didn't really fit with the direction the XBMC team wanted to go. The Plex team decided to fork from the XBMC team, who we will forever be indebted to and still occasionally trade code with. (Around the same time commercial entity also announced a product based on XBMC and our OS X port, Boxee. Boxee and Plex have since been engaged in a friendly race for the best features and usability. A race both products have benefited from.) At the time of the fork we were calling ourselves OSXBMC and I posted a Ask.Mefi to try to come up with a name. There were a lot of great suggestions, but we ended up deciding on a Plex a few days later. Last summer, we started working on the Plex Media Server, the engine that the XMBC-based Plex client communicates with and the framework for our plug-in model.

Why am I announcing this project after it has been around for 16 months and mentioned on Ask.Mefi a few times already? The real end goal for the team in the last 6 months has been the easily extended Plex Media Server. This article does a good job of describing what the App Store is. For developers, the App Store plug-in model is very straight forward, many plug-ins only take a day or two to work. For the end users, this server is basically invisible, just looks like a collection of content feeds that are downloaded and installed in one click. Simple enough that one of the team member's four year old daughter is able to watch her favorite movies and TV shows using their harmony remote control by scrolling through the automatically imported DVD cover, or fan art. While Plex is very simple for everyday use, the set up can be a little complex, I would encourage first time users to watch the included help videos. Some other resources : Plex Home, videos of Plex in action, Elan's Blog, the Plex forums, on Engadget, and Gizmodo.

** My apologies for the "Pepsi Blueness" of all of this. We're very excited about how well the App Store concept is being received by existing Plex users, and definitely would like to get some more Metafilter users to check it out. I'm hoping the fact that it's free and posted to projects makes this all a little easier to stomach.
posted by ill3 (3 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

I've been using this for several days now and I like it. Still a bot confused by the navigation, however. Is there an easier way to navigate back a menu rather than hitting the escape key? Also, is there way to use it with my iMac's remote?
posted by mds35 at 9:52 AM on April 29, 2009


Delete usually works to move up a directory as well, also all the key mappings can be changed.

Yes it will work with the mac remote, make sure you have selected the apple remote in preferences input devices. More info on the apple remote here.
posted by ill3 at 7:26 PM on April 29, 2009


Every time I see this, I get excited. But, then I figure out that it doesn't work on 10.4.
posted by philomathoholic at 8:14 PM on May 23, 2009


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