How to Transform your Mac into a Media Center Powerhouse Using Plex

Herbert Lui

Today, there’s a ton of media available on the Internet, and can be acquired at high quality and very high speeds. TV shows can be downloaded on the same night that they are aired, DVD versions of movies can be found right after they have been submitted into a film festival, and affordable equipment has allowed independent creators to take their own productions to the next level.

Note: Guiding Tech does not recommend meddling in piracy, and what you do with your own computer is your responsibility.

Let’s assume you already have a lot of media on your computer and external hard drives, ranging from high-quality .mkv files to more typical .avi files. You’re a bit envious when you see Windows Media Center on your buddy’s TV at home, and you wish that as a Mac user you had something more substantial than Front Row to handle your media.

Well, you don’t need to worry anymore because we’ve got Plex, which, as they say, is the complete media solution for OS X and iOS users.

Lets check out how to get started with this tool and use it to make your Mac computer a media center powerhouse.

Step 1.Download Plex. It’s free! 🙂 Install it.

Step 2. When setting Plex up, it will ask for the location for your media files. It’s not too late to organize them all into one umbrella folder, typically the Movies folder. I would recommend putting all your movies in a subfolder of that, because using the normal OS X Movies folder as your Plex folder means that your iMovie videos will come up in Plex.

Some weird cache files also came up into Plex, and I found them to be aesthetically displeasing at best, inconvenient at worse. It won’t kill you, but it might drive you crazy. 🙂

If you don’t have a set folder yet, you can create it now, or just access the Media Manager later and skip this step right now.

Do the same for your TV shows at the next prompt.

Plex Media Manager

If you want to add another folder after this step, look up at the Menu bar and select the Plex icon. From the dropdown menu, select Media Manager. You can add new folders from here.

When you get new media, you don’t have to worry about updating Plex’s library manually. Just place it within the folder somewhere, and Plex will recognize it.

Plex Movie

Step 3. Plex will scan your library using IMDB and TVDB, and collect metadata. This is what I find coolest about Plex – it downloads information for movies and TV shows, including theme music, a summary, casting information, and even backgrounds and displays it own its interface.

Plex TV

Once you hover over a certain episode of Entourage, for example, you will hear the opening song of Entourage start to play and a picture of Vince and the guys fades in from the ordinary Plex theme.

Plex Overview

Step4. Navigating through Plex might take some getting used to if this is the first time you’re using a media center program. Media centers like Plexand Front Row lack cursors, so navigating through it usually is a matter of using arrows. The “Esc” key is used to go back to the previous menu, and the right arrow can be used to toggle certain options.

Plex Online

Step 5. Get Plugins by navigating to the Plex Online option. I’m stuck in the great white North known as Canada, so I’m not able to access certain channels. This is where Plex really extends itself – by gathering more media online and integrating it with its excellent interface, Plex allows you to find more media from right within the program.

TED on Plex

I’ve found TED to be more than entertaining for the time I’ve been using Plex. The quality is definitely acceptable even on my 1080p monitor. For Netflix users, Plex has also finally integrated Netflix into its program.

Step 6. Don’t be afraid to  use an external hard drive with Plex; when you first add it to the library, Plex will scan it like an ordinary bunch of files. When the external hard drive is removed, the entries are all removed correspondingly, which means there aren’t any annoying ‘misplaced file’ issues.

Also, if you have an HD version of a movie or a duplicate, Plex will put it under the same name. When you select the movie, it will allow you to choose between the Standard Quality version or the HD version.

I’ve found Plex to be useful certainly when I have an external monitor attached, and it always remembers the place where I stopped watching a movie. It’s these little things that add to the general experience, and if you’re looking for an organizer for your media, I suggest you give Plex a good look.

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