Tag Archive for ‘Plex’

Plex Dash Released ➝

A nifty new app from the folks at Plex — Plex Dash. It lets you get a birds-eye view of your Plex server. You can see what’s currently playing, view graphs of server stats, search your libraries, and more. I was using Varys for this, but I’m going to give this app a try for a bit instead.

➝ Source: medium.com

Varys for Plex ➝

A nifty little utility app that lets you monitor your Plex server from your iPhone or iPad. It can display current activity, user stats, top played media, and more. It offers a lot of the same functionality as Tautulli without the clunky setup process. You simply install it from the App Store, authenticate with Plex, and you’re good to go.

Some features require a $3.99 in-app purchase, but I think it’s more than worth it.

➝ Source: itunes.apple.com

OWC ThunderBay 6

I’ve casually mentioned here and there that I’ve been looking to move away from streaming media in favor of primarily watching content that I actually own — hosting it on my home server using Plex. As a result of this, over the past few months, I’ve been acquiring content at a much more rapid pace than I was previously. And that additional content is filling up my hard drives fast.

Up until a few days ago, I had two OWC miniStacks connected to my Mac Mini. One with a 4TB drive, which contained all of my ripped DVDs, Blu-rays, music, recorded over-the-air content from Plex DVR, and iTunes content that I’ve removed the DRM from. And a second miniStack with an 8TB hard drive, which stores the Time Machine backups for the Mac Mini and my work-issued MacBook Air.

What has really put me over the edge in terms of outgrowing my storage setup has been the uptick in Blu-ray discs added to my collection, though. I only started purchasing Blu-rays last summer, after I bought a Blu-ray drive that I could use for ripping. With the settings I use in Handbrake, a DVD is usually in the neighborhood of 1GB, but Blu-ray discs are about six times that amount. Or quite a bit more, in some cases.

The size of DVDs aren’t too bad and the cost of iTunes movies kept me from acquiring too many by that method. And even when I bought movies or TV shows through iTunes, Apple only allows you to download files in 720p. That puts the average movie around 4GB. Those two factors did quite a bit to limit the amount of storage I needed and how quickly it was used.

But Blu-ray Discs are pretty cheap. I routinely find excellent films available in the format for around $5. Just a few days ago, Amazon was having a buy two get one free sale — I picked up six movies at an average of $10 each. That might seem like a lot, but three of the movies were Disney titles, which are notoriously expensive compared to the average.

Blu-ray discs are cheap, but as I mentioned above, they take up a lot more storage space — not to mention the amount of time required to rip Blu-rays. For a comparison, on my 2011 Mac Mini, I can rip and convert a DVD in about 1.5—2 hours, but a Blu-ray can take around 10 hours. It’s worth it, though. The quality is just so darn good. And I don’t have to pay a monthly fee in order to watch the film, like I would with Netflix or Hulu.

I’m still okay with 4TB of media storage at the moment, but it won’t be long before I need to upgrade. So I decided to lay the groundwork for that now. I had some options — I could have abandoned the idea of using a Mac Mini as my home server and purchased a network attached storage device, like a Synology. This would mean I’d end up with a single unit that stored all of my hard drives and was able to run most of the software I wanted to use.

That does sound appealing, but the key word there is “most”. As far as I can tell, there’s no way to rip DVDs or Blu-ray discs right on a Synology. I would need to move that task to another computer and then transfer the video files once they were converted. With Blu-rays taking so long to rip, I couldn’t tie up my work laptop with this process and I certainly didn’t want to maintain another computer to perform the task.

Beyond the inability to rip discs, a Synology would still be limited in what other software I could run on it. I still have occasional times where I need to run a specific piece of software on macOS. I use iOS as my primary platform, but I do have an always-on Mac Mini. So in instances where I need to use macOS, I can fire up Screens on my iPad and remotely access the machine to run whatever I need to. That isn’t really possible on a Synology.

And of course, when I retire the Synology as our home server — in about 10 years when it’s time to upgrade — I have an old Synology. Whereas if I stick with a Mac Mini, I’ll have a Mac that can be sold or repurposed for other tasks.

