Frequently Asked Questions (F.A.Q.)

Introduction

Below is a list of Frequently Asked Questions about administering a Plex Media Server and using related services. If you have any additional questions, please feel free to ask them on the c/Plex community!

Q: Do I need Plex Pass in order to share my server?

A: NO

You can share your server with anyone you want for free. You just need to go to your server Settings > Manage Library Access > Grant Library Access. You can invite someone by their Plex username, or by their email address. If they do not have a Plex.tv account, they will be asked to sign up through the email invite. You do not need to set up a Plex Home to share your server. All users will have their own watched/unwatched statuses.

Note

  • You can select which libraries to share with each user by clicking on the pencil icon beside their username, selecting your server on the left, and unchecking "All Libraries".
  • You can share your server with up to a maximum of 100 friends.

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Q: Do I need Plex Pass in order to stream remotely?

A: NO

You can access your server remotely (outside your local network) for free. You just need to go to your server Settings > Server > Remote Access > Enable Remote Access. The most common reasons that it doesn't work are:

  • You have not assigned a static IP address for the server machine.
  • You have not forwarded a port in your router and/or UPnP is disabled or failing.
  • You have not allowed Plex through your machine's firewall.
  • You have not claimed your server by signing into your Plex.tv account.

Once remote access is enabled, you will be able to stream from your Plex server by signing into any of the Plex apps using your Plex.tv account.

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Q: Do I need Plex Pass in order to use the mobile apps?

A: NO

You can unlock the mobile apps (Android app, iOS app, Windows Phone app, and Windows app) using one of the two following methods:
Pay for the one-time in-app purchase of $5 (per platform, per app store account)

Sign up for a Plex Pass (all mobile apps will be unlocked for the duration of your Plex Pass).

Note

  • Paying the in-app-purchase does not give you Plex Pass benefits.
  • Unlocking the app on one platform (Android/iOS/Windows) will unlock the app for all devices on the same platform as long as the devices use the same app store account (Google/Amazon/Apple/Microsoft).
  • Friends of your server will need to unlock their own mobile apps. Users in a Plex Home will all have unlocked apps.

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Q: Do my friends need Plex Pass in order to sync/download content from my server?

A: YES and NO

As of August 1, 2022, there are now two different scenarios that must be considered:

  • If both the server owner and friends have Plex accounts created before August 1, 2022, then friends can download offline content when either the sever owner has Plex Pass or the friend has their own Plex Pass. These friends will still need to unlock the mobile app in order to download if they do not have a Plex Pass.
  • Friends with Plex accounts created on or after August 1, 2022 require their own Plex Pass to download offline content. The server owner does not require a Plex Pass.

In both scenarios, the server owner must allow downloads by going to Settings > Manage Library Access > Select your friend > Restrictions tab > Allow Downloads > Enabled.

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Q: Does Plex only support certain file formats?

A: NO

Plex can play nearly any media file you throw at it (except image formats), and will convert it on-the-fly if required. A media file typically consists of three parts: a video stream, an audio stream, and a container that holds it all together. The video and audio streams can be encoded using various codecs. Some examples include:

  • Containers: mp4, m4v, mkv, avi, etc.
  • Video Codecs: H.264/x264/AVC, H.265/x265/HEVC, DivX/Xvid, WMV, VC-1, mp4, etc.
  • Audio Codecs: AAC, AC3, DTS, DCA, mp3, vorbis, WMA, FLAC, etc.

The most important part is figuring out the codecs supported by your Plex client (the app/device you are using to watch your media). Of course there are many other factors to consider as well: resolution, bitrate, framerate, encoding level, network bandwidth, etc. Depending on these factors, your media will either direct play, direct stream, or transcode. (Note subtitles are not mentioned here, see the link for more details.)

  • Direct Play: The client supports the container, video stream, and audio stream natively. The Plex server just sends the media file as-is to the client. This uses very little CPU/GPU power.
  • Direct Stream: The client supports the video stream and audio stream, but not the container. The Plex server remuxes the file before sending it to the client (copies the video stream and audio stream into a compatible container). This uses very little CPU/GPU power.
  • Transcode: The client does not support the video stream and/or the audio stream. The Plex server re-encodes the video, audio, or both into a compatible format. Transcoding video uses a lot of CPU/GPU power, but transcoding audio uses little to moderate CPU/GPU power.

The Plex client determines if transcoding is required by the server, (unless you have enabled bandwidth limits on your server). If you have a weak CPU, then you may want to store your media in format that is compatible with your clients in order to reduce transcoding. The most widely supported format that will direct play on most clients is:

  • Container: mp4
  • Resolution: 1920x1080 or lower
  • Video Codec: H.264 (level 4.0 or lower)
  • Video Framerate: 30fps
  • Video Bit Depth: 8
  • Audio Codec: AAC
  • Audio Channels: 2
  • Bitrate: 20Mbps or lower

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Q: Will my stream be stutter-free as long as my bandwidth is greater than or equal to the bitrate of the file?

