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Multimedia content is more popular today than ever before, and it doesn’t look like that trend is going to slow down any time in the near future.
Due to the explosion of mobile technology and its availability, people are watching more videos, listening to more music, and reaching out to friends on social media more than any other time in Internet history.
Even toddlers these days are taking photos with phones or learning how to play mobile games on tablets.
But our addiction to technology has frequently been called too much of a good thing. And I, for one, find it to be a royal pain in the neck trying to keep all of my digital life together.
I’m the kind of guy who always backs up my data, because I’ve lost some crucial files before (haven’t most people?) and felt the pain and sting of losing priceless data. However, it’s really challenging to back up all my data.
The biggest problem is that data is so spread out. Some of it is sitting on social media servers, others is on a cloud storage server, some is on my mobile device, some is on my external hard drive, and the rest is sitting on my laptop.
Managing photos, movies, music and other multimedia content was hard because I didn’t have a central aggregated repository of all my data – and that’s where Plex comes into play. Plex is essentially a media server that acts as a single collective of all your multimedia files.
And it comes with a ton of cool features, such as an interface that helps users sort and organize all their media, and it even helps users share their media with other users.
Naturally, there’s a mobile sync feature as well. And parents will like the fact that parental control features were added to help protect the kiddos. But for all of Plex’s benefits, it does have some major drawbacks, such as its price.
The basic free version is watered down. If you want the real deal, you’ll have to pay for it.
The premium version comes with awesome features like live TV, photo albums, cloud plugins, automatic photo-tagging, DVR, lyrics for music, premium music, multiple users, parental controls and more.
But the good news is that Plex isn’t the only media server on the market. So today we’re going to take a look at some of the best Plex alternatives available.
Contents (Jump to)
First Up: Kodi
Kodi claims to be the “ultimate entertainment center.” Whether or not that’s true and it really is the best of the best or not, I can’t deny that Kodi’s popularity has exploded in the recent past.
I only used to hear of geeks talk about media streamers like a Kodi box, and felt that the average user wasn’t aware of them. Perhaps we geeks are a little too snobbish because it’s becoming more mainstream for average home users to connect their Kodi boxes with a VPN tunnel.
Kodi devices don’t have all the exact same features as flex, but due to its popularity, I had to make Kodi media streamers the number one alternative. Plus, Kodi runs on all the major platforms, including Windows, Android, OSX, iOS, Linux and even the Raspberry Pi.
It will basically turn any device it connects to into a smart TV that’s capable of streaming thousands of channels over the Internet for free (with exception to the cost of the Kodi device itself).
And it’s well equipped to handle just about any media format you can throw at it, including movies, television programs, photos, music, live streaming media and PVR. And it comes loaded with tons of useful add-ons and extensions that make it as modular and flexible as a web browser.
For that matter, it even comes with web interfaces, too. If you’re looking for an alternative to Plex, I’d recommend starting with Kodi.
Next Up: Media Portal
The Media Portal application ranks as the second-best alternative to Plex, just after Kodi, and is a direct competitor. It contains all the standard features you’d expect out of a media center, too. First of all, the software allows you to both watch and record TV content, and comes with a TV guide feature as well.
I find that fewer and fewer people rely on television packages for their content, but in many cases, certain programs are exclusive to a specific network.
Media Portal will allow you to record shows to save you the hassle of having to go out and buy an archaic box set of DVDs. And the interface was intelligently and elegantly designed to cleanly organize all of your media. You can even set up playlists to organize all your favorite content into a cohesive order.
This is especially useful if you’re trying to sort episodes of a show in chronological order for a night of binge-watching and pizza.
And I really like the mobility features that allow you to access Media Portal from anywhere you have an Internet connection. If you’re not at home, you can still access content with your mobile device – heck, there’s even a web interface too.
And one feature, called WiFiRemote, allows any computer or device connected to your network to act as a remote control, as long as it’s capable of running apps.
This doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of all the amazing features contained in Media Portal, so I recommend you give it a test drive to see how you like it.
Additional Option: Emby
The last of the top three alternatives for Plex is Emby. I think this software is pretty darn cool and has a lot to offer fellow media junkies, but before we dive to deeply into the features, I wanted to make an announcement.
Unfortunately, Emby is a premium subscription service, and it doesn’t have a free version like Plex. As a service, I think it’s modestly priced at a mere $4.99 per month, $54 per year, or $119 as a one time purchase.
And because it’s a premium product, you can expect a few features that aren’t included as standard in every other alternative. One feature I liked quite a lot was the Alexa support, so you can use an Amazon Echo to send commands to Emby.
And it comes with a lot of data protection features too, such as the native backup and restore feature that also helps you easily migrate to a new environment or device.
Furthermore, there are convenient folder syncing options that help keep your media library uniform across different devices and backup locations, such as external hard drives.
In my opinion, the best reasons to opt for Emby revolve around the data management and protection features, though it does still have all the other bells and whistles as the competition with regards to playing various types of media.
Last but not least, note that I love how it can convert music files to a streaming format for convenience.
Additional Option: JRiver Media Server
JRiver Media Server is the fourth best alternative to Plex. I can’t say I love the name, but it’s undoubtedly a strong alternative. Unfortunately, it also costs money to use.
But there is one massive improvement over the previous alternative: JRiver Media Server has a free trial, so you have time to test the water before jumping into the deep end and committing to a subscription.
I was rather impressed by the extensive documentation as well. The Wiki alone is loaded with tons of useful information, guides, and tutorials that will answer just about any question you can throw at it. Also, there’s a forum as well that can be used in two ways.
Firstly, the forum is chock full of information, especially in the troubleshooting department, that can be used as a research resource. And secondly, obviously, you can always use the forum to ask questions and generate feedback from the community.
I did find it odd that it claims to support more file formats than any other player. Upon further investigation, though it supports a ton of formats, I didn’t see anything incredibly special that other solutions lacked. Do note that it’s available on both Windows and Mac systems too.
Last but not least, I didn’t find the interface to be stunning, though it is incredibly functional and easy to use. The interface is reminiscent of the standard Windows Media Player layout, so it was easy to learn and navigate.
Additional Option: Universal Media Server
Last but not least is the Universal Media Server. Despite that fact that it’s called a ‘universal’ media server, it’s available primarily on Windows, Mac OSX, and Linux. This software is pretty well known and has the advantage of being old and mature.
Some new services (especially Beta tests) are buggy and incomplete, but Universal Media Server is five years old and made its debut back in 2012.
Oh, and guess what? It’s completely free to download and use because it’s protected under the GPLv2 license. And it’s origins are actually quite interesting.
It actually has roots in the Sony PlayStation, because it’s a fork of the PS3 Media Center code, albeit a free and open source version as opposed to a closed source proprietary Sony application.
The latest version, version 6.7.4, was released in October of 2017 and is being actively updated and maintained. My only complaint with it is that the administrative and configuration interfaces are rather dull, bland, and ugly. To put it bluntly, the interface could do with a sleek and sexy makeover. But once you load it with media, the organization of film covers looks decent. But who in their right mind would complain since it’s completely free?
Final Thoughts on the Top Plex Alternatives
Although I think software like JRiver and Universal Media Server are great, I still think the best place to start is Kodi. The Kodi multimedia platform is incredibly hot right now, and you don’t even necessarily need a Kodi box to run the software, though that’s how I’d recommend running it.
Also, I’d recommend checking out a Kodi remote as well so you can use your media server like it’s a standard part of your television set. The only downside is that it takes a little time and a little extra effort to set up your Plex alternative, but hey, it’s well worth it!
Further read, The Best NAS for Plex