Home Theater

Plex to Launch Pro Service at CEDIA 2016; Announces DVR Integration with HDHomeRun

Plex, the popular media management and streaming service for DIYs, is launching a new program for professional installers at CEDIA 2016 with a paid service for advanced features. New: DVR functionality via SiliconDust’s HDHomeRun.

Plex to Launch Pro Service at CEDIA 2016; Announces DVR Integration with HDHomeRun
At its first CEDIA appearance, Plex will launch a dealer program and demonstrate its new DVR capabilities in conjunction with SiliconDust's HDHomeRun.

Julie Jacobson · September 2, 2016

Plex, a nine-year-old spinoff of the XBMC media-management platform, is exhibiting for the first time at CEDIA, moving out of its DIY comfort zone into the professional installer channel. At CEDIA 2016 this month, the company will demonstrate its first program for pros, along with new DVR capabilities just announced through a partnership with SiliconDust.

“Whole-home movies and photographs is kind of an underserved market at this time,” Plex VP marketing Scott Hancock told me last month … even before the demise of Kaleidescape was announced. “We bring a nice, common user interface that is highly extensible.”

Soon, that UI will extend to TV content.

What is Plex?

Today, Plex is mostly known as a free media-management service for (let’s be honest here) ripped DVDs. Users can store videos anywhere on the home network and stream them through local devices, such as TVs, set-top boxes and mobile phones – anything that runs the lightweight Plex client app, which is pretty much everywhere.

Plex also provides a sharing feature so that anyone, anywhere, can view their friends’ copyrighted movies and other content. Legal? Maybe not, but it sure is a nice feature.

Of course, Plex does audio as well, and users can stream their music libraries through a host of compatible devices, most recently Sonos.

The Plex app, incorporated into lots of smart TVs and boxes like Roku and TiVo, manages and displays pretty much any kind of content – photos and home movies, too.

Hancock says a few million Plex media servers are actively used today, running on Apple and Microsoft computers, Linux boxes and multiple storage devices, thanks to “relationships with basically all the NAS providers,” according to Hancock.

Plex curates metadata and “deep-analyzes” media to determine which content can stream properly to which devices. If the network or any particular rendering device cannot support a native bit-rate, for example, then Plex will transcode content to the best format.

New DVR Capabilities through HDHomeRun

For all of its content-management capabilities, Plex has not been able to incorporate TV-based media into its platform. That is changing.

Plex just announced a partnership with SiliconDust, maker of the HDHomeRun brand of TV streamers. The products, which include over-the-air solutions for cord-cutters as well as CableCard versions for cord-keepers, enables users to stream TV broadcasts to multiple displays without paying hefty monthly fees to MSOs and set-top box vendors.

The products also include programming guides and DVR capabilities that allow users to schedule recordings and manage their recorded shows. That content (only the free over-the-air channels) will now be available through the Plex media-management platform, which is the big news coming out of Plex this week.

With that, Plex has announced its first fee-based service, Plex Pass, for $4.99 per month, $40 per year or $150 for life.

Plex Pass Pro & the Pro Channel

Now that Plex actually has something to sell, the company is looking to the professional integration channel to deploy its services.

So-called Plex Pro Installers will be listed on the company’s Web site, and consumers will be invited to spend $300 for a Plex Pro Pass – basically the same as the $150 lifetime Plex Pass, with $150 more for installation, which the dealer “gets” to keep.

“They make money on that, plus they make money on whatever else they upsell,” Hancock says, suggesting that high-performance networking solutions make for profitable upgrades.

The Pro program, which costs installers $199 per year, includes a “dedicated custom-installer support infrastructure” that goes beyond the usual self-help forums, according the Hancock. The infrastructure includes a knowledge of best-in-class hardware such as NAS devices, as well as suggestions for network configurations for specific devices, like a Samsung TV.

“Virtually every integrator is already installing Plex clients throughout their customers’ homes but they might not know it,” says Bob Silver, Plex Pass Pro program manager.

He thinks it’s a swell opportunity to return to those customers offering the complete Plex experience.

What’s next for Plex? “I think you’ll see us integrating with online content like YouTube,” Hancock says.


