If you’ve got a computer full of music, photos and videos that you want to stream easily to your TV, you’ll want to know how to set up a Plex server. This smart media server software lets you play your content via the Plex client on a laptop, phone, some smart TVs, and the Fire TV devices.
As well as streaming content, Plex intelligently organises and manages your media files automatically, recognising films and TV shows to give you the right thumbnails. And, it’s capable of transcoding video and music, too: that is, the server can reformat content to play on a device, so you never need to worry about incompatible files.
Here, we’ll show you how to set up a Plex server. You’ll need to download the Plex server for your device: it’s available for Windows, macOS, Linux, as well as many NAS servers, including Synology, QNAP and Netgear models. We’ll focus on installing on a computer here, as you have to follow specific instructions for a NAS that are a bit different; however, configuration across all systems is roughly the same.
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1. Download and run the server software
The first thing you need to do before you can set up a Plex server is download the installation file and run the installer. On Windows, Plex will be set to run automatically. On a Mac, you need to click the Plex logo in the Menu bar and select Open at Login if you want the server to start with your computer.
After installation, the Plex server will launch a web browser connecting you to the web interface, where you’ll be prompted to connect to your Plex account. If you don’t have one, you can select one of the login options: Google, Facebook, Apple or Email. We prefer the latter, so as to present having to grant access to accounts for third-party apps.
You’ll be prompted to buy a Plex Pass if you don’t have one already. This gives you some advanced features, but you can use the server for free without upgrading, so close this window down. Click Next to continue.
2. Configure Libraries
Next, you have to tell Plex where your files are kept by adding libraries, which you do by selecting Add library. Libraries are categorised by type: Films, TV programmes, Music, Photos, Other videos. You can have multiple libraries of one type, but each one must be set to look in a specific directory. For this reason, it’s important to sort out your folders so that you’ve got films in one, TV shows in another and so on before you continue.
When you’re organised, you can select a library type and then enter a name for it. For example, you may want to have an Other videos library called Holidays. Click Next when you’re done, then select Browse for Media folder, navigate to the folder containing the right type of file and then click Add, then click Add library. Repeat for each type of library that you have.
Plex will spend a bit of time analysing the files that you’ve shown it, downloading extra information such as thumbnails, cast information and more. When you’ve added your libraries, click Next to continue, then click Done.
Finally, you can choose what you want to appear in the Plex sidebar: when you’re done click the button to finish the setup. To make future changes, select the Plex icon on your computer and choose Open Plex: from the web interface select Settings, Libraries and you can now add new libraries or delete existing ones.
3. Play your content
Now, you’re ready to get your Plex client software. It’s available for many platforms, from Windows to macOS, smart TVs and beyond. The interface is roughly the same for all devices, too. Here, we’re using the iOS client.
It’s best to get started on the same network as your Plex server. Run the Plex client on your device, and you’ll be asked to log into your Plex account. Next, pick your Plex server from the list. Now, you’ll see a list of films and TV shows that can be streamed legally from the internet for free (the choice isn’t great, and the selections are ad-supported).
To view your media, select the menu button to open up the sidebar and then you can select the libraries that you selected in step one to start streaming.
If you signed in to your Plex account, you should now be able to access your content from anywhere in the world, although some people may need to tweak router settings to get this feature working properly.