The Next Track, Episode #185 – Use Plex to Manage Your Media Library

Plex is a great way to manage your media library. Doug and Kirk discuss how they use it. Note: we recorded this episode before the lockdown began, but held off publishing it because we had a number of interviews with musicians in lockdown.

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10 thoughts on “The Next Track, Episode #185 – Use Plex to Manage Your Media Library

  1. The big difference is in the name. Plex is a server and iTunes never has and likely never will fulfil that function. You cannot satisfactorily use iTunes/Music as a whole house system, it’s just too decentralised. Run it on a server and there’s no way to update that server with new content. With Plex I can just throw new content into the appropriate server directory and Plex automatically picks it up.

    The interface is of course a little different from iTunes, but not in a bad way. You just need to get used to it. I have a largish music library, but almost always access it via Artist/Album and Plex does that perfectly, without throwing all sorts of other crap at you that Apple products now do universally to try and encourage you to buy some new service they offer, like Apple Music, iTunes Store etc. Plex is free of all that nonsense.

    When iTunes/Music fails to find album artwork, how can you manually fix that? You cannot. In fact Apple specifically prevent you from entering artwork into their Album Artwork system. Instead one is supposed to embed it in every track which is exactly what they were trying to avoid by introducing the Album Artwork system in the first place. But it’s so flawed (really common albums, with artwork shown in the Store, but iTunes/Music simply cannot find it) that one is expected to revert to embedding which is so wasteful. Ok, storage is cheap, but with big libraries it adds up, especially if you want large images.

    With Plex it’s simple, you simply drop the image you want to use in the Album’s folder and tell Plex to use local files like that and bingo, the artwork you want is ALWAYS displayed and only stored once for each album. This is the way Apple should have done it, but failed. Or you can let Plex find all the artwork itself, as it can also do for Artist bios (like iTunes/Music totally fails to do) etc.

    My workflow was import/rip a CD in iTunes, edit the tags to suit how I want then add it across to the server so Plex picks it up. But now I have to use a different app (Yate) for the tagging as iTunes is now proving itself utterly unable to write tags reliably to the files. Its own database is updated so you think all is as you want, but the file’s metadata has not been updated. I don’t yet know for certain that Music suffers the same bug, but this is a HUGE iTunes problem, not just for me. I used to evangelise the use of iTunes, but in fact it just gets worse and worse with every release and I’ve no reason to believe Music is any better. So now I would recommend anyone to avoid iTunes and use better alternatives, like Yate for tagging and Plex for playing. Because THEY WORK.

    Plex can also provide live TV (off air, from the aerial) and can record so provides full DVR functionality. With an AppleTV running Plex, that’s almost all you need for music and video provision. If you need more, just sign up for Netflix, Apple, Disney etc on the Apple TV. So the Apple TV is now my sole source of media content, with Plex providing a large portion of it.

    It’s taken me a while to switch to Plex in this way, while they continually improved Plex. Now there’s no question it provides a far better media service than Apple. iTunes/Music is now relegated to being a CD/DVD ripper. After that it’s no longer of any use. Disappointing after so many years, but true.

  2. Thanks for starting this process. Please keep looking at options. I think we have to be prepared for the day when Apple’s Music app can only be used with their service. They have nearly abandoned those who use Macs as Digital Hubs.

    My top desire for an alternate music system is one with smart playlists and a Last Played field along with the standard data fields. Using Year, Rating, and Last Played I’ve great dynamic playlists that refresh themselves. (Being able to play on an iOS device has long been the top, but perhaps that is no longer the case.)

    Thanks.

  3. When I looked at Plex a few years ago, it was unable to play protected content purchased from the iTunes Store (Apple probably won’t license the rights to Plex). So using Plex meant maintaining two separate environments, one for DRM content and one for everything else. Has this changed? If no, then still not a good solution, IMHO.

    • Apple will never allow other companies to play their protected content. I keep my DRMed movies in the TV app. I only have a few dozen.

  4. Kirk, please spell out the Indian artist’s name and the name of his song or album? I searched and cannot find anything the way I spelled it: Ustar Velyarkahn???

  5. I have not used Plex; will have a look. Does it compete with, say, Roon as a library manager and streamer? Roon is only for music, not for all media files, of course.

    • I’m not that familiar with Roon as far as streaming, but Plex was really designed as a versatile streaming server.

  6. Does anyone have a viable replacement for the Apple TV remote? I like my Apple TV but the remote is just a huge fail.

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