The Best Plex Clients for Streaming Media
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Plex rose through the ranks of home theater PC (HTPC) apps to become one of the forefront media players. It’s essentially a DIY Netflix solution. The Plex community recognizes its popularity and frequently rolls out updates. A recent update made the Plex Media Player free with additional functions. On top of that, Plex debuted an official Kodi add-on.

Plex continually evolves. While having a decent Plex device is good, a stellar Plex client opens the door to endless possibilities. The client and client app determine a major part of the media streaming experience. Need a bit of help finding the best Plex clients? Check the best streaming clients for Plex.

What Is Plex?

plex tricks tips

If you’re new to Plex, it’s best described as a personally-curated Netflix. Simply download the Plex Media Server client, add media, and you’re all set to stream. Plex can load movies, television shows, music, and pictures. Just install a Plex app on a client, such as streaming set-top box, game console, mobile device, etc. and you’ve got instant access to everything in your Plex Media Server.

Plex even supports channels, like these 20 unofficial Plex channels you should install now. And while you’re at it, check out these Plex tips and tricks you need to know.

Why a Plex Client Matters

You may be asking why a Plex device even matters. Doesn’t the server dictate the streaming experience? Yes and no. Streaming to a Plex client relies on factors determined by the server. For instance, internet bandwidth is crucial, especially when streaming 1080p or higher.

If you’re streaming to multiple clients and transcoding a lot, CPU performance is a major factor. But even if you’re running your server on some pretty beefy hardware, if your client isn’t up to snuff, it doesn’t matter.

Budget Plex Streaming Clients

Raspberry Pi

raspberry pi media server

Vilros Raspberry Pi 3 Media Center Kit Vilros Raspberry Pi 3 Media Center Kit Buy Now At Amazon

The Raspberry Pi is an amazing and versatile little device. With a base price of $35 USD, it’s inexpensive and flexible, making a fabulous media server.

However, beware that $35 gets you just the board. A case, power supply, and microSD card come separately. Still, chances are you may have some of those items lying around, and even stepping up to a kit costs about $60.

As a Plex client, the Raspberry Pi boasts 1080p support and direct play compatibility. There’s no 4K however. Since it’s a DIY solution, setting the Raspberry Pi up as a Plex client offers a few benefits but also some trade-offs, like complexity.

To sync a Plex server with a Pi, you can use the PlexBMC add-on, RasPlex, or the recently unveiled official Plex for Kodi app. RasPlex is pretty simple to set up and use.

However, since this is a DIY set up, for any troubleshooting you are the tech support hotline. Chances are though that if you’ve encountered an issue, someone else has and there’s a forum thread for reference.

Pros

  • Versatile
  • 1080p support
  • Direct play
  • Inexpensive

Cons

  • Lack of 4K support
  • No tech support

Amazon Fire Stick

media streaming device amazon fire tv stick

Fire TV Stick with 1st Gen Alexa Voice Remote, streaming media player Fire TV Stick with 1st Gen Alexa Voice Remote, streaming media player Buy Now At Amazon $39.99

Amazon’s Fire TV Stick offers an excellent value and home theater experience. The Amazon Fire Stick provides access to Amazon’s massive app store. A native Plex client app means a simple install process. Unfortunately, there’s still no DTS passthrough, Ethernet, expandable memory, or 4K support.

For those valuing a clean media center, the Amazon Fire Stick is a solid pick. However, its performance is severely lacking. The Amazon Fire Stick runs Plex pretty slowly. Many users noted that even the new Fire TV Stick suffers performance issues with Plex.

The standard Fire TV is a better option considering its premium features like 4K capabilities and Ethernet. Furthermore, the Amazon Fire TV is better suited for gaming. Still, it’s tough to complain at this price point. The comfort of having support as opposed to a DIY setup offsets minor performance problems.

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • 1080p support
  • Official app store
  • Small footprint

Cons

  • No DTS passthrough
  • Slow
  • No expandable memory
  • No 4K
  • No Ethernet

Google Chromecast

new features chromecast

The Google Chromecast quickly became one of the best low-end media streaming players. With its small footprint and a vast library of compatible apps (via casting), it’s an excellent choice for a Plex client.

At a mere $35, the Chromecast offers excellent value. While it lacks premium features found in more pricey Plex clients, its entry-level cost and price to performance ratio position it as a great device nonetheless.

There’s no 4K support or DTS passthrough, but the Chromecast can handle 1080p like a champ. Considering the lack of an Ethernet port, no 4K support might fine. If you’re streaming 4K, Ethernet is strongly encouraged. Ultimately, it’s faster than a Fire TV Stick, and probably the best non-DIY budget player for running a Plex client on your TV.

