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A look at Plex Media Server

I still love Media Browser, I just want to throw that out there.  However, reality tells me that I must have options.  Microsoft has made it obvious that Media Center is no longer considered an integral part of their operating system when they decided to make it a paid option for Windows 8.  All this tells me is that they are trying to ween us all off of it – plain and simple.  So, fact is, when it goes, Media Browser goes and thus, your supernatural supreme being of choice will have spited thousands of precious kittens.  What lies in the aftermath?

For the longest time, I have tried to get a grasp of XBMC to make it out of the Media Center apocalypse.  Unfortunately for me, it only wanted me to start an apocalypse of my own.  I just could never get it the way I wanted it.  It refuses to become my bitch…what’s a guy to do?  Then I came across something that made angels sing – Plex.  I gave it a quick go nearly a year ago and was really impressed.  What made me run was that it didn’t have any agents to pull in any local metadata that I already had – major bummer.

Well, not long ago, this guy, took some code that someone else wrote and made it work for Plex, bringing glorious .nfo support to Plex!  This was terrific, except it didn’t work all the way for me when I tried it roughly six months ago.  Occasionally I would check back to see what progress was made and yesterday angels sang.  It appeared the only thing holding me back before, the TV .nfo importer, was finally working well enough to give Plex another go.  Off to download and install I went…

The first thing that needs to be done for us Windows users is to grab the Plex Media Server for Windows.  Installing it is a simple process and I won’t show any screens for that since I already have too much to write about.  It looks like just about anything else you install anyway.  Just for reference, my Plex Media Server is going to be running on Windows Server 2008 R2 x64 with a C2D E660 and 4GB of memory.  Once it is installed, there will be a check mark for starting once finished.  You want to do this since Plex must be started in order to create some additional directories and files needed for operation – primarily all the %APPDATA% stuff where plugins, cache, etc. are kept.  I was going to move this directory as I recalled, from experience, it gets REALLY BIG when you have a large collection.  So, let Plex run, then kill it using the right-click menu on the icon in your task bar (if you want to move the %APPDATA% directory for it, otherwise, skip the next part).

Next, I’m moving the data directory, so I have to find the following default location in Explorer:

C:\Users\<CurrentUser>\AppData\Local

In there, you’ll find a Plex Media Server directory (where <CurrentUser> is the username you are currently logged on under and installed Plex with).  Cut, then paste that directory to another location.  I chose a speedy 15K SAS drive that I have just for stuff like this.  The next thing we want to do is create a directory symlink for this new location so that Plex thinks that directory is still there, so open an command line with administrator privileges and perform the following command:

C:\>mklink /D “C:\Users\<CurrentUser>\AppData\Local\Plex Media Server” “X:\YourNewPathTo\Plex Media Server”

Of course, replace all of the above with valid stuff or you will perform fail.  The quotes are also necessary since there are spaces in the directory name.  Anyway, you should see the following if all is well:

PMS symlink Symlink to new directory location

Now that that’s out of the way, we need to install our XBMC .nfo agents.  There are two – one for TV and one for movies.  In order to get the latest commit for each, go directly to these respective links:

  • For XBMC TV .nfo Importer go here.  Choose the zip download and note the save location.
  • For XBMC Movie .nfo Importer go here.  Again, choose the zip download and where you saved it.

Now, browse to where you saved your zips and extract both.  What we are looking for are the following two directories (one for each respective plugin):

Agent bundles XBMC .nfo agent bundles

Cut/copy these two bundle directories and then browse to your Plex Media Server directory (either default location or to the symlinked location).  Paste them into the Plug-ins directory (yes I know the path in the image below is different than the symlink example…two different systems were used for demonstration purposes).

Plug-ins directory Agents go into the Plug-ins directory

Launch the Media Manager Launch!

Cool, now we’re ready to see them at work, so go into your Start/Programs menu and launch the Plex Media Server.  Upon launch, you’ll find it in your task bar where you’re going to want to right-click and choose the Media Manager from the menu…or just double-click the icon.  This will launch the Media Manager in your default browser.  Plex recommends Google Chrome for this and I do too.  Firefox is fine also, but do try to avoid IE for it.  You can use IE all you want, but Chrome just seems to operate better with Plex Media Manager.  Regardless of which you choose, set it as your default browser so it opens when you launch the Media Manager.

Plex Media Manager Plex Media Manager

The default Media Manager is ready for you to start adding media locations to it.  Note that Plex includes five default media location types – Movies, TV Shows, Photos, Home Movies, and Music.  Each media location type has default metadata agents assigned, so if you’re media is all mixed up it’s probably not going to work correctly.  I honestly don’t know what will happen as I organized mine by type some time ago when I was prepping for XBMC use.  For demonstration purposes, I’m going to add two media locations that are commonly used – one for TV and one for movies.  This will best show off the new XBMC .nfo agents we just installed also.

