One of the biggest frustrations with media streaming around the home, is how difficult it still is. You can buy boxes to do it, or use DLNA-compliant software on your phone, tablet or laptop. But it's never easy.
Plex, which ties a desktop client to a mobile app, and full-on Windows, Mac or Linux media centre, seems to offer a solution. And we think it's a pretty elegant one too.
Plex for Android
- Google Play
The idea is simple: take all of your photos, music and videos and stream them to almost any device you want. Here we're looking at the Android app, but there's an iOS version too, and you can get the server and media centre portions for Windows, OSX and Linux. So there aren't many combinations not catered for.
The server - which you install on your main computer, preferably where all your media lives - is quite simple. You just tell it where your movies, TV shows, photos and music are stored and it indexes them, makes them easy to find with a search, and also adds artwork to them. So when they're presented on your laptop, phone or tablet they look very slick indeed.
There's also a service called myPlex, which lets you create an account on the Plex servers and then stream your home media to a phone or other 3G device while you're out on the road. It's very clever, and while the 3G data rate might not be ideal, it could come in useful if you find yourself bored and away from home.
And while video might not be well suited to 3G, the music service it excellent and could be a domestic replacement for the likes of Spotify, for those who have a large music collection of their own. Interestingly, Plex will also make friends with your iTunes library, if you allow it to. That means you don't have to configure the music library separately - unless you want to, of course. Both work brilliantly, and we had no problem streaming music.
Video over Wi-Fi looks terrific too, although the speed of your device, and the network, will have an impact on the quality. We manually specified a data rate of 8mbps and found that either the wireless or the device (Galaxy Nexus) couldn't keep up. So we dropped it down to 4mbps, and everything was fine. There's an auto-detect mode too, if you can't be bothered with any of this stuff.
Oh, and one other nice feature: if you're browsing on your phone for video, but decide that you'd like to watch it on your computer instead - perhaps hooked up to a TV - then you can send it to an active media centre. The phone then acts as a remote control. Now that's cool.
There are a few minor niggles. First, video served via plugins doesn't work on mobile devices. Apps affected by this include iPlayer, 4oD and the excellent Apple trailers service. These will show up on a phone or tablet, but can't be streamed. We tried on a Galaxy Nexus and Toshiba Tablet, neither worked. These options are, however, very handy on a laptop or home theatre PC.
We also think the app is a little on the expensive side. But then, we're mostly ruined by the server and media centre both being free. At £3.15 it won't break the bank, and you're likely to get a lot of enjoyment out of this app. It makes boring jobs like washing up, or going to the toilet, take on a whole new dimension of entertainment.