Plex Software Review: Cut The Cord And A Whole Lot More

Mark Vena

Judging by the huge response that I got to my AirTV review several weeks ago, there’s no question that a lot of mainstream consumers are chomping at the bit for products and solutions that allow them to sever their relationship with their cable and satellite companies. AirTV is one great way to access local Over-The-Air (OTA) channels for free, giving users the ability to stream content throughout the home and to their mobile devices on-the-go. Today, however, I wanted to take a look at Plex—a Bay Area startup which utilizes an ambitious software-based approach to capture OTA channels, stream them to various devices, and a whole lot more.

For several years, Plex’s Media Server software has gained popularity by allowing you to organize literally every type of media file (videos, music and photos) that you have on your home computer, in the cloud, and/or on external drives, and stream it to just about any other type of client device, including gaming consoles. In a nutshell, you can stream all of your media anywhere you go and on all the devices that you use.

How does cord cutting play into this? Well, the Plex Media Server software also allows you to integrate an external TV tuner (connected to an antenna) so that you can access your live OTA TV channels.  While this review will focus mostly on the OTA TV channel capability, the Plex solution is essentially a home entertainment “server” on steroids, with capabilities well beyond AirTV’s focused ability to capture and stream live OTA TV channels.

How does Plex work?

The Plex product consists of two software apps: the Plex Media Server app, is downloaded to your Windows or Mac, and organizes your media across your home network. The “basic” version is free and allows you to, among other things, stream your photos, videos and music to just about any device you can think of—Amazon Fire TV, AppleAAPL +1.71% TV, Roku, Google GOOGL +1.64% Chromecast, Android, TiVo, Windows PCs, Macs, Android/iOS phones and tablets, and more.

The basic free version has another handful of capabilities that I won’t go into, but Plex’s premium paid version is where the rubber really meets the road. Called Plex Pass and priced at $5 per month (or $40 annually), the premium version allows you to watch live TV with the purchase of an external TV tuner and an antenna. What’s more, the premium version includes Plex DVR, which allows you to record broadcast TV channels to your PC or Mac so that you can stream recorded content anywhere in the world with a Plex-enabled client device. Additionally, the Plex Pass subscription offers robust program guide support (based on your zip code) so you know which program content is being broadcasted in your area. An added bonus—the guide also details show and series descriptions, so you know exactly what you’re getting into.

Another very cool feature—just like a cable or satellite-based DVR, Plex’s live TV functionality offers “time shifting” capability, with play, pause, rewind and fast-forward controls. This allows users the option to replay critical moments in a TV program (or duck out for a bathroom break). Keep in mind, though, that this recording capability is limited to your OTA channels.