If you have an extensive collection of locally-saved media, you’ve probably heard of Plex. Along with Kodi, it’s one of the best apps for managing, watching, casting, and exploring all of your content.
The app can support video, music, and pictures, and works with a dizzying array of formats within each category. It also lets you access your media remotely — you don’t even need a Plex Pass to do so.
However, unlike Kodi, Plex is easy to set up and use. While customizing Kodi is a minefield of add-ons, repos, and settings, Plex works straight out of the box.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some options you should tweak. We’ve already shown you some Plex tricks and tips — now here are five of the most important settings all Plex users need to know about.
1. Organize Your Agents
Plex can automatically pull in metadata for your content. Although you need to format your content’s filenames in a very precise way for it to work, it’s well worth doing.
Of course, Plex can add movie posters and TV episode names, but the metadata goes much deeper. It will know which actors were in a show, which TV channel the program aired on, who directed each movie, and what the various critics on the big-name review sites thought of the content.
Once the metadata is added, you can use it to find related shows, other movies certain actors starred in, and so on.
But none of this will work if you don’t set up your agents correctly. You need to make sure Local Media Assets is set below other metadata sources. Failure to do so will result in Plex using existing local metadata on the file as its primary source. In many cases, this metadata will be incorrect.
To change the order, go to Settings > Server > Agents. Using the tabs at the top of the screen, head to Movies > The Movie Database. Drag Local Media Assets (Movies) below The Movie Database. Then go to Shows > TheTVDB and move Local Media Assets (TV) below TheTVDB.
2. Restrict the Upload Speed
One of the best features of Plex is its ability to stream content outside of your network. It has two primary uses: Letting you watch your videos when you’re away from home, and letting you give friends and family access to your content so that they can enjoy your library.
Setting up remote access itself is easy. Just head to Server > Remote Access and click Enable Remote Access.
However, you might also want to adjust the upload speed. This is especially true if you don’t have a fast upload speed from your ISP, or several people are going to be streaming content at the same time. Restricting the speed will prevent your home network’s internet speed from slowing to a crawl.
Go back to Server > Remote Access and scroll down until you get to Upload Speed. You can set your internet’s maximum speed by populating the box next to internet Upload Speed. Underneath, you can set how much of the maximum capacity Plex is allowed to use. Expand the drop-down menu to make your choice.
Note: By default, Plex limits itself to 80 percent of your total speed.
3. Manage the Transcoding
Plex can transcode your videos so that they are playable on other devices.
For example, desktop PCs and laptops normally have powerful processors that can handle most file formats, codecs, resolutions, and subtitles. However, mobile devices and set-top streaming devices may struggle. Therefore, Plex can alter your videos on-the-fly so they are compatible with other gadgets.
The drawback of transcoding is that it’s very CPU-intensive. If your Plex Server is running on a non-dedicated computer, you probably don’t want your all your CPU’s power being eaten up. Even if you’ve got a dedicated server, you’ll eventually reach its limits if many items are transcoding at the same time.
The solution is to tweak your transcoder’s settings (Settings > Server > Transcoder). There are three values you need to know about:
- Transcoder Quality: You can determine the quality of the transcodes using the drop-down menu. The higher the quality, the slower the transcode will be.
- Background Transcoding x264 Preset: This setting determines the speed of background transcoding, for example when you’re using Mobile Sync, Cloud Sync, or the Media Optimizer. The slower the transcode, the smaller the file size and the higher the quality, but the slower the time.
- Maximum number of simultaneous transcode sessions: This is the most important setting for the majority of users. Logic dictates that the more simultaneous transcodes you allow, the bigger the strain on your CPU. Consider the power of your CPU, whether it’s a dedicated server, and how many people will be streaming at the same time, and set a number accordingly. It might require some trial and error on your part.
4. Optimize Your Media
The Optimize feature is best thought of as a “pre-transcoder.” It lets you select certain videos and convert them to another format.
For example, if you know you want to watch Toy Story, Beauty and the Beast, and Batman on your iPad while you’re traveling for work next week, you can optimize the video files in advance. It means they’ll be instantly ready to play on your chosen device. No further transcoding will be necessary.
Media optimization is also useful if you know lots of people will be watching a video remotely at the same time, as it will ease the pressure on your CPU.
You can optimize an individual show, a series, or even your entire library. To get started, navigate to the content you want to adjust, click on the three horizontal dots, and choose Optimize.
In the new window, you can select whether you want to optimize a certain number of videos or just the unwatched videos. More importantly, you can set the quality of the optimization. You can choose from Optimize for Mobile, Optimize for TV, Original Quality, or Custom. The Custom setting lets you specify a specific device, the resolution, and the bitrate.
If you set up a long list of items to optimize, you can manage the queue by heading to Status > Conversion. You can manage your already-optimized files in Settings > Server > Optimized Versions.
5. Set Your Streaming Quality
Each Plex app has its own streaming quality settings. As such, you can choose different setups for your computers, mobile devices, streaming boxes, and so on.
The settings you choose determine the quality and resolution of any video played on the device. The lower the setting, the lower the video quality. However, it will load faster and use less bandwidth. Therefore, it’s worth taking the time to adjust these settings on every Plex client you use.
You have three settings to adjust: Local Quality, Remote Quality, and Online Quality.
- Local Quality: Affects any videos watch over your local area network.
- Remote Quality: Affects videos you stream from your server when you’re outside your LAN.
- Online Quality: Affects the quality of video streamed from online channels and private channels.
Mobile users can also adjust remote network streaming and remote Wi-Fi streaming individually.
Which Settings Do You Tweak?
In this article, we’ve introduced you to five of the most important settings to adjust if you want to have a smooth Plex experience, as well as offering some case studies for when it’s appropriate to change each setting.
If you’re a Plex expert, we want to hear from you. Which other settings do you think new users need to be made aware of? You can leave all your suggestions in the comments below. Or share this article with your Plex-using friends.