Plex Vs XBMC


#1

I’m currently in the XBMC camp myself, I started with a modded Xbox (the original) back in the day, then upgraded to a gen 1 Apple TV hacked to run XBMC. I’ve tried a whole bunch of different media playback devices (Popcorn Hour, WDTV, Android and a few others) and always find myself back running XBMC. The first Mac Mini with HDMI somewhat finished that search and I’ve been using a Mini ever since…

Over the years their have been minor compatibility issues with different encoding formats or or strangeness caused by switching inputs on my receiver causing the Mini to do odd things with resolution or whatnot. This (coupled with me being a tinkerer) has seen me using the nightly builds of XBMC up until the latest stable release which now appears to actually be stable and things are working well.

I’ve also grabbed an android based little hardware thing that runs XBMC for the bedroom which gives me pretty much everything I know and love (even if the remote sucks balls).

I’m not really using any of the fancy library functions, rather just looking at a list of files (which it neatly overlays with metadata like album art and episode information). The library usually ends up a little messy with duplicates for no apparent reason. Also the issue of moving between devices means I don’t know that is marked as watched (or not) on the other players in the house.

At this point it’s also worth mentioning that all my media is stored on a NAS device with all devices connected via gigabit ethernet.

I’ve tried running Plex Server directly on my NAS directly as well as on a Mac Mini, then using my Samsung smart tv’s Plex app for playback or even the PS3. In either case the experience was less than good.
Transcoding tends to kill the fast forward/rewind functions and even straight playback is a little squiffy when skipping through a video. That said, it does look pretty and does bring some extra integrations with things like YouTube (although I don’t use them too much they are nice to haves). Library management means that all devices would be in sync (although this is more a theory for me since I’ve only tried it on a single device).

I’m always on the look out for a new media player and keep reading about people using Plex. People seem to want to have it’s babies and based on my poor experience I can’t figure out why??! Is it any better directly running on a Mac Mini with is doing all playback duties rather than as a server?

So what do you run, on what hardware and why?

I’d love to have a central server with playback on a simple, low powered piece of hardware (the same little thing on different TV’s would be nice).

For those who aren’t familiar:

XBMC: http://xbmc.org/

Plex: https://plex.tv/


#2

I was where you are once upon a time. My objection to Plex was mostly to do with the media server - i.e why should I run a media server and a client, when I can just point XBMC at a directory and go?

I’ve since come down in favour of Plex - I check out XBMC now and then, but it just confirms my decision each time.

Reasons:

  1. One server, many clients. Once I had a single HTPC and files on a hard drive. Now I have a Mac mini HTPC, an Apple TV, a Chromecast, three iPads, two iPhones, a WP8 phone and an Android phone with all my files on a NAS. Plex lets me watch any of my stuff from anywhere and pick up where I left off.
  2. Lower barrier to entry. As you can see from the list above, adding more clients is as cheap as $50 for a Chromecast. Most of the grunt is needed at the media server level, so it’s simple to add more clients (or replace an existing one).
  3. It’s a company, not a project. There’s a Plex app for Samsung TVs, Kindle Fire TV, Roku boxes, Chromecasts and (hopefully soon) Xbox One. The fact that it’s not an open source project like XBMC seems to give it legitimacy in the eyes of manufacturers, which in turn gives me confidence that it’s going to stick around.
  4. XBMC is to Hackintosh as Plex is to Mac. It just works without me needing to hack around with lirc and alsa and all of that other stuff I had to fiddle with from time to time.

I have my N40L microserver running PMS, which isn’t the gruntiest thing around, and it handles 720p MKVs without a stutter over powerline ethernet. (Until recently I was using the Mac mini as both server and client, but it’s just a client now - which is overkill.)


#3

I’ve ran both XBMC and Plex at home and settled on Plex.

My current setup is a Plex Media Server running on an N40L and Plex Home Theater on a Mac Mini (like @tcn33).

I used to run the Plex app on a Google TV box (came free with my Sony TV) but the experience was poor, my guess is that the Samsung TV app is similar.

