Having a home media server isn’t quite as technical as most people think. In the past, you’d need to invest in a high-end computer with lots of processing power or pay monthly for a slot at a data server. Nowadays all you need to do is download a program, install it on your laptop or computer, and it’s done. Although better computers run smoother, perform better, and don’t emit as much heat, a simple laptop is still fine. Where the debate lies is which software people decide to use, and this is commonly between Emby vs. Plex.
Plex is the better-known software. Its biggest use is that it is ideal for home media servers with movies and TV shows, and this is what attracts new users. After you install it and synchronize all of the movies and TV shows stored on your computer, Plex optimizes them and displays an attractive layout. This factor alone is enough of a reason for choosing Plex. Emby doesn’t let us down either and has a number of edges over top competitors. To give you more insight when making this decision, we’ll be comparing those two media servers and getting into the technical side of things.
Emby vs. Plex – Reasons to Use a Home Media Server
Before diving into the specifics of Emby vs. Plex, here are some reasons to think about if you are on edge about setting up a home media server.
#1 – Complete Content Control
All of the movies and TV shows that your home media server has is entirely based on what you add to it. There’s no hassle of digging through videos that you have no interest in at all. Instead, only stuff you actually want to watch will be shown.
#2 – Cheaper than Streaming Subscriptions
Netflix began as a cheap streaming platform, but its prices have been climbing, and it’s got more expensive over the years. Pair this with the fact that some shows are exclusive to other steaming sites (The Grand Tour and Vikings are only available on Amazon Prime Video); it’ll make a hole in your pocket to keep up with your favorite shows.
Having a home media server is free and even paying for the Plex Pass is nowhere near as expensive as Netflix.
#3 – Easily Share Content
Unless you send them your account’s email and password, sharing content is a hassle. If the person lives in another country, then there’s no guarantee that they can watch everything on your streaming account.
With a home media server, this isn’t a problem. Sharing videos can be done very easily and without region restrictions either.
#4 – Offline Access
Up until a couple of years ago, most streaming companies didn’t let users download content. Even now it isn’t an option which all users have. Home media servers commonly have a built-in offline downloading feature.
For the home media servers that don’t include this feature, it doesn’t matter too much. If you’re at the same place as the computer that has a media server installed, locally accessing your libraries is possible without an internet connection.
Emby vs. Plex – Comparing the Important Stuff
Time for the serious stuff. We did a lot of research surrounding Emby vs. Plex to figure out what home media server stood out. As such, to give you an insight into our research, here are the important factors to consider during your decision.
Setting up Plex and Emby are similar processes, and neither is difficult. Simply download the installation files, launch the installer, and let the server install. It should be obvious, but you need to install the server software on whichever computer stores the media.
After you install Plex, it’ll take you to the local website that it creates. Here you can set up some basic aspects of the server, including the local folders you wish to be made available through the home media server. Following this setup stage, Plex will start synchronizing all of the media in the folders you selected.
Emby is pretty much the same. You install the software, define some settings in regard to how Emby will work, and it’ll sync your media.
One visible difference is that Emby’s setup can get more technical due to there being a larger number of settings. That being said, those technicalities are optional, and users are only required to set a few settings to get the server up and running.
So, when comparing Emby vs. Plex and their installations, Plex is better for beginners. Emby’s advanced settings make it more viable for savvy users with more experience.
Comparing the compatibility of these two home streaming servers is difficult. Not because they lack in any way at all, but because they both support a lot of devices.
Emby and Plex can both be installed on Windows, Mac, and Linux computers. The list of devices you can watch these media servers on is fairly lengthy too:
- Android TV
- Amazon Fire Stick
- Playstation 3 & Playstation 4
- Xbox 360 & Xbox One
- Smart TVs (not all TVs are supported)
- Nvidia Shield
There’s a lot more to add to this list. Various smart home devices are capable of interacting with Emby and Plex in some ways. Both can be accessed through online browsers. Plex can even be used with Virtual Reality headsets whilst Emby works with docker and FreeBSD.
As you can see the playing field is even when it comes to the widespread compatibility and support offered by Emby and Plex.
3. User Interface Design
This one is pretty cut and dry. User interface design generally comes down to what the user prefers. We all like different color schemes and how things are laid out. Now, we remain unbiased as far as the Emby and Plex interfaces are concerned. But in our opinion, Plex takes gold in this one.