So because of all this, using a NAS was just out of the question. Instead, I started looking at drive enclosures that could serve my needs. After a bit of searching, I determined that OWC had the best selection. They offer enclosures with Thunderbolt 3 ports, which gives me some future proofing for when I eventually retire the 2011 Mac Mini and buy a new model. And they have a number of options for how many drives you want access to — including a six-drive enclosure, which is what I decided to order.

A few days ago, I received the ThunderBay 6 in the mail and I love it.

The enclosure is the exact same width as a Mac Mini, so just like I did with the miniStacks, I can set our home server on top of it — making a nice, clean setup. Drives are pretty easy to install. You turn the thumb screw on the drive tray, pull it out, use the included screws to attach a drive, slide it back in, and tighten the thumb screw.

I haven’t bought any additional drives to go with the ThunderBay 6 quite yet. Instead, I removed the 4TB and 8TB drives that I had in the miniStacks and installed them in the new enclosure. I plan on buying another set of those same two drives in the coming months to increase my storage capacity. At that point, I’ll likely setup two volumes — an 8TB RAID 0 array from the two 4TB drives for media and a 16TB RAID 0 array from the two 8TB drives for backups.

When I buy those new drives, I’ll only be using four of the available six drive bays, but that is by design. My thought is that I can, even further down the line, upgrade my storage again. When I do, I’ll buy two drives, setting them up in RAID 0 and inserting them into the two open slots. Once I migrate my data over, I can remove the two oldest drives and have those slots open for when I upgrade storage again.

You might be curious as to why I’m looking to use RAID 0, since it doesn’t offer any redundancy in case of a drive failure. There’s a few reasons:

  • Speed: I’m using spinning hard disks because they’re affordable and offer larger capacities than solid state drives. But that means read and write speeds are significantly slower. RAID 0 will ensure I have enough throughput to handle several simultaneous streams of high definition video while still being able to transfer files or perform backups without a hitch.
  • Affordability: There’s typically a sweet spot for hard drive pricing, where you get the best bang-for-your-buck. Go above or below that capacity and you end up spending more per gigabyte. Using a RAID 0, I can get larger volumes without paying the larger drive prices.
  • A single volume: For the backup drive specifically, Time Machine stores everything on a single volume. You can’t split it amongst multiple drives without the use of RAID. Since I’d like to use Time Machine for local backups and I need it to store quite a bit of data, RAID 0 is the best way to go.

Shifting focus back to the ThunderBay 6, I currently have it connected to my Mac Mini through a Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter — although it’s connected to the Mini’s Thunderbolt 1 port. This is my first experience with earlier versions of Thunderbolt and it’s a great interface. I knew it was faster than USB 2, which is how the drives were previously connected. But I didn’t expect to get speed improvements on my existing drives just by changing what interface they were connected to.

Over USB 2, the drives gave me about 30MB/s of read and write speeds, but over Thunderbolt I’m seeing about 120MB/s.

Speaking of Thunderbolt, the ThunderBay 6 includes two Thunderbolt 3 ports on the back, which allows you to daisy chain multiple Thunderbolt 3 devices. So if my storage needs really grew out of control, I could purchase another ThunderBay or some other Thunderbolt 3 storage solution and connect it to my existing one — no need to take up an additional port on my computer.

A nifty little inclusion, hidden in the back of the ThunderBay 6, is an NVMe slot. It’s pitched by OWC as a way to add a super fast scratch disk to your machine — storing project data there while you’re working on it. I’m not sure if I’ll ever end up using the feature, but if I ever needed access to super fast storage, I’m certainly happy to have the option.

Overall, I’m very happy with the ThunderBay 6 and it’s the best solution on the market for my needs. But it’s not without flaws.

The fan on the back is a bit louder than I would prefer. I’m off of work on parental leave, so I’m not spending too much time in our home office. But whenever I walk into the room, the fan noise sticks out like a sore thumb. I’m hoping it will fade into the background when I’m in there working, but I’m worried it won’t.