A: MAYBE

The bitrate that you see for most files is the average bitrate for the entire file. For variable bitrate (vbr) files, the actual bitrate can drop down very low for scenes with fewer details or no movement, but it can also spike up to several times the average for fast action scenes. These high bitrate scenes will cause your stream to stutter if you do not have sufficient bandwidth. You can read more about how Plex analyzes your media bitrates here. This also does not account for overhead for other things using the connection such as downloading, games, etc., or the ability for the client to buffer ahead to prevent stuttering.

In addition, if you are streaming remotely, an online speedtest does not necessarily mean you are getting that speed between you and your Plex server. The best way to test the real-world speed between your remote client and server is to transfer a large file and monitor the transfer speed, or set up Speedtest Mini on your server.

Note

  • Stuttering can also occur if you do not have enough CPU/GPU power to transcode the file.
  • Media files can also be encoded using constant bitrate (cbr).

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Q: Is it correct that Plex will not transcode if the streaming quality is set to "Original"?

A: NO

The streaming quality setting only determines the target resolution and bitrate the server should use for the stream. Therefore, selecting "Original" quality just tells the Plex server to use the file's original resolution and bitrate. Compatibility of the file with your client will still cause it to direct play, direct stream, or transcode. This applies when streaming on your local network and when streaming remotely.

Changing the streaming quality to a lower value will always result in transcoding. This can be used to reduce the bitrate of the stream due to limited available bandwidth.

Note

  • Most Plex clients default to 720p 4Mbps for the remote quality setting.

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Q: Is it true that I don't need a powerful server because the Plex clients can transcode?

A: NOT EXACTLY

Transcoding is always done by the server, and requires a decently powerful CPU/GPU. The general rule of thumb is a 2000 passmark score for each 1080p/10Mbps stream and 1500 passmark score for each 720p/4Mbps stream. You can find your CPU/GPU's passmark score on cpubenchmark.net. The Plex client determines if transcoding is required by the server, (unless you have enabled bandwidth limits on your server). Plex clients do not need a very powerful CPU as they only need to receive the (transcoded) stream from the server.

Note

  • Transcoding H.265/HEVC and 4k content requires significantly more CPU/GPU power than the rule of thumb above.
  • A powerful CPU/GPU on the server is not required if your clients can direct play/direct stream your media.
  • Modern CPUs that support on-chip transcoding technologies such as Intel's QuickSync make dGPUs unnecessary, however many people use older computers as Plex servers, and most CPUs made before 2016 require a discrete GPU (dGPU) to handle most transcoding tasks well.

This is why running using a Raspberry Pi as a Plex server can result in very poor performance, as the CPU is not powerful enough to do any transcoding and it has no dGPU. However, using the Raspberry Pi as a cheap, and very low power client with Plex for Linux or Plex HTPC, will work great. These clients also support a wide range of file formats, so your server will do less transcoding.

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Q: Do I have to store all of my media on my Plex server?

A: NO

You can store your Plex media on any device you want, as long as the Plex server can access it. This includes on the server itself, on external USB hard drives, network attached storage (NAS) devices, and even remotely on a cloud service, or any combination of the above. You can have your media spread across different storage locations and add multiple folder to each library in Plex.

Note

  • You do not need to install Plex Media Server on the NAS if you are only using it as storage. If you do store your media on a device separate from the server, a wired connection is recommended for the best performance.
  • Plex metadata will always be stored on the server.

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Q: Does streaming from your Plex server at home use the internet to stream?

A: NO (KINDA)

Streaming from within your local network does not require an internet connection. Local streaming does not go "out to the internet, and back in", it will work offline, and will not count towards ISP data caps. You can test yourself this by disconnecting your internet modem or unplugging your internet cable. Of course if your network is not setup properly, then there may be a chance that your stream will use the internet.

Warning

  • Some devices/apps do require an internet connection to stream function: Apple TV, Chromecast, Smart TVs, PlayStation, Xbox, and TiVo. (To clarify, these clients require an internet connection for certain parts of the app to work. The media streaming is still local and does not use your internet connection)

For further clarification of the behavior of Plex during an intenet outage, one may experience issues due to problems with authentication. There is a difference between streaming and authentication when Plex.tv is down.

Authentication (i.e. signing into your account) does require an internet connection and Plex.tv to be working. Most Plex clients will cache your login, so as long as you remain logged in, you will still be able to stream (locally and remotely) when Plex.tv is down.

Authentication on the server machine (i.e. 127.0.0.1 or localhost) is always disabled (except for Plex Home, see below). If your server is headless or on a different network, you can access your server as if it is local by using a SSH tunnel.

You may disable authentication on your local network if you wish, but this is not recommended as it exposes your server settings to everyone on your network. This can be used to temporarily bypass authentication when Plex.tv is down.

Plex Home exception:

An internet connection and working Plex.tv is required if you are in a Plex Home with Fast User Switching enabled. However, if you have "Automatically Sign In" enabled for your app, you can continue to stream from the previously signed in user. If you try to switch to a different user in your Plex Home, you will get locked out until you can re-authenticate with Plex.tv.

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Edit
Pub: 21 Jul 2023 19:44 UTC
Edit: 23 Aug 2023 03:51 UTC
Views: 1094