Plex Cloud is stepping out for good on November 30, 2018. Here, we’ll cover everything you need to know as a Plex Cloud user who’s confused about what’s happening and what options are available to you going forward. Don’t worry: The prognosis is good.
The Reason for the Shutdown
Plex recently announced that they’re discontinuing their cloud service this upcoming winter. Many are concerned with where they’ll end up next whether it’s the timeless woes of poorly managed local hosting or a bothersome and congested cloud service. Either way, you can stick to Plex’ software for local hosting on your own PC or network-attached storage (NAS), or you can jump ship to the likes of Kodi or Stremio to satisfy your media needs. Many of these services offer both cloud and local variants depending on your needs, which we’ll go over in the sections that follow.
This is to say that Plex is not discontinuing their core software service; they’re only pulling the plug on the hardware that paid users are allowed to store and stream their media from. Hardware shortages, cost inefficiency and critical shortcomings that brought Plex Cloud to its knees for months have all played a hand in the company’s decision to do this. Unfortunately, the concept was too good to be true, and sustainability wasn’t possible with Plex’s business model in this regard.
In this article, we’re going to go over what your options are and which combination of solutions are right for you. We have a handful of supplemental articles to refer you to on this website that explores different areas of NAS hosting in depth, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.
For now, kick back and relax. You still have time to save your data and settle on a media hosting environment that simply works. If you’re thinking of jumping into an IPTV setup instead of media hosting from a cloud or local hardware array, we also have that base covered on hardware and software fronts.
Alternatives to Plex Cloud and How to Migrate Your Data
We’re here to tell you that migrating your data from one cloud service to another isn’t difficult, and it’s more often than not a simple matter of transfusing it into HDDs or an online storage bin — Google Drive for example — so you can move it directly into the new cloud provider. Migrating it to your local drives is also pretty simple provided you have the space to hold all of it since you can download the media to your PC or NAS to store and host on your own hardware.
Of course, depending on your connection speed and how much data you’re moving, it could take awhile to get it migrated. However, there’s no particular method behind pulling your data from Plex Cloud and shoving it elsewhere; the real difficulty is determining where you want to put it, and if hosting locally, what you’ll need to make the most of the software. Concerning that, we’re going to skim over the top-rated media server options out there and tell you a little about each. Relax and read on.
Plex Media Server (Local Media Hosting)
Minimum System Requirements:
- An Intel Core 2 Duo that’s clocked at 2.4 GHz or better
- 2 GB of RAM or more
- Just about any OS: Windows, OS X or macOS, Linux, NVIDIA SHIELD, Synology, QNAP and more
- A GPU that’s compatible with OpenGL
Just because Plex is pulling the plug on cloud hosting doesn’t mean you have to ditch Plex altogether! You can still use their core software service, which isn’t going anywhere and will continue to be supported by Plex in the future. Plex Media Server is free to download but can provide an enhanced experience with the Plex Pass, but either way you go, it’s considered relatively easy to set up, maintain and navigate on a PC or NAS compared to Kodi. Considered one of the most popular and well-designed offerings out there, you really can’t go wrong with Plex here.
Kodi (Local Hosting)
Minimum System Requirements:
- Any CPU made in the last 10 years will suffice although transcoding could take awhile with slower chips
- 2 GB of RAM is recommended to keep it stable
- Supports Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, FreeBSD and Xbox One
- Any GPU made in the last 10 years
Kodi’s origins set down their roots in 2002 as the Xbox Media Player (XBMP) and found itself rebranded as Kodi some 12 years afterwards. Being a recent development in the field of media hosting, it’s quite the popular piece of open-source software, but it has been known to be manipulable to allow users access to media that isn’t theirs. If you’re not bothered by the caveat, you’ll benefit from a plethora of features including app support for smart devices and live TV recording. Unfortunately, Kodi doesn’t offer a cloud streaming service.
