How to build Plex Media Server on Windows

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Install Plex Server on Windows
How to install Plex Server on Windows

Problem / Outcome Summary

  • This howto will enable you to build the Plex Media Server on Windows.
  • For how to build Plex Media Server on Ubuntu, please see building Plex Media Server on Ubuntu Server Headless
  • Please see the ‘Summary Overview’ tab below for a high level view of the objectives this ‘howto’ will achieve.

Why might I want to do this?

  • Because you know Windows and want to run your Plex Server on Windows rather than Linux, Linux Headless, Mac or a NAS.
  • To move Plex away from your NAS which may not have enough CPU to cope with demand
  • Because Plex is on a machine that’s get’s disconnected from the network and you want to change to a permanently connected system

Foreword

To be clear, what is Plex?

Plex is a fantastic media centre based on the software now known as Kodi, and formerly known as XBMC. The main difference between the two, is that Plex runs a true client / server setup, which has a number of advantages, including a true multi user, multi client setup that doesn’t require extensive skill or additional hacks to get it to work. Plex runs both a free and a subscription model, with the most significant differences being the subscription model (Plex Pass) gets bug fixes and updates quicker and more recently quite a few noteable enhanced features. The most noteable of those features in my opinion is the inclusion of a Spotify like music organisation and listening experience and integration with GraceNote, but also the ability to run a cheap Raspberry Pi 2 as a Media Player.

At some point in your Plex journey, you may find yourself listening to your music at work, or watching home video’s on multiple computers. When this happens, you’re likely to need an always on system, a more powerful system or perhaps getting a bit more power out of your existing system by re-purposing it with Linux.  Most people following this guide will likely only have a Windows Desktop version due to the cost of the Windows Server licence.  While you can run Plex Server on a Windows Desktop and a Mac Desktop, it is best for this machine to be always on and dedicated to the task.  For that we strongly recommend a Linux Headless server for reasons of price and performance.  This is however much harder to achieve.  If you wish to try running your media centre on Ubuntu Linux, please see our how to guide here.

Plex can be quite CPU intensive, it is preferable to have an i7 CPU or similar.

When does Plex Media Server use the most CPU?

Basically it comes down to this:

  1. Plex runs in two modes for video, one mode is a direct non CPU intensive playback mode (i.e. no transcoding) which comprises of:
    1. Playback devices that have Plex installed and appropriate codecs attached
    2. Devices that are non-plex but have appropriate codecs attached
  2. The other mode is a ‘Transcode’ mode which comprises of:
    1. Devices that do not understand all video formats such as Apple TV and require transcoding
    2. Devices that are constrained by bandwidth (such as when you connect to your home setup over the internet) and also therefore require transcoding

Simply put, the transcoding feature of Plex uses the CPU to re-encode your video or music into a format supported by the device you’re playing it on, or to an appropriate quality level to match the available bandwidth you have.  By default it does this in real time which is why a powerful CPU is recommended, however a new feature is available for Plex Pass customers that allows you to ‘pre-encode’ video into a suitable format, on your Plex Server before you need it.

Pre-Requisites

Software Dependencies

Hardware Dependencies

  • The hardware / computer your copy of windows runs on
  • A powerful CPU if possible
  • An internet Modem / Router / Switch to conenct your Plex Media Server and client through

Tools Required

  • A recent web browser

Other Dependencies

  • A working internet connection

High Level Summary Steps

The below lists the high level summary of steps we’re about to take during this howto.

  • Install Windows on your desired hardware (currently out of scope of this article)
  • Install the latest Plex Media Server onto Windows
  • Configure Plex Media Server
  • Other

Implementation

Download the latest Plex Media Server from plex.tv

Using your Favourite Web Browser such as Mozilla Firefox or Internet Explorer, Go to https://plex.tv/downloads, click on the ‘computer’ icon and then the ‘Windows’ icon. On that screen you’ll see there is a Download English button.  Click this and take note of where you have saved the file.

Also, don’t forget to do this under the Plex Pass menu (if you have one) rather than the Public Downloads menu.

