Jim Fisher

In my last exciting installment, we discussed the bewildering choices of video streaming services, price gouging from Netflix, and a few ways of lowering your monthly payout and blood pressure. I mentioned that there is an alternative to all this that I believe is going to become more popular as time goes on.

That alternative is Plex. Plex is a “do it yourself” streaming service that you can install on your home computer. Essentially, Plex is the entertainment “server” in the same way that Netflix or Amazon Prime serves videos. Plex comes in 2 parts: the media server software that is installed on your home computer, and a separate Plex app that you install on your phone, tablet, and smart TV.

Plex has been around for decades. It was a great “open source” method of organizing and streaming your local collection of home videos that were typically “ripped” from DVDs or downloaded from the internet--kind of a Netflix before Netflix was cool. Now it has morphed into a full-blown personal streaming service.

Plex requires a dedicated computer in your home that is always powered on. That computer could be in the form of a desktop, an old laptop, or a “network-attached storage” (NAS) device which is essentially a big hard drive running Plex. Once you install the software, it will find your local movie collection, if you have one. Then you will open the app on your phone or TV where you will be presented with a familiar grid-view of all your movies along with lots of free live TV channels, and even a few free streaming movies. As of this writing, there are about 86 different channels.

Although Plex is best for people with large repositories of movie files stored on their computers, it's also for people who oppose some current price-gouging tactics by popular video and music streaming services and are fighting back. Piracy is quite illegal and I certainly don't condone the practice. However, corporations are waging war on consumer pocketbooks. This has historically resulted in consumers fighting back in this manner. That happened a few years ago with music where “everyone” was downloading their favorite music from illegal sources. This eventually resulted in inexpensive music streaming services such as Pandora. It was a disruption of the music industry but a win for the consumer. The same thing is happening with streaming video services. Content pirates are drawn to Plex for customizations that allow easy access to pirated movies and TV series.

The last cool part of Plex is the ability to access your movie collection from anywhere. You can be on a business trip in Hong Kong, whip out your tablet or phone, and stream the stuff from your home Plex server to your phone. You can easily add family members and friends to your Plex account and share your entire collection with them. Keep in mind that each user will eat up some of your “upload” speed from your internet provider, so you will need a fast internet connection.

Jim Fisher owns Excel Computer Services in Florence. Reach him at www.ExcelAL.com