Interested in a Kaleidescape replacement? 
We'll discuss in the Ultimate CEDIA Preview Webinar, Sept. 7


 



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  About the Author

Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. She's a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player currently residing in Carlsbad, Calif. Email Julie at jjacobson@ehpub.com

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  Article Topics


Home Theater · Audio/Video · Distributed Audio · Multiroom Video · Events · CEDIA · News · Products · Plex · All Topics
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Comments

Posted by alanchow on September 6, 2016

Plex doesn’t make it easy for integrators.

Earlier this year we developed our Plex Full driver for Control4 which allows login in/out of Plex’s servers with different users, browsing/searching of Plex’s libraries with full cover art/meta data and telling Plex client’s to startup, playback files (also get feedback about their playback state for automated lighting, etc).

It took us alot of hard work revese engineering their protocol to do this since they don’t have any official documentation to allow 3rd parties such as ourselves to integrate it.  There are a few unofficial documents out there that helped quite a bit but we had to spend a good 2 months digging into their source code and listen to packets from their IOS/Android applications to really figure out how everything worked.

When we did this and released the driver we were actually sent a legal letter from Plex’s legal team telling us that we had infringed upon their IP almost immediately

After a few meetings with Plex clarifying what we are doing (it benefits them) they closed the case.

I think that in order for Plex to really open themselves up to the CI market they need to first of all open up their communications API and offer support for it.  They then also need to provide integrators with products that can be integrated easily.  Controlling the Plex app is no problems for us now but we can only support a few select devices because at the end of the day the app needs to be running and we can only tell a few devices to launch the app programatically.  Thus far only the roku, sony android tv’s, amazon fire tv’s and Plex Media Player/Plex Home Theater based HTPC’s work well with the solution.  Consumers expect to be able to use devices such as Apple TV’s, Playstation 4 and Xbox One however these devices don’t work well as we can’t launch the app via the control system.

Don’t get me wrong Plex is an awesome media player solution.  They just need to offer integrators more before jumping into the market.

Posted by genomachino on September 3, 2016

I’ve been using Plex for a couple years, very powerful, well designed system… Basically a poor man’s Kaleidescape for video and all my audio (FLAC).  Yes, the Dealer model seems a bit wonky. 

But, I’m very excited about the recently announced DVR features.  Rumor is that the HDHomeRun Prime unit with Cable Card “should” work, as opposed to just OTA feeds. We’ll see.  Good to hear that they’re going to be at CEDIA this year…  Something to add to my list!

Nice work Julie!

Posted by SpivR on September 3, 2016

Plex Pass Pro - Too little and too arrogant?

Plex is doing a few things strange:
 
They are trying to get dealers/integrators to be resellers but they have no physical product so they expect dealers to resell “Plex Pass Pro” for zero margin at the equivalent retail price.

Worse, they are setting an MSRP of $300 assuming $150 for the “plex pass” and $150 for installation which means they are telling dealers what they think their (minimum) installation service is worth (only $150) and setting that expectation publicly so they already throw dealers into the commodity low-end of the space.
 
The problem is that the “Pro” pass has nothing different than the retail/consumer pass for the same $150 and they expect dealers to pay $200 a year “dealer fee” to be an official dealer (You don’t even get one Plex Pass Pro for your own use with this fee). 

This appears to offer nothing but the potential of a listing on their website and access to a “dealer only” forum.  That’s not exactly much of a customer support system for dealers.  Didn’t captive dealer program membership fees die in the ‘90s?  At least those paid dealer programs had real benefits like access to telephone tech-support, reasonable discounts on product, etc.

Posted by Julie Jacobson on September 2, 2016

WhyReboot—I believe Plex only records OTA now. Yes, the dealer biz model is a little odd.

Posted by WhyReboot on September 2, 2016

Ok, so this is something I had done for years with XBMC, now known as Kodi.  However, XBMC couldn’t get around the copy protection on a cable card so I had to do it in tandem with a Windows Media Center that COULD get around the copy protection to record shows.  The Media Center was the backend PVR and XBMC/Kodi was the front end.

So the question is, has Plex found a way to work with the copy protection?  Or is it just going to record OTA content off an HD antenna and the CableCard instances can’t record? 

On top of that, it sounds like integrators/technologists are getting $150 for the trouble of installing it.  Does this compensate them for the amount of time and trouble it’ll take to get a working CableCard from the cable company?

I like Plex, I really do.  I like Kodi more but that’s just me and I’m sure there are MANY people who disagree.  It’s a matter of opinion…...in my opinion.  I just wonder if this is going to work or if it’s kind of half baked.  Just my thoughts coming from a guy who was a LONG TIME cord cutter.