Install Plex

  • Double click the Plex-Media-Server-0.9.x-en-US file
  • If prompted, click the ‘Run’ button on the ‘Open File – Security Warning’ diaglogue box
  • You should now be prompted with the Plex Media Server Welcome dialog box, if not it may be hiding behind another window, press Alt-Tab or minimise the window in front if you think this is the case
  • Click the ‘Install’ button (note you need to either be an administrator or know how to run as an administrator for this to work.
  • Click Yes on the User Account Control Box that pops up asking kif you want to allow this app to make changes to your PC
  • Plex Media Server now installs which will take a few minutes to complete.
  • Once finished click the ‘Launch’ button.
  • Log in to your account at plex.tv using the sign in button or the sign up button at the top right of the screen if you don’t already have one.

Note: if you have more than one server a unique port number can be assigned in the Windows Registry

    • Open Regedit
    • Navigate to ComputerHKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwarePlex, Inc.Plex Media Server
    • By right clicking in the Plex Media Server registry Key, choose
    • New String Value, Add the following, Name: ManualPortMappingMode, Data: 1
    • New String Value, Name: ManualPortMappingPort, Data: 32401
    • Ensure your firewall has the appropriate port mapped
    • Make sure you restart your Windows Desktop / Server for the changes to take effect

You will then be prompted for your password etc

You will likely be presented with a Plex Terms of Service window.  Please read these and click Agree assuming you wish to continue.

Configure Plex – Ensure your media is available.

You need to ensure you have the music, home video’s etc in a location Plex Server can see them, this could be on a disk attached directly to your Windows box, or on a network device. In my case, I use a NAS.

On a NAS, because it runs linux, it’s generally better to use NFS, because NFS uses a lot less CPU to run and is quite simple to set up, however SMB / CIFS currently works better on QNAP NAS (which I have) due to a bug, it is also easier to connect Windows to SMB / CIFS because SMB/ CIFS is the Windows native protocol.  However if you wish to connect NFS to your Windows machine have a look at the official information for doing this with the NFS client here.

If you have a NAS, you will already know how to map network drives.  Map the appropriate, Video, Pictures or Audio network drives to a letter of your choosing and ensure you have the option to reconnect at sign-in selected.  Note the Drive letters you chose and what they are for.

Also, ensure your permissions on the NAS are set correctly. This is out of scope of this article since it get’s quite complicated, however the command chmod is what you’re after, if you’re not using your NAS GUI.

Configure Plex to see the new library in the new Windows Drive Letter Mappings you just created

Edit your Library settings

You may, or may not be presented with the ‘Get Started’ screen.  I’ve personally found this to be slightly hit and miss.  If you do:

Enter a friendly name for your Server in the Friendly name box: My Server Name

You can choose the ‘Connect to Plex’ option if you like, just be aware this shares parts of your library with plex.tv

Click Next.  You will now be asked to ‘Organise your media’.  Make sure you choose add library.

If you don’t get presented with the option to ‘Get Started’, then just login to your plex installation through your web browser

In your web browser, go to e.g http://your server’s IP address:32400/web/index.html (or 32401 if you chose it)

Hover over the ‘Add Library’ option with the + sign next to it.

Click the appropriate icon for the media type you are trying to add, e.g. Photos

You can choose a different name or accept the default name of Photos. Click Next.

Click ‘Browse for Media Folder’ and select the drive letter and path you just added appropriate for the media type you are adding.  Choose Add.

Choose Add Library

Plex will now scan your media, which is the last step in making it available to your Plex Media Player clients such as Plex Media Player on Raspberry Pi 2.

Install Channels

If you were presented with the Get Started screen, you will see the Install Channels option.  If not, simply click the channels section on the left hand side of you main plex screen, then choose ‘Install Channels’.

Channels enable you to see other media, available on the web, but through the Plex interface, rather than the native one.  This makes it nice and easy to get this content on all your devices, even those that may not normally be able to receive this content.  For example Apple Movie Trailers can be watched on an Android device.

Click the Channel you wish to install, then click Install.  Once completed, click Next and Done, or just close the channel window if you did not get presented with the Get Started Screen.

If you were following the get started screen, be sure to check out the additional channels (there are lots) through the Channels menu in the main menu of the Plex home screen.

Other

I have just noted this (unofficial) code to get Plex to start as a background service in Windows.  Please let me know if you’d like this included in the guide, or a binary made available for download.

Final Word

Plex is a powerful media center, but it’s also a powerful media server. In this configuration, it’s a true server that holds it’s own like no other product can.

For guides on how to set up some of the clients, take a look at one of the following Plex Media Player articles:

How to set up Plex Media Player on Rasperry Pi 2

How to set up Plex Media Player on Apple TV 2 or 3 with Plex Connect.

Marshalleq