Wouldn't being able to access all your computer's music, video and photos from another computer or mobile device -- without having to transfer it across first -- be incredibly useful? Plex Media Server allows you to do just that, and we've made a fully comprehensive video tutorial on how to use it.
We'll show you how to set it up and stream content to your iOS or Android-powered mobile device, even when you're away from home. You'll also discover how Plex can be used to tap into a wide range of Internet-based media via a series of free plug-ins. Hit play on the video above, or read on for all the information you'll need.
1. Installing Plex Media ServerPlex Media Server is free to install on Windows, Mac and Linux. The Mac version is incredibly easy to set up -- it basically asks a series of questions to get you up and running quickly. Things are more complicated in Windows: once downloaded, double-click the set-up file to begin. Once Plex Media Server has installed any additional components it needs (this is done automatically), follow the wizard, leaving the default settings as they are. Once it's installed, tick 'Run Plex Media Server on exit' and click 'Finish'.
2. Configuring Plex
The simplest way to configure Plex is via its taskbar's notification area icon: right-click this and choose 'Media Manager'. There's no standalone utility for configuring your server in Windows -- instead, everything is done through your web browser.
If you're using Internet Explorer (IE), turn on Intranet settings when prompted and click the bar at the top of the screen to install Google Chrome Frame. A pop-up will appear. Click 'Activate Google Chrome Frame' followed by 'Accept and activate' to make IE compatible with Plex Media Server.
3. Creating libraries of music, movies and photos
Before you start adding media to your library, familiarise yourself with Plex's naming guides. These describe how you can organise and name your media files -- specifically movies and TV episodes -- to make them easier to manage and locate.
Once done, return to your browser to start organising your media into separate libraries. Plex offers four quick options for creating Movies, TV Shows, Home Movies and Music sections, or you can create your own libraries from scratch. Just click the + button underneath the Libraries pane on the left.
4. Adding your libraries
A pop-up window will appear for setting up each library. Change the 'Section type' if required from Movies to TV Shows, Music or Photos. Give your library a suitably descriptive name and explore the other options via their dropdown menus; these vary depending on the media type you've picked.
Next add the folders containing your media to your library by clicking the + button. Click 'Add section' when done and repeat for any other libraries you need. You can create as many libraries as you like, allowing you to organise your photos and movies into categories such as holidays and family history.
5. Making your music, movies and photos easier to search
It can take several hours before Plex has fully indexed all of your libraries -- we suggest leaving it to its own devices before attempting to access it from your mobile device for the first time. While you wait, make it easier to search for specific media and browse your library by adding extra information to your files. Do this by right-clicking an item in the server window and choosing 'Edit metadata'. A pop-up window will appear allowing you to change and add all sorts of detail to each library entry, making it easier to find and identify on your mobile device at a future date.
6. Setting up mobile accessAccessing your media collection outside of your home network -- such as via mobile broadband -- requires you to set up a free myPlex account. Sign up by clicking the 'Join myPlex' button and following the instructions.
Next, open Plex Media Server's Media Manager and click 'Preferences' in the top-right corner of the management window. Select the myPlex tab, click 'Sign in' and sign in with the account details you created in the previous step. Tick 'Publish server to myPlex' and wait -- if you're lucky, it'll successfully make contact. Jump to step eight if this is the case.
7. Manually configuring port forwarding
If a 'Failed to map ports' error is displayed, tick 'Manually specify port' to open up a port on your router to allow your mobile devices to connect with your PC or Mac. Next, you need to assign the computer running Plex Media Server a static IP address following one of these helpful guides. Once done, consult your router's documentation or visit Port Forward for guides to specific routers.
Once logged into your router's configuration utility -- typically through your browser -- locate the Port Forwarding section, then enter 32400 into the 'Port from' and 'to' boxes, plus the static IP address you just created for the computer running Plex Media Server.
Once done, return to the myPlex tab in Media Manager and untick and retick 'Publish server to myPlex'; wait and it should successfully make contact.
8. Accessing music, movies or photos on another PC or Mac
If you want to access your media content on another PC or Mac connected to your network (or even the computer you installed the server on), you should download and install the Plex Media Center software for Windows or Mac. By default it only works with keyboard or remote control. Enable your mouse by going into Preferences > System > Input Devices. Other settings -- including running Plex Media Center from a window rather than full-screen -- can also be configured under System.
9. Connecting to your server
If you simply want to access your media through your home network, launch Plex; it should automatically find your media server, allowing you to connect to it quickly and easily.
When away from home, you can connect through your mobile broadband connection: launch Plex and choose to sign in with a different server. Log into your myPlex account; once done, you should be able to connect to your home server over the Internet.
10. Using Plex for Internet music, movies and photos
You should now be able to access your media whenever the computer running Plex Media Server is switched on and connected to the Internet. The client allows you to browse your library or search for specific files -- just tap the appropriate section to begin. When searching for files, Plex will also search the Internet for videos that may be of interest. This is another way in which Plex can be used -- as a one-stop shop for Internet music, movies and photos. To get started tap Channels and browse available plugins to put more online content, including our US sister site CNET TV, at your fingertips.