Posted by WhyReboot on September 2, 2016

Ok, so this is something I had done for years with XBMC, now known as Kodi.  However, XBMC couldn’t get around the copy protection on a cable card so I had to do it in tandem with a Windows Media Center that COULD get around the copy protection to record shows.  The Media Center was the backend PVR and XBMC/Kodi was the front end.

So the question is, has Plex found a way to work with the copy protection?  Or is it just going to record OTA content off an HD antenna and the CableCard instances can’t record? 

On top of that, it sounds like integrators/technologists are getting $150 for the trouble of installing it.  Does this compensate them for the amount of time and trouble it’ll take to get a working CableCard from the cable company?

I like Plex, I really do.  I like Kodi more but that’s just me and I’m sure there are MANY people who disagree.  It’s a matter of opinion…...in my opinion.  I just wonder if this is going to work or if it’s kind of half baked.  Just my thoughts coming from a guy who was a LONG TIME cord cutter.

Posted by Julie Jacobson on September 2, 2016

WhyReboot—I believe Plex only records OTA now. Yes, the dealer biz model is a little odd.

Posted by SpivR on September 3, 2016

Plex Pass Pro - Too little and too arrogant?

Plex is doing a few things strange:
 
They are trying to get dealers/integrators to be resellers but they have no physical product so they expect dealers to resell “Plex Pass Pro” for zero margin at the equivalent retail price.

Worse, they are setting an MSRP of $300 assuming $150 for the “plex pass” and $150 for installation which means they are telling dealers what they think their (minimum) installation service is worth (only $150) and setting that expectation publicly so they already throw dealers into the commodity low-end of the space.
 
The problem is that the “Pro” pass has nothing different than the retail/consumer pass for the same $150 and they expect dealers to pay $200 a year “dealer fee” to be an official dealer (You don’t even get one Plex Pass Pro for your own use with this fee). 

This appears to offer nothing but the potential of a listing on their website and access to a “dealer only” forum.  That’s not exactly much of a customer support system for dealers.  Didn’t captive dealer program membership fees die in the ‘90s?  At least those paid dealer programs had real benefits like access to telephone tech-support, reasonable discounts on product, etc.

Posted by genomachino on September 3, 2016

I’ve been using Plex for a couple years, very powerful, well designed system… Basically a poor man’s Kaleidescape for video and all my audio (FLAC).  Yes, the Dealer model seems a bit wonky. 

But, I’m very excited about the recently announced DVR features.  Rumor is that the HDHomeRun Prime unit with Cable Card “should” work, as opposed to just OTA feeds. We’ll see.  Good to hear that they’re going to be at CEDIA this year…  Something to add to my list!

Nice work Julie!

Posted by alanchow on September 6, 2016

Plex doesn’t make it easy for integrators.

Earlier this year we developed our Plex Full driver for Control4 which allows login in/out of Plex’s servers with different users, browsing/searching of Plex’s libraries with full cover art/meta data and telling Plex client’s to startup, playback files (also get feedback about their playback state for automated lighting, etc).

It took us alot of hard work revese engineering their protocol to do this since they don’t have any official documentation to allow 3rd parties such as ourselves to integrate it.  There are a few unofficial documents out there that helped quite a bit but we had to spend a good 2 months digging into their source code and listen to packets from their IOS/Android applications to really figure out how everything worked.

When we did this and released the driver we were actually sent a legal letter from Plex’s legal team telling us that we had infringed upon their IP almost immediately

After a few meetings with Plex clarifying what we are doing (it benefits them) they closed the case.

I think that in order for Plex to really open themselves up to the CI market they need to first of all open up their communications API and offer support for it.  They then also need to provide integrators with products that can be integrated easily.  Controlling the Plex app is no problems for us now but we can only support a few select devices because at the end of the day the app needs to be running and we can only tell a few devices to launch the app programatically.  Thus far only the roku, sony android tv’s, amazon fire tv’s and Plex Media Player/Plex Home Theater based HTPC’s work well with the solution.  Consumers expect to be able to use devices such as Apple TV’s, Playstation 4 and Xbox One however these devices don’t work well as we can’t launch the app via the control system.

Don’t get me wrong Plex is an awesome media player solution.  They just need to offer integrators more before jumping into the market.