For those interested in running their own media servers and playing their content on their TVs, there a a couple of options that you have. While some of the legacy options are solid, and have been well developed, I believe that Plex Media Server takes the cake when it comes to running your own media server on Ubuntu. However, if you would like to explore some other options there are some out there that may be worth a gander.
MediaTomb, which in my opinion is a rudimentary, free UPnP media server that takes little configuration, but has a rather unpleasant GUI, and isn't as feature rich as some of the alternative options known to Linux today.
LimboMedia is a UPnP/DLNA server and comes with a nice browser interface and offers extra functionality such as Android compatibility and Chromecast compatibility. It is free (like all the options that will be covered), and may be a solution worth trying out. While this is an elevated version of MediaTomb, there is one media server solution that rules them all.
Plex Media Server & Plex Home Theater. Plex media server offers a sexy browser interface where media can be managed and played, as well as companion apps such as Plex Home Theater, and mobile apps for Android and iPhone. Plex is also compatible with Windows, Amazon FireTV, Chromecast, Roku and Xbox One & Xbox 360.
The iPhone app is handy, because it enables media playback through your Apple TV, which other free media servers cannot provide. The mobile app also allows syncing from your Plex server so that your media is available for playback offline.
Installing Plex Media Server
The assumption is that this will be a dedicated system used soley as a media server/interface for serving and playback of your music, movies, TV shows, home videos and photos.
Now for some of you who have been doing research into Linux based media servers you may be saying
He didn't mention Xbox Media Center!"
There is a reason for this and I will discuss momentarily.
However, first thing is first, we need to install the actual Plex server before we start serving our media to all of our devices.
If you are running Ubuntu (which I highly recommend for building your ideal media server), follow these steps.
- For 64-bit machines download the server software by clicking here.
For 32-bit machines download the server software by clicking here.
Once those have successfully downloaded to your machine open up a terminal window and do the following
$ cd ~/Downloads $ sudo dpkg -i plex*deb
If for any reason dpkg returns an error, it is most likely due to unmet dependencies required for Plex. To fix this and finish the installation of Plex media server run the following command:
$ sudo apt-get -f install
This will install the dependencies and finish the installation of Plex media server.
Gathering Your Media
We now have a server to 'serve' our media to our desired devices, but first we need to point that server to the media that will be served. To do this you will need to navigate to the "Plex Media Manager". In Ubuntu click on the the Ubuntu symbol located in the upper left corner of your screen and type in "Plex".
"Plex Media Manager" will appear and take you to your default web browser and the Plex web interface. The interface you will see will resemble this (minus the media I have already accumulated).
Now that you have your server up and running it is time to create an account with Plex. I know it seems like a pain, but this will allow you to take full advantage of all the features Plex has to offer, and you don't need to buy one of their subscription packages that they offer, you just need a plain old free account.
So to get things moving you will want to head back over to plexapp.com and click the "Sign Up" button in the upper right hand corner of the page. Create your username and fill out the form.
Once this is completed you are nearly ready to unleash the power that is Plex. Head back over to your "Plex Media Manager" and hit the settings icon located in the top right corner of the page.
Click on "Server" in the row containing "Web", "Server", "Devices", and then you will want to click on the second menu item located on the left labeled "Connect"
Enter the username and password you created earlier, and now your server is registered to your username, giving you the power to remotely access your server's content from other devices such as the iPhone and Android apps. You can also share this server with your friends back at the Plex website so that they too can access your media remotely.
But wait, what media is he talking about? How do I put
my music, movies, and TV shows on the server!?
Don't worry. Plex makes this process extremely easy. Go back to a terminal window and do the following
$ cd $ mkdir Plex && cd Plex $ mkdir TV $ mkdir Music $ mkdir Movies $ mkdir Photos
You have just set up directories to put all of your media, and you place all of your media within their respective folders. Now it is time to point Plex to these folders so that it can populate your library.
We need to add out 'Libraries' i.e. 'Movies' 'Music' etc. to Plex and point these libraries to our newly created directories. To do this click on the "+" sign located on the left menu bar to the right of your server's name.
When you are finished adding your libraries it is time to point Plex to your folders. You do this by clicking into one of your libraries and clicking the pencil icon in the upper right hand corner of the page. A popup will appear and you will see a menu item named "Folders".
Here is where you will add the folders we created earlier.
Add these folders for each library and when you are finished click the circular arrow next to the pencil icon to scan the folder and populate your library.
Congratulations! You have set up your Plex Media Server!
Setting Up Plex Home Theater
Plex offers a piece of software derived from an open source project called Xbox Media Center or XBMC. XBMC is another media server that was originally designed for streaming content to the Xbox, but Plex took this and integrated it beautifully into what they call "Plex Home Theater".
Plex Home Theater is a mix of the web interface you experienced previously, and a native application for browsing all of your media content. If you are running this on a laptop or have an HDMI output on your computer, you can connect this directly to the HDMI inputs on your television and experience all of your content right on your TV.
There are however a few things we must do before we can get Plex Home Theater operating under Ubuntu 14.04.
First Let's Cover The Prerequisites
- you will need to go here here
- make sure you read the package dependencies listed.
- Ensure you have 'cmake' -- in a terminal window type the following:
$ sudo apt-get install cmake
- Next, paste the following code
$ sudo apt-add-repository ppa:plexapp/plexhtand hit enter.
- Now paste this:
$ sudo apt-add-repository ppa:pulse-eight/libcechit enter.
- Now you must run
$ sudo apt-get update
- Install libcec
$ sudo apt-get install libcec-dev
- Install plexhometheater
$ sudo apt-get install plexhometheater
Now open up Plex Home Theater!
Using your keyboard you can navigate the interface. I have taken screen shots of the various features in Plex Home Theater in "windowed" mode, however it defaults to full screen.
All meta data is pulled from 3rd party sources, and it is truly a full featured experience. Connected to a television, it is like Apple TV on steroids.
If you have questions or comments I would love to hear them. I can be reached via email here.
I hope you found this tutorial useful and at the very least, a stepping stone to beginning the journey in starting your own home media server, and media theater experience.
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