HTPC setup - XBMC vs Plex

When it comes in the scene of HTPC, two software often sprung to our mind: XBMC and Plex.

Before you read on further, let me clarify one thing first. I had been using XBMC (in Windows) for several years now and had just fully started to understand and use Plex (in Mac) several days ago. The following review is based on such experience.

Simply put, comparing XBMC to Plex is like comparing Windows to Mac. I found Plex to be much more user friendly. Yes, you heard it right. I personally think that XBMC is more catered to power user who wants the maximum customization possible whereby Plex is more for user that just wants to get things done as fast as possible and in the neat way if possible.

More after the break.

  • XBMC is basically a server and client all under one roof ; Plex separate the server and client. The good thing about the separation is that any update to the library can be done directly via the server without interrupting the client. You can even manage the server via HTTP interface!

If one wanted to compare the built-in scraper between XBMC and Plex, I like XBMC better as you can easily install additional scrapers via the Add-On submenu. On Plex, however, the scraper are quite limited and you would have to browse through their forum for them. Also, if you had scrape your video files using EMM (Ember Media Manager) like myself, you might hesitate to try Plex as it is unable to read local .nfo files (as far as I know). XBMC, on the other hand, is able to read those .nfo files just fine. In other words, prepare to spent some time when you first add your library into Plex as it will need to download those information from the Internet, ignoring those nicely resided .nfo files even though they are within reach.

Background Theme Song
For TV Series only. Wouldn't it be nice if you can hear the TV theme song being played while you navigating through it and searching for the episode to watch? Plex support such feature natively without additional add-on. However, only selected TV series support the theme song. Adding custom one is impossible by this stage.

Here is the currently supported TV Series that has the theme song.

*You might have read their wiki mentioning a guideline to adding own custom background theme song here. However it only works in Plex 0.8 and below and does not work on Plex 0.9+. The main reason being that starting from Plex 0.9 onwards, the theme song is bundled together as a metadata. I had tried to refresh the metadata and even remove and re-add the same series again to the library, but the client just won't detect the file. Hence the only way to add one is to submit your own theme song to the developers. Do note that the submission might take some time (and I mean it) to be approved and put on the official list. Leave a comment if you know any workaround.

For XBMC, you will need additional add on such as this TVTunes Addon here.

Background Music
Plex, by default, also support background music when you first launch the client. You could any any number of musics (.mp3 only) and the client will just playback them in random order. I never heard of such feature in XBMC though. Perhaps a tweak is needed.


Additional Tips & Guides on Plex
How to install additional skin on Plex
There are two ways to do this. The first way is to go through their forum and search for specific skin. Most skins, however, require you to install them using Preen, which is the second method. Preen is basically a skin manager that searches the repository for any skins.

Software Link

The current button is used to set the skin to be used by the client. You can only change it when Plex client is not running. You can also switch the skin within the client itself.

The Update checkbox will download the skin. Skins are downloaded as .zip and automatically extracted to /Users//Library/Application Support/Plex/skin. You can see the downloading progress by firing up Console and then search for preen.

Here's how to intepret it.

Download percentage | Total zip file size | Downloaded size | estimated download time | elapsed time | remaining download time

How to I access/control my Plex Server via Web Browser?
Type the following in your browser address: http://localhost:32400/manage/index.html#home. Using browser such as Safari and Firefox is recommended. Browser such as Camino had problem loading the page.

Where is the file location for Plex Server and client?
Both of them can be found under /Users//Library/Application Support/Plex (for client) or /Users//Library/Application Support/Plex Media Server (for server).

How to export Plex library to HTML?
Plex Web Export easily does that.

Example of the result:


How do I add background music that will be played back when I first launch the Plex client?
Background musics can be added to the following path /Users//Library/Application Support/Plex/Background Music/main. The theme folder is supposed to allow you to add custom TV theme song. But as I mentioned above, it DOES NOT work for Plex 0.9+.

I have tons of anime series that are numbered in absolute order (which is a standard means of ordering for anime series). Is there any scraper that will scan these files in such order?
As you would have probably noticed, the default scraper is only able to scan files that are named in standard convention, e.g. Detective Conan S01 E01. However some anime might have hundreds of episodes and are mostly numbered in absolute order. Luckily there is a scraper for it, called AbsTVDB (Absolute Order TV Agent).

As quoted from the discussion site:
To install, AbsTVDB, go to the (/var/lib/plexmediaserver/ [for Linux]  ) or Library/Application Support/Plex Media Server/Plug-ins (for Mac) directory and unzip the file. It should create an AbsTVDB.bundle folder with the agent in it. You may need to stop and start plexmediaserver to get PMS to recognize AbsTVDB. Give it time to come up fully. You should see AbsTVDB as an option for your section's metadata agent in the Web Manager section configuration popup (click the Advanced button).

You should see it in your Agent if done properly.

To use the agent, right click on the Anime that uses Absolute ordering, then select Match Using > AbsoluteOrdering.



Additional tips will be added as I navigate through Plex over time. Hope reading this will make you give Plex a try, if you haven't do so already :)

Useful Links
TelevisionTunes - Search and download TV Series and game tunes here. A must visit site to download theme song for TV Series.

Getting Started Wiki Guide to using Plex