Plex’s interface appears sleeker, more modern, and it’s easy to navigate. Don’t take this the wrong way, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the Emby interface, and we can’t fault it in any way. Again, this is simply our opinion. However, we think that Plex has a friendlier design.
To briefly touch on customization (we’ll dive into more detail about this later), themes/skins are worth bringing up. Plex doesn’t offer any sort of theme changing features. You can switch between light and dark themes, but that’s about it. Emby’s theme/skin changing abilities are brief and somewhat complicated – more than Plex offers at least.
Due to this being a matter of preference, it wouldn’t be right to comment on Emby vs. Plex. Instead, if the aesthetic design is important to you, install them both, and see how your media is displayed.
4. Local and Remote Streaming
For those unaware, when you watch media on a home media server, there are two types of streaming. Local streaming is when users stream videos on a device that is connected to the same network as the computer which has a media server. Remote streaming is when users stream on a device on a different network connection. Emby and Plex are capable of both forms of streaming.
Everyone can use Plex and Emby for local streaming. Plex doesn’t limit any user’s abilities to stream from their libraries locally, whilst Emby is a different story. Emby does provide free local streaming, but this has limits – only in certain environments can you do so. Web browsers, a few smart TVs, and Roku are the only ways to stream for free on Emby.
Remote streaming, regardless of the server you choose, requires payment. As a premium-access feature, though, it doesn’t come alone. You can download from your library and basically have complete access and control over the home media server from wherever you are.
If you purchase the Plex Pass or Emby Premiere, don’t feel misled if remote streams are unavailable. You must manually enable this setting by opening the relevant dashboard and heading into the Settings menu. A short maintenance process may commence, and the server will likely need to restart, after which remote streams will turn on.
5. Plugins and Add-Ons
Understandably software developers aren’t in a position to include every single feature that fans request. Plugins, or add-ons, make it possible for users to create their own features or expand upon existing ones. Emby vs. Plex is balanced in this regard since they both offer support for plugins to be added.
Adding them isn’t difficult and is something you can do in a few clicks. Creating a plugin, on the other hand, is far from easy and requires extensive programming knowledge and experience. That’s why community discussion boards are beneficial.
On Plex, you can either do some research, find plugins that meet your needs and install them each manually. Or the more convenient method: install a single plugin known as The Unsupported App Store. This add-on gives you an easier way of installing any extras to your media server.
Emby doesn’t yet have an add-on like this, so you have to install each plugin individually. This is a mere inconvenience though and doesn’t impact Emby’s functionality.
So, overall, when it comes to plugins, neither has an impressive case to show. One factor which is out of Emby’s hands is the fact that there simply aren’t as many third-party plugins available as there is to Plex users. This is because of Plex being the veteran home media server.
Earlier, we touched on the subject of customization, something less important in the Emby vs. Plex argument.
Plex is at the bottom of the barrel and provides virtually no customization ability. The default skin is the only appearance option, but you can choose between light and dark modes. Unfortunately, this is the extent of Plex’s custom appearance settings due to it not being open source.
Emby is a more impressive home media feature, but customizing it requires a lot of know-how. This reflects the fact that Emby is a better home media server for individuals who have a technical understanding of servers and development.
Using CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), a coding language primarily used in web development, customizing your Emby server is possible. Of course, only a finite number of users are able to do this, and the odds are you can’t. What you can do is download themes made by other users and implement them yourself.
Unlike Plex, Emby is open source, and as a result, all aspects of customization are up for grabs. So, Emby vs. Plex, where appearance is of concern, Emby proves superior.
7. DVR and Live TV Streaming
Another feature that you can take advantage of on Plex and Emby is live TV streaming and DVR. These are two aspects of home media servers that give us the opportunity to move away from typical television services and focus the entirety of our entertainment centers on the media server.
Emby provides live TV streaming to both free and Emby Premier account holders. All channels are accessible, although this only applies to users who are on the website interface. To access live TV on any compatible device, you will need to sign up for Emby Premiere.
Plex isn’t quite as generous when it comes to live TV streaming. Only holders of the Plex Pass are able to access the live TV section, regardless of the device type you use.
The tuners in place vary very much between Emby vs. Plex. Naturally, this is where the standards greatly differ. Plex’s supported tuners include:
… but the list doesn’t end there. Installing one of several live TV Plex add-ons means you can add more tuners to this list. Emby doesn’t have a list of tuners, just the one: HDHomeRun. Fortunately like Plex, you’re able to add more via add-ons.