So I’ve decided to take matters into my own hands. The ThunderBay 6’s fan is user replaceable, so I’ve gone ahead and ordered a 92mm Noctua fan, which is arriving tomorrow. This specific fan should be quieter than the built-in fan, but it also comes with a couple cables that let you run the fan at lower speeds — further reducing its noise output. I think I’ll be able to reduce the unit’s noise without sacrificing too much of its cooling capabilities.

Another downside with the ThunderBay 6 is that you need to use screws in order to install drives in the trays. I’m a little concerned that I might lose track of the included screws before I end up needing them. It’s not that big of a deal, I’m sure I could find replacement screws if necessary. But I know other companies offer drive trays that are entirely tool-less — they typically use a plastic rail that snaps in place to hold the drives. I’d love to see OWC integrate a similar system into their offering.

And lastly, the ThunderBay 6 is expensive. Without any drives, the enclosure is priced at $579.99. I mean, it’s definitely a premium piece of hardware. The entire enclosure is made out of metal — I was shocked at how heavy the box was when it arrived — and it includes exactly the features I want. As I mentioned above, I did quite a bit of looking before I decided on this unit. There are plenty of other options on the market, but none of them are as nice as the ThunderBay 6.

But I mean, the enclosure alone is almost the same price as an entry-level Mac Mini. I can’t say what the ThunderBay 6 should be priced at, I don’t know enough about the costs behind manufacturing, supporting, and developing it, but I can say that it’s current pricing is a tough pill to swallow.

But again, there isn’t anything on the market that offers what the ThunderBay 6 does — delightful materials, Thunderbolt 3 interface, six drive bays, and an NVMe slot. Because of that, even with its high price point, I think the ThunderBay 6 is an excellent product.

Update 1/25/20: I spent a little time last night installing the Noctua fan — it was an easy install. Just a couple of screws to take off the back plate and then eight screws to remove the fan and fan grills. The ThunderBay 6 uses a standard 3-pin connector to power the fan, so I didn’t run into issues connecting the new fan.

The Noctua came with a couple of adapters to run the fan at different speeds. I tried all of them and found the ultra low-noise one to be the best for my setup.

I used my Apple Watch to measure the amount noise coming from the ThunderBay 6 from the front of the unit. With the stock fan and no activity on the drives, it clocked in at about 49 dB. The Noctua in its default state was about the same, but the low-noise adapter (the middle option) dropped it to 42 dB and the ultra low-noise put it at 39 dB.

According to the specifications of each of the fans there isn’t too much of a difference in airflow. The Noctua at its ultra low-noise setting moves about 25.3 CFM. I had to search for the part number of the stock fan and found one that is similar enough that I believe it’s the same part. The specifications listed 28.4 CFM as the amount of air it moves.

So I gave up 3.1 CFM and reduced the noise by about 10 dB. In practice, I can still hear the fan from my desk, but it’s a very low hum. When I’m typing away and focused on tasks, I don’t think I’ll notice it at all.

A First Look at the Doppler 2 Music App ➝

Marius Masalar takes a look at Doppler 2, a music app that’s built for people that maintain a collection of purchased tracks. The app looks slick and I’d love to give it a try, but you essentially have to transfer your music manually with iTunes file transfer, the Files app, or the app’s built-in WiFi transfer feature.

I currently store my music in my Plex library and use Prism for playback. Prism let’s me authenticate with my Plex credentials and either stream audio right from my server or download the tracks to play them locally. I can pick and choose which tracks to download or, from the library view, I can download all tracks that I haven’t yet. I would love to see Doppler fern this as an option as well. Until then, I’ll stick with Prism.

➝ Source: thesweetsetup.com

OWC miniStack ➝

I bought a couple of these OWC miniStacks that I’m using to upgrade our Mac Mini home server. The drive I had been using with Plex was running low on available space and I figured I’d get something that looked slick alongside the Mini. I wish they had an updated version that was in the Mac Mini’s new space gray color. I would have bought that instead so that when I eventually get a new Mac Mini, it would match. But I guess the silver enclosure will have to do.

