If gaining access to your media library inside your own home is more important, Plex is efficient as a local streaming solution. There are a number of ways to set up the Plex Media Server within your home. The simplest option is to utilize an older computer, like a laptop or desktop, which can serve as a hub for your media collection and stream it to other devices on the same network. Plex caters for most modern operating systems, including Windows, Mac, Linux and FreeBSD, as well as NAS (Network Attached Storage) solutions from Drobo, Netgear, Seagate, Synology and Western Digital.
One of the major plus points of running Plex on a bonafide computer is that it can take advantage of the machine's processing capabilities. If your media collection includes a lot of particularly high-resolution files, you'll enjoy pristine quality instead of having to rely on mirroring services like AirPlay or Google Cast. And if you have a strong enough upload speed, there's no reason you can't use this lo-fi setup to stream to your phone, tablet or laptop when you're not at home.
Our Pick: Nvidia Shield
If you're looking for an out-of-the-box solution, though, the Nvidia Shield comes highly recommended. The Android-powered streaming box is a supremely capable streaming box in its own right and it also comes with a 500GB hard drive and Plex Media Server as standard. On the back there are two USB 3.0 ports, giving you the option to directly add multiple terabytes of storage.
One of the major strengths of the Shield is how easy it is to move files onto it. With an external drive, you can always just unplug and drag-and-drop files in order to transfer backed-up media between devices. Alternatively, you can mount the drive as a separate network share and move files around that way.
At an often-discounted $179, the entry-level Shield is a very affordable and simple solution to gain both the Plex Media Server and the associated client. External hard drives are continually coming down in price too, which makes it simpler for people who don't want to be administering a server, be it in the cloud or a physical box in a cupboard.
NVIDIA Shield TV on Amazon - $179
Alternative: Apple TV 4K
One of the major advantages of owning an Apple TV is that you have instant access to the iTunes movie library alongside dedicated media apps like Plex. Yes, there are ways to download movies via iTunes on the desktop and transfer rights-protected videos into your Plex library, but you won't need to if you have an Apple TV.
The Apple TV Plex app is only a client, rather than a server. You'll need to have something else in your home running the Plex server, or a cloud Plex solution for storing and serving your media to the Apple TV.
Apple TV 4K (32GB) on Amazon - $149
Once your Plex Media Server is set up, the library will be discoverable via most internet-connected devices in your household. On the TV side, the Shield comes with the Android TV Plex app pre-installed, and Plex is also available on smart TVs, consoles and other Android set-top boxes, including the Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, iOS, Kodi, Roku, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. You can also just access a local or remote Plex server via a browser on your computer, or grab the app for Android or iOS. A single Plex client can access multiple servers, so you can maintain both local and cloud libraries and use one app to view media from both.
Our Pick: Plex Pass
Plex is entirely free to use on your TV, as the company makes its money from premium features. Its subscription service, Plex Pass, adds a lot of functionality, including DVR support, and unlocks mobile streaming.
For power users, the Plex Pass enables hardware acceleration, which can convert videos faster and with less processing power. There are also advanced controls for managing processor output and network usage, which is useful if high-use devices around the home should be favored over others.
There's also the option to control the media your housemates or family can access via Plex Home. With Home, you can create custom accounts and control what content they can see, which is especially useful if you share the library with children inside your home.
Perhaps the best feature, however, is Mobile Sync. This is the Plex equivalent of Netflix downloads, which let you load copies of your media onto a smartphone or tablet for when you know you'll be without an internet connection. Perfect for a long car journey or flight.
Plex Pass - $40 yearly, $120 lifetime
Alternative: Infuse App
Thanks to the App Store, there are plenty of options to create your own streaming media library without the need for Plex. Infuse, a powerful iPhone, iPad and tvOS app from Firecore, not only easily handles network media shares but it also supports Dropbox, Google Drive, Box and OneDrive, combining all of your cloud uploads into one collection. Some enterprising users have noted that paid G Suite accounts have unlimited storage, allowing them to run large media catalogs from Google's cloud service. Oh, and it supports Plex servers as well, naturally.
Infuse on the App Store - Free (In-app-purchases)