Minimum System Requirements:
- Intel Core 2 Duo running at 1.6 GHz or higher
- Windows and Mac OS X users should have at least 1 GB of RAM while Linux can scrape by on a mere 512 MB
- Supports Windows Vista and newer, Mac OS X Snow Leopard 10.6.3 and newer, Linux, Debian, CentOS, Fedora, Ubuntu and SuSE Linux in addition to Xbox One
- Basically, any GPU will do
Emby isn’t considered top of the line among top-of-the-line media server offerings, but it does excel in a few key areas where Kodi and Plex tread along more average lines. For one, you can run it off your Xbox One like Kodi while wiring it through your TV to record live shows and save them for later viewing. It’s free, easy to download and install, and brings a paid service where you can back up your data on the cloud in case of local drive failure.
Minimum System Requirements:
- Basically none since it’s a cloud service, which means you won’t need to locally host any content, and that means you won’t need a NAS
Stremio is a cloud-based service that allows you to upload your media from a local drive or import it from Facebook for online storage and access through all of your home devices. You can also use Stremio itself to record and collect media along the way, steadily building up a library in its wake that allows you to rewatch TV episodes, movies, shows, YouTube videos and more on demand with the Stremio app that’s available on iOS, Android, Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. Stremio is noted for being a near-flawless offering that brings everything you could want from a hosting service, but be prepared for a different user experience and a unique navigational setup.
Storage Options: Local Versus Cloud
Clouds are a concept that you’ll either love or hate. You might not be privy to the notion that your sensitive data exists on someone else’s computer even if there are promises of encryption, log erasure and the whole nine to protect your identity. Database breaches pop up in the news on an almost weekly basis these days, and there’s a fair argument to make for storing your valuables on a large target that a black-hat personality could profit from compromising.
On the other hand, there are obvious problems with local storage such as the possibility of your drives failing, not to mention the cost of replacing and installing those drives in a setup that hopefully supports them to the fullest of their abilities. Since most people have some form of PC to store their data, this is less a concern than the fact that local disks don’t broadcast to the Internet without a media hosting client that keeps the data on tap. That’s where you end up paying for a service that may not play nicely with your hard- and software combination.
Ultimately, there’s no right answer here. Let’s examine the pros and cons of both hosting and storage options:
Local hosting is when you use your own PC or NAS to hold and broadcast the data for other devices to access. This requires that you download and install media hosting software such as Plex or Kodi, which needs to be compatible with your operating environment and play nicely with your hardware. Even if the software works perfectly fine, the hardware needs to be capable of handling the stress of constant transcoding and streaming of potentially high bit-rate video and rich media formats for other devices to receive. If you’re just broadcasting for your home and don’t plan to do a whole lot of high-end streaming for a small group of people, then you can easily punch it with a NAS or even your own general purpose PC.
Local storage also runs the risk of wearing down the hardware components more quickly. This is why there are NAS-specific hard drive disks (HDDs) that are engineered to handle large volumes of data transfer at a constant pace in hot, cramped environments. Consequently, this hardware tends to be considerably more expensive and still runs the risk of failure, meaning you have to shoulder the responsibility of backups, troubleshooting and replacements out-of-pocket on your own time. A cloud setup basically relieves you of these responsibilities by running your media off someone else’s system while you pay a subscription fee.
However, with local hosting, you do have the benefit of keeping all of your data near and dear where almost nobody else can steal or corrupt it. This keeps it safer from large-scale breaches and allows you to disconnect it from the Internet altogether while keeping it accessible on the local intranet. You still have to be wary of contracting malware on attached systems, which could leverage the network to breach your data if you’re not careful. You also won’t need an internet connection to access the data if you keep it locally accessible, and if you don’t happen to have a router for some reason, the data can still be reviewed and retrieved from the NAS or PC itself.
If you’re not interested in the muss and fuss of hosting your own content for the office or home, there are services that allow you to store your information on a server that’s somewhere else in the world. All you’ll need to do is upload all of your media files through an internet connection to the cloud provider, who then allows you to use their local software as an interface to access this data on a moment’s notice. This, of course, has the benefit of allowing you to access the data wherever you are as long as there’s internet; however, that also means that cellular dead zones and poor Wi-Fi can prevent you from reaching this data in the first place.