Add media location New media location

So, first, lets click on TV Shows and add a location containing  TV show media.  I’m not going to get into directory structures and/or naming conventions supported…you can visit the Plex site for that.  Mine is setup in a manner that XBMC supported with metadata and images that were generated using the best metadata manager on the planet – meta<browser />.  Your mileage may vary depending on your setup, but this is what I have and what I’m working with.  The TV Shows location box for adding directories will pop up.  You can rename this location to whatever you like as you can add multiple media sections for every type.  I’m going to rename this one Documentary Series as I’m adding only a small library to start with.

Select media path Path

Now we need to add the actual directories to this new section.  Click the Add button and you will get to select your path(s).  If it’s a local directory, browse for it using the browe functions available.  For me, I have to choose the Manual Entry button since my media is on my unRAID NAS.

Manual entry Manual

Unfortunately, for manual entry, it really is manual entry.  You will need to correctly type in the path to your chose media location or it will fail to find it.  Not a big deal, but it would be nice to be able to browse to networked locations.  A minor inconvenience.

Agent selectionWhen your locations are chose and entered successfully in the Media folders: box, click the Advanced… button to configure metadata agent settings for it – this will drop down a few selectors for, Media Scanner, Primary metadata agent, and Language.  The one we are interested in is the Primary metadata agent:.  Click on the selector for this to get the available options and you should see theXBMC TV .nfo Importer listed.  Select this option.

Scan and fetch Scan and fetch

Now that everything is set, click the Add Section button to enter it into the Plex Media Server.  Right before your eyes you should start seeing a skeleton of your media from the location selected start to populate within the browser.  Once all detected media has rolled in, the fetching of metadata and images will take place and update the placeholders for your titles.  When complete, you will receive a task bar notification of your completed library scan.

Season level Season level

To make sure everything was fetched correctly, let’s take a look at one of the titles and see what it looks like.  For The Universe, I just double click the series poster and I dive down into the season level where I can see all five seasons I have, plus the series description.  At the very bottom, I have options to fix an incorrect match, change artwork, or edit the metadata.

Episode level Episode level

Let’s go down further and take a look at things at the episode level and then we’ll take a quick, but closer look at the editing capability.  Double-clicking again on any season will drive us down to see what’s contained in there, so let’s look at Season 2.  As you can see, I have episode thumbnails, episode names, episode descriptions, and even rich codec information.  All of this is provided by local metadata stored with each series, so depending on what you provide, it may be different for you.

Also note at the bottom of the episode level screen, you’ll see the same editing buttons as before.  Let’s take a look at these now and see what they provide.  For Fix incorrect match, we can change just about anything from the series to the individual episode, if our metadata is incorrect.  Since mine is all local, I pretty much know that it is correct, but we’ll look anyway.  The first option gives us an automated match, but mine is blank due to the localized metadata agent I am using.  If I select the Custom Search button, I can select other provider agents.

Fix match Fix it

Custom search Custom

Edit metadata Edit

For editing metadata, we are given a pretty decent edit screen when a title is selected (double-click an episode) and the Edit Metadata button is clicked.  As you can see, the most common fields are present and each individual field can be locked so that they are not overwritten…allowing unlocked fields to be updated later.  Pretty nice!

Change art Change art

Finally, we have the Change Artwork button, which allows us to change respective art, depending on what  we have selected.  In this case, I have an episode selected, so by hitting the button for the episode, I can select available thumbnails to choose from.

Movie media Movie media

So, that’s it for bringing some series-based media into the Plex Media Server…let’s now take a look at movies.  Movies are done exactly the same way, except we’re going to choose the Movies library option from the Home screen this time.  I’m not going to repeat screens here since they are identical…the only change will be the agent I’m using.  In this case, I will be opting for the XBMC .nfo Importer as the metadata agent.  Upon adding this section, it will start scanning for media and then subsequently fetch the local metadata and art for each title.

Collections Collections

Almost forgot one final feature that really makes a difference for me – the ability to add collections.  A collection could probably be described as a box set, for example.  All you have to do is select a title, right-click it and go to Collections in the menu.  If you have no collections set, there will be an option to create a new one…all you have to do after that is add your other titles to the new collection.  Perfect for creating box sets or other types of sets.

So, that’s it for now in getting started with Plex Media Server.  I’ll follow this article up with setting up the Plex Media Center to access it and we’ll get to see the fruits of our labors in action.  Check back soon for the continuation!

commentscomments

  1. Andrew says:

    That’s fantastic that Plex has gotten to the point for you to consider it. I’m really a big fan! The only “gotchas” for me now, are I’d love the HD-audio format support (like XBMC/MediaBrowser can do) and with the way WMC is going, I’m going to have to look for an alternative solution for whole-home live tv/pvr.

  2. tylordurton says:

    I am also using Plex (still a mediabrowser fan but agree it wont be around forever)… Finding PLex really good, it handles my HD files a lot better while using the asrock nettop.

    Would be even better if someone would create a favourites option and the ability to play intros.

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