How to use a Mac as a media center with Plex

“No new Mac has a built in DVD drive so, while you still have an old one or a USB Superdrive lying around, now is the time to digitize your film collection and set up a Mac as a media center,” Harry Guinness writes for Envato Tuts+. “Storage is cheap — a few dozen films won’t put a dent in a one terabyte external hard drive.”

“Digitizing the media collection, however, is just the first step. There’s no point going to the effort of ripping your entire film collection to a hard drive and then just leaving the files sit there,” Guinness writes. “Sure, you can connect the hard drive to a Mac, dig through the file system and maybe find what you’re looking for, but it’s not a nice experience.”

“What you should do is set up a proper media centre with an app like Plex,” Guinness writes. “Plex is the best media centre software available for macOS. It uses a client-server model. On the media centre Mac you install the server app and then on every iOS device, Apple TV, Mac, games console, smart TV and other device you want to use, you install the client app. When you want to watch a film, you use the client app to browse your media collection and choose something. It then streams the film from the server, whether it’s in the next room or a different country. The server does all the heavy lifting. This split keeps Plex lightweight and available on a wide number of platforms.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Setting up a Plex media server is a perfect way to utilize an old Mac you might have around gathering dust.


        1. You should organize your media so that movies are grouped in one folder and TV shows in another. Then when you import them into Plex, you import each of those media type folders and tell it that it is a TV show folder or a Movie folder. It will then treat them accordingly. You should also read the documentation about file naming conventions to make sure Plex understand what you have so it can add the metadata for you. Plex is not perfect. But it’s getting better all the time.

    1. Front Row wouldn’t negate the need for Plex.

      Front Row was always meant as a general consumer usage within the Apple ecosystem. Plex is far more robust and across most platforms.

      Front Row pretty much was killed off as Apple replaced it with a system that relied more on the cloud as well as library sharing. As such, bringing it back doesn’t really make sense.

      1. It does for those of us who haven’t been convinced about the “benefits” of the cloud or library sharing.

        In my household, tastes are so divirgent sharing is pointless. Because of ISP service unreliability, I wouldn’t trust the “cloud” any further than I could throw it. Although it was recently came out that Google may be bringing Google Fiber to our metropolitan area via wireless in a few years, I’m not holding my breath. Google also recently announced that the subscriptions for Google Fiber are only a fraction of what they projected. I don’t trust GF will be around in a decade.

    2. I have dozens of TV shows with folders and episodes! Plex recognizes all of them in order and keeps track of watched and un watched. I wouldn’t know what to do without Plex!

  1. You need to have the file names correct for tv series, otherwise Plex will not but them into an appropriate order.. It doesn’t make any difference if you place them into folders , like show-:>S1->S2 etc. but the file name should be formatted showname.S01E01, if the file contains metadata, like from using Subler, that will also aid in getting them sorted properly in Plex.

  2. I’ve been using iTunes sharing over my LAN to my Apple TV for years, and it works great. I just set up a 6TB RAID box connected to my iMac via Thunderbolt as my media folder. I then just open the computer app on my Apple TV, select my movie, and play it. I hardwire my Apple TV with Ethernet to prevent any WiFi issues.

      1. I do the same as pdmarsh. All the shows came off DVD or Blueray, so Handbrake does the job and saves them to right format all the time anyway. Guess if I was torrenting, the multi-format file reading would be useful.

  3. This article seems like it is a bit 10 years too late. Back then, home media centre as a concept was still somewhat interesting, and people were still accumulating DVDs and watching them on their standard def TVs. Today, my DVDs (mostly Disney stuff for kids) are in storage (and will eventually be moved from there into some recycling centre) and when I want to watch video that sits on my Mac, I stream it via WiFi. Not to mention that the only stuff I still have that is in standard definition is my old MiniDV cassettes with home movies (when my older was a baby). I migrated to HD (tape-less) almost ten years ago, so now all the home movies are on large external drive (and backed up on another one).

    Unless you download pirated content from some torrent site, the file format issue is non-existent.

    1. To be fair, there is at least 90+% of the population that does not employ a networked media server. A lot of us have been messing with this for years, but the article has its place for many users.

      1. I agree. This isn’t a 10 years too late thing at all.

        10 years ago, the largest hard drive capacity was 750GB. There was virtually no mobile remote viewing capability. There were fewer than a dozen Blu-Ray titles available. They weren’t capable of being ripped. Plex hadn’t been developed yet. Macs weren’t really up to the task in terms of performance. Few people had the bandwidth for remote viewing. There was no Apple TV. Etc…

        While things have evolved during these past 10 years, there’s been a catch-22 in terms of early adoption. Those with large libraries needed to wait for larger drives and everything the get really fleshed out for making the transition.

        While those more casual with media consumption would be less likely to be an early adoption of new media technologies.

        Really, the ramp up for this is one where Plex seems to have really taken off in the past 1-2 years with a large number of people still yet to adopt. I also agree with the guess of 90+%.

    2. “Unless you download pirated content from some torrent site, the file format issue is non-existent.”

      That’s not really true. I’ve been encoding a lot of my discs in H.265. This works really well with a Mac mini, Plex, and Apple TV while saving a fairly huge amount of disk space.

      There are a bunch of other reasons to go with Plex as well, such as live transcoding to smaller bit rates for remote use and syncing on iPhones/iPads, and being able to share a much larger iTunes library than you otherwise could with iTunes Match/Apple Music.

      1. As you alluded to, something like this is perfect for remote access over a cellular connection.
        I have an extensive collection of TV shows, far more than I want or could put on my phone.
        I rip them at the highest quality I can but stream them at lower quality for the small phone screen or limited bandwidth.
        Works out really well.

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