I’ve only setup one of the miniStacks so far — paired with a 4TB Seagate drive. I’m slowly transferring everything over as I type this, deleting and organizing along the way. I haven’t bought a drive for the second enclosure quite yet, but I’m likely getting an 8TB drive that will be used as a Time Machine target for the Mac Mini and my work laptop.

➝ Source: owcdigital.com

Plex Partners With Lionsgate to Expand Its Collection of Free Streaming Movies ➝

I can imagine a future where I don’t pay for any streaming services at all. Plex already stores all of my ripped DVDs and Blu-rays, adding in free streaming of Warner Bros. and Lionsgate content will give us access to quite a bit content all in one place.

➝ Source: 9to5mac.com

Plex to Offer Free, Ad-Supported Content From Warner Bros. ➝

I’m a proud Plex Pass owner and have gone all-in on it for storing my media. I use it for music, ripped movies and TV shows from DVDs and Blu-rays, and have even stripped the DRM from all my iTunes content to keep in Plex too. I typically use Infuse for playing back video content, but that could change if this Warner Bros. deal turns out well.

➝ Source: appleinsider.com

Prism for iOS

Prism, Artist and Album List

While everyone was fawning over Soor, a full-scale Apple Music client that shipped last month, I was sticking to my roots of purchasing and managing my own library of music. Not to say that I don’t like Soor, quite the contrary, I even purchased the app despite not having an Apple Music subscription. I love seeing innovation in the App Store and will gladly support developers that do so. But paying a monthly fee for a streaming music service just isn’t my style.

I’ve maintained a collection of purchased AAC files and ripped MP3s ever since I received my first iPod as a gift over fourteen years ago. Back then I was managing my music in iTunes, not only because it was a great piece of software, but also because it was the only software that was capable of syncing with my primary audio player. But a couple years ago I transitioned my media to Plex — starting with my ripped movie and TV show collection and then eventually moving my music library as well.

It’s been a wonderful experience to have my media living in an application that allows me to stream from my home server to any device I own — whether I’m in my living room watching a movie on the Apple TV, streaming an episode of The Office on my iPad from a hotel, or playing back music in my car from my iPhone. Plex makes it easy to manage my music and gives me access to it whenever and wherever I want it.

I’ve watched as many of my friends and family have moved from purchasing music to paying a monthly fee to use a streaming service and I don’t entirely understand the appeal. Maybe if I was constantly discovering and listening to new music, I’d consider using such a servic, but that’s never been the way I experience music. I have a very distinct taste and rarely enjoy anything outside of that niche — I listen to pop-punk music almost exclusively. Since I only find a handful of new albums that I enjoy each year, its far more economical for me to purchase the music I want and use my existing home server and client applications to access it.

But the Plex app has never been a great music player. I would describe it as “passable at best”. You can build playlists, search for songs, sync tracks to your device for offline playback, and more. It has all the features you would want, but it lacks the simplicity and focus that I enjoy in a music application. I don’t want too many additional features to get in my way when I want to listen to the latest album by Stand Atlantic.

From the time I started managing my music library in Plex, every few months I would find myself searching the web for a music-focused application that I could use as a replacement for Plex’s own app. Something that was a little closer in functionality to Plexamp, which is the experimental, super minimal music player for Mac, Windows, and Linux that the folks at Plex released a little over a year ago.

Prism, Player and Up Next

Plexamp has become my default music player on macOS and I wanted something simple and streamlined that would allow me to playback music from my Plex library on iOS. My searching always came up empty, though. That is, until a few weeks ago when I came across a post on Plex’s forum from the developer of Prism.

Prism can playback locally stored music that you’ve synced from iTunes or purchased and downloaded from the iTunes Music Store. But more importantly, you can sign in with your Plex account and playback music from your Plex library.

The app has a simple interface that’s reminiscent of the iPod app from the early days of iOS. After logging into your Plex account and selecting your music library, you’re presented with a list of artists. You can tap the “Filter” button to display your library by album or track, if you prefer, and there are options for sorting as well — by name, recently added, most popular, and most played.

After selecting an artist, you can even choose how you want the individual artist page to display. I prefer a simple list of albums that I can tap to display tracks from, but you can display all of the tracks from the artist with album headers instead. And just like the main view, you have the ability to select how the items are sorted as well.