Given your setup, I’d either try:

  • Running both Plex Media Server + Home Theatre on the Mac Mini, seeing if that experience improves.
  • Run Server on the NAS and Home Theatre on the Mac Mini

#4

I too, have tried both Plex and XBMC and keep coming back to Plex.

I run Plex server, Sickbeard & CouchPotato on the MacMini which is plugged into my Panasonic Plasma over HDMI.

The Mini also runs the Plex home theatre app which is basically a fork of the XBMC interface. No transcoding required when playing. That said, when I use the Plex DLNA server or Chromecast I have zero performance issues even running high-bitrate 1080p files over Wifi.

I would suggest running the media server on something with some (moderate) guts if you intend to be running things needing transcoding and Chromecasts on the other screens you need.


#5

I’ve tried WD boxes and some DLNA clients but I’m happy in the Plex camp and will probably stay with it for a few more years at least.

As said above, clients are cheap because it’s either built in, a $5 app or a $50 chromecast at worst. Failing any of those options you can always just use the Web UI.

With a decent gigabit connection it’s pretty capable of streaming 1080p or if you’re streaming to multiple (WiFi) clients it can push 720p to two or three devices without needing to stop and buffer.


#6

I started with XBMC a while back (after seeing it on an Xbox ), and moved to Plex a while back.

I have it running (server and Home Theatre) on a mac mini, effectively headless, though plugging into a TV I rarely turn on. My media are on a QNAP, and the mini does not have a wired connection.

I have Plex HT installed on two other macs, one PC (all three wired connections), two iPads and one iPhone. Plex has improved over time. I have the odd hiccup and just restart the server.

I was considering looking at XBMC again as I have heard more praise of late.

I was also considering moving my Plex server (not sure if possible?) to a HP N40L (8GB RAM, and have a Radeon 7750 for it if required), more to do something with the N40 than anything else — been sitting here doing nothing for a year or more (considering selling it)


#7

I am also in the Plex camp, running PMS from a NAS.

I’ve tried a raft of players: WD Live, ATV (Plex Connect and iOS Airplay), XBOX 360, Telstra TBox, ChromeCast, Raspberry Pi (XBMC and Plex OS’s), iPads/iPhones as clients against Plex.

I can’t fault Plex, its pretty reliable and so versatile when it comes to the variety of clients I’ve run against it. I love the central management of metadata. The remote streaming is also killer and is actually quite watchable when tethered etc away from home. I’m currently considering getting the premium Plex pass to take advantage of the syncing features, cloud sync and camera sync.

Having a massive Aperture library (> 500GB) and low capacity iDevices, I’ve been experimenting with exposing this through Plex using the iPhoto/Aperture channels, it gives you a private cloud (locally hosted) that you can access remotely. This is a potential killer feature and there is definitely room for growth (think a local version of Everpix).

I ran XBMC for ages on the XBox original, and played around with the latest on the Raspberry Pi, I just prefer the Plex client and the richer experience you get with it over just DLNA.


#8

Plex user here.

For me, Plex means I can having it running on my headless MicroServer along with Deluge, SickBeard, and SabNZB+, and push out the media on that to iOS devices and Macs with a minimum of fuss.

My only problems is that my N36L MicroServer isn’t quite powerful enough for live transcoding duties, but that’s more of a hardware limitation rather than anything else. Doesn’t matter so much for me as I connect to it via SMB and watch content on my Mac that way, but it’s not really an option for iOS devices or other computers in the house.

I’ve never used XBMC, why would I want to over Plex?


#9

Something that I have always liked, point it at a directory and off you go. I’ve long said all I want is something that can show me a file list and let me press play… the nice part with XBMC is that it automagically overlays the metadata… which makes it’s pretty :stuck_out_tongue: In reality I’m pretty happy with XBMC, but I’m still very interested in looking at alternatives for no apparent reason other than I’m a tinkerer and like to do these things.

I find it very interesting that the responses have all advocated Plex, many have a NAS and many also run Sickbeard etc.

So “One Server, Many Clients” is largely covered by a NAS anyway. I do understand that if it’s just a file store you do need more grunt on the client side to do the decoding, but many NAS devices have enough grunt to give transcoding a decent go.

