In the early days of the internet, media collectors depended on technologies like DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) to share stored digital content among multimedia devices.
But it had its limits, such as the fact that capability was restricted to DLNA-certified devices. The stack of features was also laughably small.
Then came third-party applications like Jellyfin and Plex. Within a few years, they streamlined the use of media server technologies as a means of consuming media content remotely. Their popularity and effectiveness have gotten so high that many users have trouble picking one.
In this article, I will help you answer all the questions you have about either product. In the end, you will have a clear picture of what the media server software are and the right one for your needs. Ready? Let’s dive in.
Before diving into the qualities of each software, let’s learn what they actually are, starting with Jellyfin.
It is a free media server software that allows you to control, manage, and share your digital media with multimedia devices remotely.
You can use it to access your stored movies, TV shows, music, and watch or record Live TV from anywhere.
If you are not familiar with media servers, don’t worry. All you need to know is Jellyfin is like Netflix or any streaming service.
But instead of paying to access content, the media files are already on your computer or storage device. The software automatically organizes and makes them accessible remotely.
Jellyfin is open-source software that needs two devices. One acts as the server (can be a PC, laptop, or NAS) and houses your media collection.
The other acts as the client, with which you can access the files remotely. This can be a game console, tablet, smartphone, or web browser.
The software is installed on both devices and, with a few settings, you have your own media hub, playable from anywhere.
Plex performs the same function at a basic level although it is the more popular and established application. It is a media server software that automatically organizes your media files and lets you consume them from anywhere.
However, unlike Jellyfin, the software is closed-source and aims to become a one-stop hub for all your media consumption.
You can consume movies and TV shows that are not necessarily saved on your hard drive thanks to partnerships with media companies like Lionsgate, Warner Bros, and MGM.
There are also web shows from partnered online content producers. Beyond that, Plex offers live TV and lets you stream arcade games, specifically Atari games.
What’s more, aside from being a media server, Plex is also a media player for playing content across a majority of devices.
The player is compatible with iOS, Android, Chromecast, PlayStation, AppleTV, and more. Along with the server version, they give you full control of your media files.
Ultimately, you should know that neither software creates nor curates content. Except for Plex’s partnerships and live TV, all available streamable media depend on your media library.
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I have covered what both software are, but how do they compare in terms of features? Here is a comparison of their respective list of features.
The founders of Jellyfin started the project after Emby, a former open-source program, went commercial and development became closed-source.
Since the initial release in December 2018, the media server software has grown its list of features beyond the standard capability of a media server. Its features include:
- SyncPlay Support – it allows different users to stream media content from the same server in a synchronized fashion. This includes movies, TV shows, and music. Users can connect with friends and family and consume any form of media at the same time.
- Media Transcoding – No need to worry about bandwidth or file compatibility with your media player. Jellyfin has automatic transcoding. It adjusts the quality of the file to match the internet speed and converts the codecs on the fly for any device.
- PDF and Comics Reader Functionality – Most users use media servers to watch movies and TV shows. But for those who want to read their catalog of ebooks remotely, the application offers adequate support.
- Plug-in Support – Jellyfin is extensible i.e. you can add additional functionality via official and third-party plug-ins. You can add plugins like Open Subtitles to download subtitles or Trakt to keep track of your watched content.
Jellyfin’s additional stack of features includes support for DLNA, Live TV and DVR, and QuickConnect. The latter allows users to sign in easily on new devices via formerly authenticated devices.
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As a commercially oriented media server, Plex packs a lot more features compared to Jellyfin. Some of them are free to use, others require a subscription. These features include –
- Watch Together – This is a way to enjoy movie nights with friends and family from one server, even when they are in different locations. Content is synchronized for everyone to experience every moment at the same time.
- Free streaming content – Plex also offers a substantially large catalog of free movies and TV shows asides from your local content. You can access it via its playback apps without having to set up a Plex Media Server.
- Library sharing – Plex lets you share your media library with other users. It is a useful way of giving access to your media files without physically sharing them or using a cloud service like iCloud or Google Drive.
- Server Management Apps – Plex offers multiple tools to help you manage the content and usage of the Plex Media Server. These include Plexamp (music player) and Plex Dash to track server logs and graphs for network, memory, and processor usage.
Other Plex features include Live TV, DVR, and parental controls. Plex also supports offline viewing on mobile devices. You can download media files to your device and consume them without internet access.
Both software have excellent features that make them ideal tools for running a media server. However, that’s not to say opting for either one doesn’t come with its drawbacks. Here is a quick rundown of the limitations of each software.
One disadvantage of using Plex that jumps out when you compare it to Jellyfin is the paywall. The features that truly make it unique only exist in the premium version.