If you’re prone to contracting malware on your devices, the cloud is an ideal option for you since local malware won’t affect what’s stored on the server, only the computer that’s infected. Conversely, large cloud providers are major targets for malicious script kiddies and hackers of the not-so-legal sort, which means that your data is more at risk of compromise if such an attack does successfully peel its way past the encryption barriers, firewalls and whatever else is implemented to keep your data safe. Additionally, keeping your data on someone else’s hardware doesn’t necessarily guarantee that someone can’t find a way to peek at the contents even if the user agreement stipulates a policy of total privacy.
Users who aren’t hot stuff with computer technology will rejoice in the convenience that cloud services bring, which replace all of the struggle and difficulty of setting up the hardware and software combinations on the system that’s supposed to host the data. You have to account for the CPU’s ability to transcode the data using up-to-date protocols that are compatible and efficient while the HDD needs to be capable of storing and conveying sufficient amounts of data to prevent bottle-necking. Cloud hosting also avoids the need to maintain and keep a watchful eye over your data since someone else — a professional — is in charge of that elsewhere in the world.
Hosting Options: PC Versus NAS
If you’ve never heard of network-attached storage (NAS) before, we aren’t blaming you one bit. Everyone knows what a PC is, and chances are that you own one or a few. However, there are distinct differences between hosting a media server on your PC versus doing so on a NAS as the latter is designed exactly for this very purpose while the former is meant to be more of a hands-on media consumer in its own right, not so much a media distributor. Let’s go over what makes a NAS desirable when you’re looking to host your data locally.
Media hosting is a processor-intensive series of tasks that involves constant access to the HDD and uses considerable bandwidth to transmit data that’s been transcoded by the CPU for compatibility with clients. There’s also quite a bit of RAM that tends to be used up whenever larger media files are being transcoded, and anything less than 2 GB of RAM is usually going to make the system unbearable slow or prone to crashes on most media server offerings. PC hardware and operating environments are made for direct interaction with the user, and as such, they’re supposed to be versatile setups that are ready to handle small tasks in quick bursts.
A NAS and its associated hardware is optimized strictly for the purpose of continually accessing drive data, transcoding it using optimal protocols and sending it across the network to compatible clients without hesitation or question. Because of this, a NAS is able to accomplish far more on inferior hardware than a PC typically is. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t run NAS-friendly software on a PC with top-notch hardware and accomplish similar or better results, but if you’re trying to play a game or watch a 4K movie while your rig is trying to process data for others on the network, it could create a miserable experience for everyone. Let’s not talk about what happens when the PC goes to sleep!
NAS hardware is designed to handle constant high temperatures and high-yield abuse from multiple clients who are trying to access various files simultaneously on the system. They last longer, are often far cheaper for the effect, and they’re usually much smaller than a PC. They’re also more reliable and less likely to experience crashes, slowdowns or other complications while in use. Some NASes have operating environments that can double as PC desktops for general usage although they won’t be as potent as a typical PC in this regard, but top manufacturers such as QNAP and Synology are recommended when you need a NAS that can do a little bit of everything at a reasonable price.
For those who are disconcerted by Plex’s recent decision to drop cloud support, we totally get it: Your data’s sitting on their servers, and there’s a ticking timer that will invariably lead to the loss of that data if you don’t find an alternative soon. We’re here to streamline the process and make it a little easier to prepare for a meaningful transition into a top-rated media server solution whether it’s on the cloud or inside your own local drives. You don’t need an N+ certification or a finer suss of component-level logic board hardware to migrate your data or create your own server; in reality, PC and NAS hosting have both been simplified to the point that nearly anyone can successfully host a server with a single click.
We’ll point out that there are other media server options out there both local and online, and some are better than others, but all of them are designed to do the same basic thing: keep all of your videos, images and music in one handy spot for multiple devices to access on the network. It’s like having your own personal Internet right inside your home or office. For business users, you’ll benefit from using a media hosting service to convey training media to your employees and other important files for coworkers, superiors and clients alike. You don’t just have to use media hosting solutions for entertainment; PDFs and text files are also wholly shareable over cloud and local platforms.