Which leads me to the “Low Barrier to Entry”… Recently I’ve tried an android based media player which runs XBMC like this: http://www.urbandigitalmedia.com.au/
Not quite as cheap as a Chromecast, but there are alternative versions which are cheaper. Bonus points for coming with an IR remote (even if it’s pretty ordinary) which I can program into my Logitech Harmony ecosystem.

“Company vs Project”. I’ll give you that, although XBMC has a long history and what feels like a large and dedicated base behind it I don’t see it going anywhere… That said, with Smart TV’s getting more and more powerful by the day it’s a shame you can’t get XBMC support built in to your shiny new Samsung TV like you can the Plex Software. These TV’s now have decent CPU’s and should handle just about all decoding on board.

With all the Plex love I’m even more encouraged to give it another go and see how I like it.

Since I recently replaced another one of my Mini’s with one of those Android devices and since I agree that media playback alone is just a waste for a Mini sucking down more power that it needs I’m eager to give it a go. So that machine is now free for testing the waters and setting up a Plex Server so I can run both side by side and see how I go. Also my NAS has a slight edge on yours (AMD Turion II Neo K625 vs Intel Atom D510) so I could use that as a Plex Server too… although while most of my content tops out at 720p, some is 1080 so I don’t want to run into a wall there. Of course using one of my Mini’s means I can also run OSX Server for it’s caching power as well as a few other things like being the central iTunes server for all my AirPlay speakers.

Plex connect means I could use an ATV3 (nice and low power) which also supports IR out of the box or possibly even the onboard Samsung Smart TV App. (I also assume my Android units can run Plex too).

Can anyone comment on fast forward and rewind performance on Plex?
Do you notice any crappyness with things that are transcoded on the fly?


#10

I don’t use rewind and fast forward, only left/right arrow (30 second skip) and up/down arrow (10 minute skip). I had a buffering problem initially but it turned out to be poor SMB performance so it went away when I moved to NFS instead.


#11

My underpowered N36L means fast-forward and rewind only works with files that don’t need transcoding. It’s the same server that means transcoded content is stuttery, when it didn’t used to be (nearly as bad, stutter-wise).

If you’re running it on anything more powerful than a 1.2GHz dual-core AMD, I don’t see why you would have issues with either.


#12

I’ll likely be using a 2.4GHz C2D (2010 Mac Mini) for the moment and if this ends up being something I move to full time then I’ll swap that out for the other Mac Mini I have which is i5 based.

The 30 second/10 minute skip is something I love on XBMC and I use far more than FF/RW, good to hear it works on Plex too.


#13

When I was running XBMC on my MacMini server ffwd and rwd performance was woeful. Not sure why, but it was terrible. It also had a problem where if you left it with a show paused for 30min or so when you resumed it’d just stutter audio/video. Not sure why, it’s on an i7 MacMini with 8gb RAM and latest version of OS X and XBMC and as it was all running locally there wasn’t any transcoding going on.

Went back to Plex and it runs flawlessly. I find the Plex iOS app okay if a little buggy. But certainly better than the XBMC one.


#14

Plex user here too with a Mac mini server and a dozen clients.

Something that keeps me distinctly in the Plex camp: syncing. Sure its with a PlexPass but it is totally worth it. Going on holiday? Pick your media in any Plex client or on the web app and it’ll transcode it down to the selected size and sync it to your device for offline playback. Ditto Plex Cloud Sync support; my dropbox account just appears as another media section or sync target and is available worldwide.

Also their media slinging support. Apple TV and Chromecast devices just appear as another target to stream to: pick your media + target from any client and it will instruct the PMS to transcode and broadcast it to the target directly.


#15

So the Plex server has finished scanning all the media, I’ve noticed a few errors, but it looks like it’s got it mostly correct. Given my pretty massive library it will take a while to check them all, but for testing purposes this is good enough for now.

Playing from the Plex App on my Mac seems to work pretty well, play back from Safari on my iPad Mini (retina) is pretty good too… Skipping back/forward works without issue and streaming multiple concurrent video’s over WiFi (wireless N) seems to work just fine.