Full access to mobile apps, DVR, offline viewing, and smaller features like adding lyrics via LyricFind all require paid subscription.
Secondly, there is limited room for customization, especially when it comes to the user interface. While the software is easy to use and intuitive, it does not give users wide berth for customization. If you want to tinker with the look of your media server, Plex is not the ideal option for you.
There are smaller drawbacks such as ad-supported movies, TV shows that can’t be fixed, and limited support for plugins and third-party add-ons.
The closed-source development also means additional features depend on the company’s commercial interest. However, these can be overlooked if you are only interested in managing your media library remotely.
On the other hand, Jellyfin gives its users a lot more room to customize the app. However, major changes require some technical know-how from the user.
As a relatively new media server application, it might be too early in its development for beginners or casuals for radical UI customization.
What’s more, it doesn’t offer any free content, ad-supported or otherwise. Asides from its support for Live TV, every playable content depends entirely on your local database.
Lastly, Jellyfin is open-source. And while that means it is completely free, long-term stability depends entirely on the contributions of its developers. Any significant decline in user or developer interest could spell the end of the freeware.
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Considering they serve a niche group of media consumers, just how easy is it to set up these media servers? Here is a breakdown of how Jellyfin and Plex compare when it comes to installation.
To install Jellyfin on the server device, you need to head over to the official Jellyfin website. There, you will find different options, arranged according to the operating system of the server device.
There are stable and unstable versions for each OS. If you are new to media servers or want something reliable, it is advisable to select the stable option. Depending on your internet speed, downloading the software is fairly quick.
Once the download is complete, installing Jellyfin is no different from installing any other software. The software itself requires a small fraction of storage space and there is a prompt that guides you through the entire process.
After this, all you have to do is open the app and set up your server. The procedure is just as simple as installing the app, with clear and easy-to-understand prompts guiding you through each step.
However, setting up Jellyfin is not complete until you install the client app on your streaming device. To do this, all one has to do is visit the device’s app store or visit the freeware’s website. Once the app is installed, you only need to launch it and connect it to the server.
Although it supports customization, Jellyfin’s installation process is simple and can be set up in a few minutes.
The first step to getting Plex is downloading the server application onto the device that houses your media library. This can be a PC or a laptop. However, the media server must always be on, which is why a NAS device is considered the optimal choice.
Once the download is complete, the installation process is also pretty straightforward. All you need to do is follow the prompt.
After installing the software, you need to add your media folders. Plex makes the entire process of setting up the server easy by providing guides at every step. It is stress-free and requires minimal technical expertise.
The story is the same on the client’s side. All you need to do is identify the relevant app for your operating system (Android, iOS, AndroidTV, AppleTV, etc) and install it.
They are mostly available on the device’s play store but you can also access the apps from the company’s website.
Simply put, if you are a beginner-level user who is new to media servers and their applications, Plex is a great place to start.
I already stated that Jellyfin is completely free, but does that make it cheaper in terms of value than Plex? Is Plex Pass worth it? Here is how both applications compare in terms of economic value.
Let’s make something clear. You don’t have to pay a dime to use Jellyfin or access its entire stack of features. Everything from client apps, local and remote streaming, Live TV & DVR to plug-ins and library sharing is completely free.
The founders of the server application also intend to keep it free and open-source for life. As a result, the team of developers working on the project is comprised entirely of volunteers.
If you have the requisite knowledge, you can support them by testing beta versions, reporting bugs, and suggesting features.
If you are not a developer, you can support in three ways –
- Write documentation
- Help others troubleshoot
- Help pay for expenses
If you wish to pay for expenses, you can make your donations via the team’s OpenCollective page.
On the other hand, Plex is a product by a commercial company running a subscription-based consumption model. Most of the basic features are available for free and good enough if you are only interested in streaming your content locally.
However, if you want more out of your media server and wish to access advanced features like DVR and parental controls, you need a Plex Pass subscription. You can get a monthly sub for $4.99, annually for $39.99, or lifetime access for $119.99.
Asides from DVR and parental controls, it will also give you access to other Plex features like:
- Mobile Sync – to wirelessly keep copies of your media files on mobile devices for offline playback
- Camera Upload – sync photos taken on your mobile device to your Plex for universal access on all Plex clients
- Plex VR – watch movies and TV shows with up to four people inside a virtual drive-in movie theater or apartment
Other benefits include complete access to all Plex client apps, hardware-accelerated streaming, and access to lyrics for your music.
Another significant benefit is Plex Arcade. It is the company’s game streaming feature that allows you to play up to 27 classic Atari games and stream your games and emulators. It costs $5 per month without Plex Pass, but subscribers get access for $3 per month.
However, prices change, so check out their pricing page for the latest information.