To sum up: Emby has limited free live TV streaming whilst Plex’s live TV is a completely premium feature. Plex does step it up by supporting more tuners than Emby though.
Our final focus will be on the cost that comes with these home media servers. Of course, they are considered as free media server solutions. However, both Emby and Plex don’t shy away from offering premium subscription services.
Note that for the most part, they are free. All of the features that users get by purchasing the premium passes are additional and in no means necessary. They may improve your experience though, but for a basic media server, you can settle with a free account.
Anyways, back to the premium accounts. Firstly, Plex offers what they call a “Plex Pass.” Pricing for this begins at £3.99 per month and to save money, Yearly and Lifetime plans are available. All of the plans share the same perks; the only difference is pricing.
With the Plex Pass, you can download from your media server using the Plex app for offline access, view data like how much bandwidth has been used and what the most-watched content is, and generally have more control over your home media server.
Emby’s pricing is closely aligned with Plex’s, starting at $4.99 per month with Yearly and Lifetime options.
After obtaining Emby Premiere, offline access, and automatic content converting is within arm’s reach. The latter is more helpful than you might think. Video file sizes can be very large, and streaming these can put a lot of stress on the network. Emby converts those large files to formats better suited for streaming.
Other Emby Premiere benefits include a backup and restore system, smart home synchronization, DVR recording, and access to free apps for the server.
Verdict – Which Media Server is Better?
Now that we’ve evaluated what we consider to be the most important factors in Emby vs. Plex, you should be narrowing down on your selection. To make this even easier, below is a summary table.
|Local Streaming||Free Access||Free Access (limited)|
|Remote Streaming||Requires Plex Pass||Requires Emby Premiere|
|Plugins / Add-ons||Made by the community||Made by the community|
|Appearance Customization||No||Yes (requires CSS coding)|
|Compatibility||All popular device types, and some uncommon devices (VR headsets)||All popular device types|
|Cost||Free / Premium (£3.99 + / month)||Free / Premium ($4.99 + / month)|
So, it’s clear that Emby and Plex are two very similar home media server solutions. There are lots of specifications where they are very similar to one another, although there are some crucial differences to think about.
Being able to customize your media server’s appearance is only possible with Emby, while Plex has more support and is favorable to free users. For the record: whichever media server software you use will present content in a visually appealing and navigable way.
BONUS: Track What You Watch
Amazon Prime Video and Netflix have tracking features. This lets you watch content and return to it later without losing the point you watched up to. In addition, you can watch more than one show at once without muddling up how far you got into each show.
After deciding between Emby vs. Plex, either media server solution will provide progress tracking features. However, for those people who watch movies and TV shows across multiple streaming platforms (maybe you have accounts for Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, and now Plex), keeping track of everything you watch can get messy.
Fortunately, there are a number of websites and apps which enable cross-platform tracking. To name a few:
Trakt is the best way for accessing your TV show progress from across various streaming platforms, in one central place. It comes free (with a premium subscription option), and better yet, it can be hooked into Plex.
CineTrak shares some of Trakt’s best features but is an iOS and Android application. Watching a lot of ongoing shows at once makes it easy to forget when each new episode airs. Adding all these shows to CineTrak will generate a calendar that displays the air dates of your shows’ next episodes and notify you.
Last is SeriesGuide which, to be fair, is largely similar to CineTrak. Even though it’s free, the SeriesGuide X Pass can be bought. This will sync movies and TV shows from various platforms, and as a safeguard, backups will be taken of your account data. These backups will be stored on the SeriesGuide Cloud so that if your smartphone breaks, the data won’t be lost.
Trakt is the best of these, but whatever you choose, your streaming experience will be better. No more trying to remember what you were watching, how far you watched and forgetting the other shows you planned on watching.
Conclusion on Emby vs. Plex
Thankfully home media servers are surprisingly simple to set up. The likes of Plex and Emby can install on a computer within minutes. In this short amount of time, you will be presented with a professional-grade media server that displays your media on an attractive interface. Organized is an understatement in regard to those solutions. Emby vs. Plex comes down to your preferences and how you plan to use them. For movies and TV shows, Plex is definitely the way to go, no doubt about it. On the other hand, if your media server will also host family photos and video clips, Emby is the more appealing choice. To enhance your experience, be sure to look at a tracking app too!