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We have previously spent a lot of time discussing Plex and Kodi, and will continue to do so in the future. After all, these two apps dominate the home theater sector: they let you watch, cast, and manage all of your media.
Emby doesn’t boast the same level of recognition as its two big brothers, which is unfair. The app’s developers have spent the last couple of years consistently improving the software. Today, it can rival both Plex and Kodi. In some respects, it’s superior to the offering from the two powerhouses.
So, what exactly is Emby? What are its headline features? And what are its pros and cons when compared to Plex and Kodi? Let’s take a closer look.
What Is Emby?
Emby is a media center app. As you’d expect, it lets you play music and videos, as well as view photographs.
You can download the desktop version of the app on Windows, macOS, Linux, and on NAS devices. The mobile version is available for Android and iOS. There is also a web app.
Emby can also work as a streaming app. You can grab IPTV feeds and cast them around your home, sign in to some on-demand video services, and even cast via Chromecast to other screens in your house.
Finally, the Emby app is open source. Aside from being an important philosophical point for some users, the availability of the source code means that, like Kodi, Emby has a thriving an active community that develops plugins and other exciting tweaks.
The Pros of Using Emby
Emby has some advantages over Plex and Kodi. Let’s take a closer look at some of the app’s upsides.
Emby on Kodi
If you’re a Plex user, you probably know that there’s a Plex add-on for Kodi. It lets you enjoy the best of both worlds; Plex’s library management with Kodi’s customizability.
Emby also offers a Kodi add-on. And because Emby is open-source, it arguably works even better than the Plex offering; the integration between the two is more substantial.
For example, the add-on lets Kodi scrape the Emby database. When the scrape is complete, your Emby content will be visible in Kodi’s libraries.
On the other hand, content on Plex is only accessible in Kodi via the Plex add-on. No content is scraped, and none of your Plex content will show up alongside your Kodi content.
Emby takes a leaf out of Plex’s book and uses a server/client model. In practice, it means you install the server app on the machine or hard drive where all your content is saved, then access it using the client apps on other devices.
All you need to access your content is a username and password. This implementation is identical to Plex but very different to Kodi.
The Kodi app is primarily a client app. It is possible to set Kodi up as a server, but it’s a much more technical process and not suitable for beginners. And even if you get Kodi operating as a server, the integration is not as smooth.
As mentioned earlier, Emby is open source. For reference, Kodi is open source, but Plex is not.
Open-source software has a number of advantages over closed-source. For example, because anyone can inspect open-source code, you can be confident there are no nasty security issues or privacy nightmares looming.
It also lends itself to creating a community. Even though Plex recently launched Plex Labs, the size of the third-party developer communities in Kodi and Emby is vast in comparison.
Many members of the Emby open-source community have developed plugins for the app. When you’re running the Emby app, you can browse to Plugins in the left-hand panel to search the catalog.
You will be able to find a plugin for everything from cinema trailers to TuneIn radio and metadata finders to Slack notifications.
Parental controls on Plex are hidden behind a Plex Pass subscription. On Kodi, parental controls can be hit-and-miss. They work well for locally-saved content, but are less reliable for streamed content.
On Emby, parental controls are a native part of the free app. They’re easy to set up, and work across all the media on your device.
The Cons of Using Emby
No app is perfect, and Emby is no different. There are two downsides you need to be aware of.
Emby offers a premium tier. Subscribing unlocks additional features. A monthly plan costs $4.99, an annual plan costs $54, and a lifetime subscription costs $119.
Premium plans are not uncommon in the world of home theater apps. Plex also offers a paid subscription, called Plex Pass. However, if you’re not interested in live TV, most people won’t need Plex Pass.
Emby is a different story. Without paying for the Premiere plan, you won’t be able to sync content with your devices for offline viewing, browse the podcast channel, use the DVR features, download and use the free mobile apps, or use the Emby app on your TV.
Other features offered with Premiere include Amazon Alexa integration, folder backup, and cinema mode.
For example, anyone who’s spent any time using Kodi will know there are thousands of add-ons for the app. The number of plugins on Emby is an order of magnitude lower. If the app could attract more users, the community would grow, and the number of plugins would blossom.
Are You Keen to Try Emby?
Emby is a long way behind Plex and Kodi, and for an important reason: it’s a younger app that’s still finding its feet.
But the development in the last couple of years has been encouraging. And it feels like the groundwork is in place for an app that could genuinely rival its two most prominent competitors within the next few years.
Have you tried Emby? If not, will you be trying it?