This article is part of a series on Media Streaming and Automation. See the media streaming overview post for further information or click on the “Streaming” menu in the site’s header menu.
Plex Media Server is an application that allows users to stream their media content from a central computer or server to any number of devices, remote or in-network. The application itself is just a tool – its functionality requires the administrator to already have a curated collection of movies, TV Shows, or music.
Its base service is free for all users, but a premium subscription-based model called Plex Pass is also available for additional functionality.
Relative to the other applications found in my media streaming guide, Plex is the only application that is actually required to set up a media streaming server as its service is responsible for streaming a user’s media to their devices.
Plex Media Server is available for virtually every operating system, which is a lot of information to cover in this guide. As a result, I’ll assume you’ve managed to install the Plex Media Server application on your hardware using the existing online documentation and are ready to proceed with the initial setup.
Before we get started, I’d like to spend a few minutes talking about media organization, because Plex and all of the other applications covered in this guide will depend on having your media organized in a very specific way to make it easier to manage.
All of your media types should have a master folder (Movies or TV Shows) and then be configured as follows:
Within your “Movies” folder, each movie file should reside in its own folder. Plex also prefers each movie folder and file name contain the movie title and release year. As you can see in my screenshot below, I include some additional information in the file name.
Don’t worry if your movie folders and files aren’t named this way – I’ll show you how to bulk update your movie file names when I cover how Radarr’s functionality in a later post.
If you have any extras (deleted scenes, posters, subtitles, etc.), they should also be saved in each individual movie’s folder.
TV shows should also have their own individual folders within the master folder, and then each individual episode in a “Season XX” folder within that folder (where XX is the number of the season).
Plex also has a recommended way to name your TV show files and folders, but that may differ depending on the type of TV show you’re managing. At the very least, each show’s folder should have the show title and release year in its name, and each individual file’s name should contain the show title and “S01E01” information (where S = Season and E = Episode).
If you don’t have your files organized or named this way, I’ll show you how to bulk update them when I cover Sonarr’s functionality in a later post.
If you aren’t planning to leverage Radarr and Sonarr for media management, you can utilize a handy application called FileBot to bulk edit your file names instead before proceeding.
Now that your media is organized correctly (or is at least close – Plex can be flexible with reading your files until we cover bulk editing later in Radarr and Sonarr) – start the Plex Media Server application, which should open its web interface in your default web browser. This is where you’ll manage your Plex settings moving forward.
Click through the first screen or two until it asks you to give your server a name. This can be anything – it’s how Plex and the other applications will refer to your server and is the name that will appear should you choose to share it with other users.
After you’ve entered a name, check the “Allow me to access my media outside my home” box and click next.
The next screen is going to assist you in setting up your media libraries. A media library is what Plex refers to a collection of a single media type (movies, TV shows, photos, music, etc.). For the purposes of this guide, I’m going to focus on creating a movie library so I’ve deleted the default Music and Photos libraries it recommends. You can also mirror the following steps and create a TV show library if you’d like as well.
Another note on media organization – while there isn’t a right or wrong way to store your media, Plex and all the other applications in this guide work best when you have all of your movies in a single folder and library. Plex provides functionality that allows you to organize your media within a library if you’d like to group or filter the items in a certain way without having to manage multiple libraries.
When you’re ready, click the “Add Library” button and select the type of library you’d like to create. It’ll then ask you for a name – I’ll keep mine as “Movies” since I only plan on having one movie library on my server.
Click “Next” and Plex is going to ask you to add folders that contain the media files for the library you’d like to set up. Click “Browse for Media Folders” and find the folder that contains your movies. Select it and click “Add”.
Before you click “Add Library”, click into the “Advanced” tab on the left and change the following settings:
- Deselect “Enable video preview thumbnails” to save storage and processing power from Plex having to continuously create thumbnail images
- Change the “Agent” dropdown from “Plex Movie” to “The Movie Database” (I find this to be a more reliable repository of information and metadata that Plex will use to populate your media info)
- