Plex and Ombi
Managing some chaos.
A couple of years ago I decided to get a little computer and start using Plex. I have had a hard drive full of movies, TV shows, and other assorted media since college, but watching them always involved hooking up my laptop to a TV. It was a pain.
Then I discovered Plex and it changed my life.
First off, what is Plex? To put it simply, it is software to run a media server. You install it on some computer (preferably one that can be running constantly) and then tell it where your various libraries are. Then it is just a matter of naming everything right. Once you get the hang of naming files for Plex, or using FileBot to do it for you, then you are pretty much done.
Plex will scan your libraries (which are just folders full of files), match your media with various online sources, then give you a beautiful and easy way to browse and watch. There are apps for most platforms, including iOS, Windows 10, and Xbox. Plus the phone apps support Chromecast and Airplay.
There are two things Plex does that make it worth the effort of the set up:
- Streaming. Plex can stream your media to your device no matter where you are, including away from the server. Granted, you are limited by the upstream bandwidth wherever your server is, but that is usually enough to get by. There are even other options to get around that, too, but I’ll get to that.
- Transcoding. Plex doesn’t really care what format your media is in, nor if your device can play that format. If you want to watch a movie on a device that can’t natively play the codec or container, Plex will transcode it on the fly. Having multiple people streaming and transcoding at once can be pretty taxing on the server, but luckily I recently added some overhead. Plus if the file can be played natively, Plex will direct-stream it and save you some power.
With these two features, Plex becomes a wonderful catch-all service. Throw anything into it and it will handle it. Plus you can watch on just about any device and from just about anywhere.
I initially ran Plex using an Intel NUC with an external hard drive for the media. This worked really well for about a year. It was quite and cool, but the external drive was always running. After about a year, I had a drive failure. I replaced the standard external drive with a 3TB NAS drive (WD Red) in an external enclosure. Sure, it’s not actually a NAS, but those drives are made to run 24/7 for years at a time. It’s not quick, but it’s big and stable. When I built my gaming PC a few months ago, the big drive got moved into the case and the PC does double-duty as my server.
At some point, I started sharing my Plex server with my dad. He had always been asking me to copy some movies to his iPad for various trips, so I decided to see how well the remote streaming really worked. As it turns out, pretty well. Eventually I went ahead and bought a Plex Pass subscription (lifetime, duh) so that he could sync.
Sync is pretty much the only reason I got the subscription. Sync allows you to download media to a device and watch offline. It’s actually a (really) slow process, but it really completes Plex.
I also have various users set up within Plex. This keeps his watch history separate from mine. It also allows me to restrict what he can see (I don’t, but I can). This was helpful when I let my brother and his family start using the server, too.
The sharing is nice. They don’t use it a lot, but are really happy when they do. But my family is nothing if not demanding, and eventually I was getting weekly messages asking for various movies and shows. I would just tell them sure, add their request to a list in my phone, and eventually get it, maybe.
The list kept growing… Last week, though, I decided to try Ombi to manage the chaos.
Ombi, formerly Plex Requests, is a web app that I run on my server to manage requests for Plex. It provides a simple search for movies and shows, and allows them to be added as requests.
Set up was pretty easy, though nowhere near as user-friendly as Plex. Ombi installs as a service and the instructions use NSSM. Of course, I spend all day running sites on my local machine. Plex can be accessed remotely because Plex provides that service as part of the server (it can be turned off, if you want). In order to access Ombi from outside my network, I had to set up DDNS on my router (which was surprisingly easy), and open a port to the server (buried in the settings, but also easy). This does sound scary, and it is a bit, though it’s not like I’m exposing my whole machine to the whole internet, just a single site (that requires a sign-in).
There is one feature of Ombi that I really want to use, and just can’t seem to get configured. Theoretically, when I add something to Plex, Ombi should see that and automatically close any requests for it. I’m not sure what settings I have wrong, but this doesn’t work. I’m sure I’ll get it at some point. I could also set it up to email whoever placed the request, but again, probably later.
Try Plex. It can change your life. Try Ombi, it can make Plex better.