The application places a heavy focus on its filtering functionality, which gives you the ability to build playlists on the fly based on any number of criteria that you can mix and match to find just the songs you want — you can filter based on release date, whether or not a track has been played, media kind, artist, and more.

I haven’t found the filtering feature to be particularly useful for me, though. It’s nifty, but the app doesn’t allow you to save these filters for future use. So if you built one that was particularly rad, you would have to rebuild it each time you wanted to use it. In the future, I’d like to be able to save these filters as playlists or smart playlists because, for now, I don’t see the point in spending much time building complex filters only to lose all that work when I want to change views.

Alongside the app’s overall focus and minimalistic aesthetic, I’m a huge fan of the app’s player view. With the exception of the scrub bar, it features big chunky playback controls that are easy to interact with. Unlike the Plex app, there isn’t a bunch of additional, unnecessary cruft that clutters up the player. I don’t have any use for omnipresent repeat and shuffle buttons and I can’t think of a single instance where I’ve used the 10- and 30-second skip buttons, all of which are featured prominently in the Plex player.

Meanwhile, the main player view for Prism sticks to the basics — a scrub bar, play/pause, next, previous, a like button, volume bar, and AirPlay. The app also features an info button that will toggle the display of additional details about the file you’re playing — file format, bitrate, file size, and more. This is the only unnecessary control on the main player and it’s quite unobtrusive so I’m willing to overlook this minor detail.

But the player view is a bit deeper than what immediately meets the eye. You can swipe left and right on the album art, which functions as a next/previous track control. I don’t find myself using it too often, but I could see this being handy at times when you want to skip tracks without looking at the screen — like when you’re driving.

One of my favorite features of Prism, though, is the ability to swipe up on the player, revealing the repeat button and, more importantly, the Up Next queue. You can swipe on an individual track to remove it from the queue or use the grabber bars on the right to reorder them to your liking. My typical workflow involves launching the app, hitting shuffle from the main view to shuffle all of the tracks in my library. From there, I can swipe to the Up Next queue and remove tracks that I’m not in the mood for. This gives me the spontaneity of shuffle without the unexpected buzzkill, as Jimmy Iovine would put it.

The app isn’t without faults, of course. I’ve run into a bug a handful of times where the player won’t display properly — the album art and controls get sort of stuck while loading and the app loses most of its interactivity. The music still plays and you can control playback using Control Center or the lock screen, but the app itself is just in some weird mostly-frozen state.

I have confidence that the developer will track down and fix the bug, though. In the relatively short time I’ve been using the app, the developer has issued three updates, two bug fix-focused releases and one that included a major new feature — offline playback, which I’ll cover in a moment. I’ve also been on the Prism beta for a short while and the developer is typically issuing a handful of builds for each version that makes it to the App Store — there’s quite a bit of development activity.

Regarding that major feature release, though, offline playback is one of the most crucial features for the app. It opens the door for use on airplanes, long road trips with questionable cellular coverage, and home network oddities. Without the ability to cache tracks locally, you’re entirely reliant on your home server being able to serve the files. And that’s assuming you have internet access everywhere you go, which is not the case for my wife. She travels through two cellular dead zones on her daily commute and this app wouldn’t even be an option if not for the ability to download tracks locally.

Prism on iPad

Aside from offline playback, Prism also runs great on the iPad, making excellent use of the additional screen real estate to display both the artist list and the album/track list simultaneously. The developer even refers to the iPad version as “first class” right on the app’s homepage, which is quite reassuring to me, given that the iPad is my primary personal computer. I frequently use my iPad as my music playback device while I work, streaming to the AirPort Express-connected speaker on my desk and it makes for a fantastic listening experience.

Prism is a full-scale music player that offers just about everything you could want and more — I haven’t even covered its support for CarPlay, dark mode, 3D Tough, and multiple icon options. But most importantly, it has the ability to use your Plex library as a music source, which is a feature that simply no one is doing aside from Plex itself. And I think it does a better job in every way.