When it comes down to daily usage, just how efficient is each software? How many bugs can you expect to deal with? Is the interface intuitive? This is how both software compare when it comes to user experience.
Advanced users might not be a fan of Plex’s commercial interests in what is essentially a tool for media hobbyists. However, there is no denying that it makes Plex an industry leader when it comes to user experience.
It is extremely easy to use, with an intuitive interface that takes away the technical knowledge that media servers often require.
The software offers a step-by-step walkthrough for every part of the application, on the server and client-side.
Additionally, with over 43 supported languages, there is no linguistic barrier to using the app. What’s more, smaller features like the ability to use your phone as a TV remote and a highly efficient transcoding capability make the user experience smoother and stress-free.
If there is any major downside, it is the fact that several of the features that elevate UX require a Plex Pass subscription. Regardless, without it, Plex remains a great choice for day-to-day use.
Being completely free already places Jellyfin high on the user experience scale. Users do not have to worry about losing access to favorite features after canceling their subscription because there isn’t one.
Using the app itself though can be a mixed bag. Right out of the gate, let me say the majority of users have positive things to say when it comes to daily usage, especially those using the stable version of the app. However, there have been some issues when it comes to reading embedded metatags.
This is a behind-the-scene process that helps the software organize your media files correctly. The application uses tools like The Movie Database (TMDB) and TheTVDB to catalog content, but they are not always efficient and sometimes scan file names wrongly.
To be fair, Jellyfin’s documentation provides a simple and clear way to avoid this problem. You need to create a folder for each category of content and a subfolder for each file. This might be fine if you have a small collection, but tedious and practically impossible for larger ones.
There are online tools and solutions you can deploy to fix the naming issue automatically, but they require some technical expertise on the part of the user.
Aside from this, Jellyfin is better than decent when it comes to user experience. As long as you are using the stable version of the software.
Finally, no system is perfect. How do these apps hold up when it comes to customer and community support? Are you on your own after installation or do you get adequate and timely help?
Jellyfin does not have a standard customer support system. Being a volunteer project, all expenses gathered from donations go towards the necessary tools to keep it functioning.
However, it makes up for it with a substantial developer community and a growing passionate user base.
It has an active online forum across Reddit, Twitter, and Telegram. You can also reach out to developers and other users for solutions to any issue via Discord and the Matrix network. This may seem unconventional, but it is very useful and should serve any need.
Having been around for much longer, Plex has a larger community of users. Thus, there is plenty of community support to access when you need it. The media server company has a forum on its website and there is a subreddit with over 186,000 members.
However, when it comes to official customer support, there is room for improvement. There is no visible dedicated phone number to call or email address.
The only way to reach its support team is by filling a web form on its website. Needless to say, Plex could be better in this category.
|Ease of Installation||Easy to install||Easy to install|
|User Experience||Good user interface. Minimal metatag scanning issues.||Intuitive user interface|
|Supported Devices and Platforms||Windows, Linux, macOS, Kodi, Docker||macOS, Windows, Linux, QNAP, Docker, FreeBSD|
|Supported Players||Android TV, Fire TV, Roku, Xbox One, Andriod, iOS, Google Cast||Apple TV, Android, Chromecast, PlayStation, webOS, Xbox, iOS, Fire TV|
|Mobile Apps||Limited but expanding||Only non-mobile apps are free|
|Pricing||Completely free||Freemium($4.99/month, $39.99/year, $119.99/lifetime)|
|Live TV and DVR||Yes and Yes||Yes and Yes (needs subscription)|
|Customization||Open-source and very flexible||Limited flexibility|
|Library Sharing||Yes||Yes (paid feature)|
|Free Online Content||No||Yes|
|Plugins and Addons||Yes||No|
|Virtual Reality Support||No||Yes|
|Offline Viewing||Yes||Yes (paid feature)|
|Customer and Community Support||No Customer Support. Has large and growing community||Yes and Yes|
Jellyfin and Plex are great options if you are thinking about setting up a media server.
Both of them are adept at serving the basic purpose of owning a server and if that is all you want, Jellyfin is the better option. It is entirely free and you get to be part of a community of enthusiasts ready to offer help at a moment’s notice.
However, if you want an extra kick out of your media server, with advanced features like game streaming, virtual reality watchalongs, and legal access to other online content platforms, Plex is the better option. You will have to pay a small fee to access them, but the experience is worth it.
Overall, I’d say Jellyfin is the better of both software. Yes, Plex currently has more features and is more polished, but Jellyfin’s feature list grows by the day and you don’t have to pay for them.
Secondly, Plex’s model places profit front and center, which is why useful features like library sharing and mobile client apps require a subscription. When you add that to the limited customer support, Plex’s advantages diminish.
So, as a final verdict, I would say Jellyfin is the better short and long-term option.