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.