Plex on your Pi!
I love my Raspberry Pi’s. Not in a freaky way, I just think they’re a really good idea. I’ve not done much programming on them myself per se (ok, I’ve not done any, happy?) but I have had immense fun playing around with packages that people much smarter than I have come up with.
My latest indulgence has been with Rasplex, which is a Plex package for Raspberry Pi. Plex itself is a package based on the awesome XBMC, but separates the front-end player from the back-end database, which means that you can have multiple client devices connected to one media server.
The big advantage to this is that you only have to catalogue your media library once. Once your server is set up, any client devices on the same network will be able to access all of the media on your server. Not only that, but you can keep a central register of what you’ve watched and what you haven’t, you can even pause a video file part way through and pick up playback from any other client connected to the same server.
This set up is an excellent way to have a centralised media library throughout your home, made even better by the list of supported devices. Thus far the Plex front end player can be installed on Windows, Linux and Mac computers, as well as on iOS and Android devices, Samsung and LG Smart TV’s, Roku and Google TV devices, and now the Raspberry Pi.
I was eager to see how Rasplex performed on the Raspberry Pi when compared to the XBMC variants that are available, read on to find out how things went.
Rasplex is brought to us by Dale Hamel, using elements of the OpenElec, Raspmbc and Xbian projects to provide a Plex client that will work on the Raspberry Pi.
Dale has provided excellent installation tools for Windows, Mac and Linux. I can personally vouch for the Windows and Linux versions, and I’ve no reason to expect the Mac version not to work either. It’s simply a case of running the installer, downloading the latest image and then writing it on to an SD card connected to your PC.
I love the simplicity of this. Other packages usually rely on you to use a third party installer to write to an SD card, or even worse; require you to compile the code yourself in a Linux or Mac environment.
This installation was quick and painless, and once the card was written I inserted it into one of my Pi’s and booted up with no issues at all.
Once booted, there’s a convenient wizard that takes you through the setup of Rasplex. This includes identifying the server on your network and setting up various system features. I found this to be incredibly easy to follow, and within a minute or so I was happily connected to my Plex server and browsing my media library.
I’m absolutely blown away by the performance of Rasplex on the Raspberry Pi. The XBMC variants were awesome enough, but Rasplex provides much smoother performance when it comes to navigating libraries, especially when the number of files stretches in to the thousands. With Openelec and Raspbmc I found that switching between menus and different sections of the library caused some quite large delays, but with Rasplex the time taken to navigate the menus is improved dramatically.
What I know about programming couldn’t fill a shot glass, but if I had to guess I would say that the reason for this is the separation of the front end player and the rear end media database. With the Plex server handling the media database, the Raspberry Pi itself is freed up to handle the user interface and media playback. Yes, this means that you have to have a separate server device somewhere on you network, but it also means that your client devices can be a lot lower powered while still providing usable results.
It also seems that navigation of the menu’s becomes more fluid with time, which leads me to think that Rasplex caches the fan art, thumbnails and bio information for all your media the first time it accesses the server. This is impressive and an excellent use of resources to provide top notch performance. While on the subject of navigation, Rasplex is the only media suite for the Raspberry Pi that has worked properly with CEC on my Samsung Smart TV. CEC is the technology that allows you to use your TV’s remote to control another device via the HDMI cable. While this feature is available in Openelec and Raspbmc, performance has always been buggy for me. With Rasplex it worked right out of the box, and has continued to work every day since then.
While using Plex requires you to have a separate server device on your network, it also means that your playback devices can be a lot lower powered, hence why the Raspberry Pi works so well with the software. While it’s no where near as powerful as a full PC, a Raspberry Pi running Rasplex provides a decent level of performance. It’s not quite as fluid as a PC or Mac running the standard version of Plex, but it runs rings around the official version available for my Samsung Smart TV, and builds on the success of the XBMC distributions already available for the Pi.
In truth, Rasplex has made me rethink how I manage my home media library. The ability to use the low-cost Raspberry Pi as a playback device for all of my media, without having to worry about poor performance of the user interface is incredible. Rasplex simply outperforms Openelec and Raspbmc when it comes to the user experience. Much of this can be attributed to the fact that the Raspberry Pi isn’t having to manage the media library itself, but it’s also due to the dedication and talent of Dale Hamel, who has created possibly the best Raspberry Pi media suite currently available.