The Samsung Smart TV is pretty crappy. It seems to stop and buffer relatively frequently. This is currently setup over WiFi too so some ethernet might solve that. I haven’t gotten to setting up the android jobbies with Plex yet to try them out but I suspect they will work just fine.

PS3 media browsing is woeful with a large library, I gave up on that pretty quickly.

The concept of being able to press stop downstairs and then continue upstairs without missing a beat is very attractive… but I’m not feeling any other real benefit over the XBMC setup I’m currently using.

It’s setup now so I can tinker some more…


#16

Got an Apple TV2 or 3? PlexConnect works extremely well!


#17

Might as well jump in on this one too - personally I’m rocking Plex.

*deep breath*

At home, we have 3 Mac minis, an iMac, 2 MacBook Pros, 5 iPads, 5 iPhones and 2 Apple TVs plus a “Smart” TV with UPNP.

All of them are able to access all of our media, mark what’s been watched and pick up from where another left off. Plus, iPhones work as a remote on any TV - never have to find the remote ever!

In terms of how it’s set up; we have a Mac mini with 2x 750gb hard drives in RAID 1, running 10.9 Server, Plex Media Server, plus it’s the machine connected to our main TV and Projector so it also runs Plex Home Theatre. We’re still converting family videos from cassette to digital, so we’re going to need more space pretty soon, but an external RAID box on the mini is my preferred method to go - just a matter of picking one.
The other Mac minis are on TVs. My sisters have Apple TVs in their rooms, which they stream from Plex Media Server to the Plex app on their iPhones or iPads (whichever is charged), then AirPlay it to their TVs.

Been rocking this setup since mid December and not a single complaint about it.

TL;DR: I use Plex and it works.


#18

Long time Plex user here.

Using a Mac mini on 10.9 as the server, with 5TB of drives in RAID5 in a N40L MicroServer as storage.
An ATV3 and PlexConnect as the front-end for the loungeroom.
An Android stick-PC thing as the front-end for the spare room (hardly ever gets used)
2x MacBook Airs
1x iPhone
2x Android devices (phone and tablet)
1x happy wife.


#19

A weekend later and I’m still not feeling the love. I grasp the concept of the shared library with meta data that allows you to pick things up from one room to the next, while nice, this isn’t functionality that I think I would use all that often. Hell I can’t recall the last time I actually turned on the TV in the bedroom (although maybe this is something that would change once the kids get a little bigger).

I don’t stream stuff from home through the internet on the run. I have tried AirVideo in the past other than a few one offs it was mainly used internally and very rarely at that. Data costs are just too high for me to seriously consider streaming vs loading stuff directly to a device. Again a pro in the Plex camp, but not something I currently use.

So around the house I have the Android devices running XBMC, and the Mac Mini sitting under the main TV (the only reason I haven’t swapped this out for an Android based device yet is that I far prefer the way the remote works over the Android units :stuck_out_tongue:.

As much as I want Plex to be something new for me to play with, I just don’t see the benefits over my current arrangements vs the changes I would have to make to get it to work acceptably… especially when the same hardware works so well with XBMC anyway.

On a side note, Kudos to the members here for for the nice way everyone has said they love one option without rubbishing the alternative.


#20

And as a separate post; one small issue I have found is the way that Plex seems to handle album artwork. It’s nice that it randomly pics a screenshot or artwork to display in the background when flicking between shares… except when you have inappropriate content.

It’s all well and good to classify for your porn collection as “Home Movies” so it doesn’t try and hunt up names for things, it’s possible to view it by folder so it’s sorted nicely rather than a screen of random videos… but it’s not so good when you flick past that folder than it flashes up pictures that your kids (or your mum) shouldn’t see!! It’s a shame you can’t lock a folder down or tell one particular folder not to show images/artwork or require a password/PIN to enter.

In my case I already have a miscellaneous folder where I save random things, like music videos, random doco’s, short films etc etc and a folder full of porn bloopers (which are the problem). Sure the simple solution is to delete/move this one subfolder, but is there an alternative?