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Small footprint
  • 1080p support

Cons

  • No ethernet
  • No DTS passthrough

Mid-Range Plex Clients

Roku Premiere+

Roku Premiere+ - HD and 4K UHD Streaming Media Player with HDR Roku Premiere+ - HD and 4K UHD Streaming Media Player with HDR Buy Now At Amazon $87.95

When it comes to streaming from both paid and free content providers, the Roku dominates. With an awesome remote and a bevy of premium features, the Roku Premiere+ makes for a superb Plex client. It offers 4K support, DTS passthrough, and Direct Play. The Roku Premiere+ sits between the Premiere (no plus) and Ultra.

The Ultra, like the Premiere+, boasts HDR as well as 4K, while the Premiere only sports 4K support. However, lack of ethernet makes the Premiere hard to justify. For a mere $20 more, you get Ethernet.

Although Wi-Fi might be more convenient due to lack of cables, streaming quality is usually better with a hardwired connection. The remote may lack voice search, but a built-in headphone jack for private listening is a nice touch. The Ultra is a great bit of hardware, but the Premiere+ balances price and performance masterfully.

Pros

  • 4K capabilities
  • Lots of apps
  • HDR
  • Ethernet
  • Best price to performance value vs. Roku Premiere and Ultra

Cons

  • No voice search with remote

Amazon Fire TV

media streaming device amazon fire tv

Fire TV - Previous Generation Fire TV - Previous Generation Buy Now At Amazon

The Amazon Fire TV steps up the performance from the Fire TV Stick. There’s still 4K support, the loaded Amazon app store, flinging, and a slew of other features. But the more capable hardware makes the Fire TV a better choice if you’ve got the budget. It packs 802.11ac wireless, 2GB of memory (up from 1GB in the Stick) and an improved quad-core processor. Additionally, like the Stick, the Fire TV includes Alexa voice search built into the remote.

At just under $100, the Amazon Fire TV is an incredible Plex client. Complete with ethernet, it’s ideally suited for streaming 4K video. Adding Ethernet, 4K, and a microSD slot, however, makes the Fire TV a much better device. Granted, it’s about twice the price as well. Gamers may snag the Fire TV Gaming Edition, but it’s about $40 more and unless you plan to do a lot of gaming, you’re better off with the Fire TV. Dolby Digital users beware: there’s no passthrough.

Pros

  • 4K support
  • Ethernet
  • Expandable memory

Cons

  • No passthrough

High-End Plex Clients

Apple TV

media streaming device apple tv hero

Apple consistently creates quality products. The 2015 Apple TV refreshed the previous generation with hardware updates. As such, Plex runs smooth, and the UI is fabulous.

Unfortunately, a lack of 4K abilities and passthrough makes it tough to recommend. Unless, of course, you’re heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem. It’s by far the best device for quickly playing your iTunes and Apple content.

If you’re part of that core group of Apple lovers, the Apple TV is your best bet for a Plex client if accessing iTunes content is a top priority.

Pros

  • Ethernet
  • 1080p
  • Lots of apps via iTunes App Store
  • Powerful hardware
  • Excellent UI
  • Direct play capable

Cons

  • No 4K
  • No DTS passthrough

Nvidia SHIELD TV

media streaming device nvidia shield tv profile

NVIDIA SHIELD (2015) - Refurbished NVIDIA SHIELD (2015) - Refurbished Buy Now At Amazon

The Nvidia SHIELD TV is a beast of a set-top box. It’s admittedly gaming centric, but incredibly powerful. It can even offer a worthy replacement for the NES Classic. With 4K, DTS passthrough, and Direct Play support, the Nvidia SHIELD is one of the best Plex clients you can snag. It’s even graced with 7.2 passthrough, whereas many other streaming set-top boxes top out at 5.1.

Bonuses include access to the Google Play store for Android apps, an included gamepad, lots of storage, and even PC game streaming. This console can even serve as a Plex server, not just a client. At $200, the SHIELD TV is a game console first, and Plex client second. It’s hard to justify paying twice the price unless you need the gaming capabilities, or want the SHIELD to double as a Plex server.

Pros

  • 4K
  • DTS passthrough (up to 7.2)
  • Android app store
  • Default gamepad
  • Multi-purpose
  • Can run a Plex server

Cons

  • Expensive

PlayStation 4

media streaming device playstation 4 pro console

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Game consoles make excellent Plex clients. However, if you’re not a gamer, it’s tough to suggest a Plex client. The PlayStation 4 app is free to download, but performance has been spotty. Some users report excellent performance, while others do not.

The same goes for the PlayStation 3 version. In fact, the forums discuss ways to improve PS3 and PS4 streaming and reportedly it’s an issue with the client, not the server.

As a user of the Plex PS3 client (as well as Plex on Kodi, Android, and Roku 2 XS), I found performance excellent so long as my server was hooked up via Ethernet cable. Overburdened wireless connections caused streaming quality dips.

Pros

  • Free app
  • Superb gaming experience
  • Ethernet

Cons

  • Expensive
  • No 4K
  • Spotty performance

Xbox One

media streaming device xbox one console

Xbox One S 500GB Console [Discontinued] Xbox One S 500GB Console [Discontinued] Buy Now At Amazon $242.99

Similarly, Microsoft’s Xbox One is a solid Plex client. Like the PS3 and PS4, both the One and the Xbox 360 top our list at 1080p. But there’s ethernet, and with an Xbox and Kinect, you get voice control. That’s a fantastic feature, making the Xbox 360/One a commendable Plex client. If you’re not a gamer, though, you’re better off with a less expensive client. On top of that, voice control is not reason enough to buy an Xbox as a Plex client.

Pros

  • Free app
  • Superb gaming experience
  • Voice control (with Kinect)
  • Ethernet

Cons

  • No 4K
  • Expensive

HTPC as a Plex Client

media streaming device diy htpc

Oh, the home theater PC. HTPCs are awesome but have largely been replaced by set-top boxes. For power users, an HTPC as a Plex client is a great option. You can tailor it to your liking, and probably set on up as a Plex client and server. That’s a major plus.

And there’s also a wide range of options. On the lower end, there are HTPCs like an Intel Compute Stick which htpcBeginner recommends as a Plex client. There are also the HP Stream Mini, Intel NUC, Gigabyte BRIX, and other small form factor PCs.

Higher up the spectrum are PCs like the Mac Mini which sport 3D support, Direct Play, and DTS passthrough. Select Windows HTPCs can handle 4K, but this is contingent on your GPU. Finally, there are also Linux options and a great server for Linux. Windows and Linux HTPCs are typically cheaper starting at around $200 for suitable hardware.

Pros

  • Customizable
  • Lots of options
  • DIY options available
  • Multi-purpose
  • Can run a Plex server

Cons

  • Depends on configuration
  • Can be pricey

While these are the top picks for Plex clients, this certainly doesn’t include every option. Notably, I left off the Roku Ultra, as well as Plex client apps for smart TVs (what’s a smart TV? Smart TV 3D: Is It All It's Cracked Up to Be? Smart TV 3D: Is It All It's Cracked Up to Be? If you're unfamiliar with smart TVs, now may be the time to catch up and see what you've been missing. With Smart TV 3D technology, you have even more options to consider. Read More ). The Roku Ultra tacks on $30 to the price of a Roku Premiere+ and the added features simply don’t justify the extra cash.

As for Plex smart TV apps, opting for a standalone box ensures longevity and probably better performance. Personally, I use a Roku, PS3, Android phone and tablet, and Raspberry Pi for Plex. Any issues I encountered were primarily server side, not client side.

Explore more about: Buying Tips, Plex.

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  1. andrew
    December 14, 2016 at 8:45 pm

    My Smart TV does pretty good. It didn't come loaded with Plex, but the included app marketplace allowed me to download it free. Now everything I have home movies, movies, pictures all stream. I have a Sony Visio 51"

    • likefunbutnot
      December 15, 2016 at 5:22 am

      Many Smart TV Plex clients suffer because of their poor remote controls and have issues with retaining login information, something that creates both confusion and annoyance for less technical Plex users.

      TVs that run standard Android apps do a little bit better, but in my experience, those are still in the minority.

      Smart TVs also frequently suffer from the same issues as the low-spec Plex clients; they often have very slow CPUs, limited storage, may not have decent audio processing or even decent audio output.

      I'd counsel anyone to avoid using the smart features on a TV for Plex.

    • likefunbutnot
      December 15, 2016 at 5:32 am

      In what way other than price is an Apple TV a high-end Plex Client? They're slower than FireTVs and don't actually offer any hardware support to improve the Plex experience above and beyond that found in any sub-$75 Android set top box.

      Also, while Plex for Android has piss-poor audio codec support, Kodi and/or SPMC for Android CAN be used as an external player for Plex and those programs can support DTS decoding in software. You lose out on your Plex Server being able to resume watched videos, but it's a decent trade if you like Plex's presentation better than native Kodi for some reason.

      Not all Plex client presentations are created equal! Plex can and does look different depending on the client. For example, the Microsoft App Store version is a showpiece for a modern-stlye app, but the desktop client for Windows and the Android and Android TV clients. This is particularly good to understand when you're picking a client device in the first place.

  2. Erin
    December 14, 2016 at 4:29 am

    I like to use Plex on my Tivo. It's so easy and convenient to use. I do wish it would load faster, though. I also used Chromecast before it was available on the Tivo. I still use the Chromecast for plenty of other things.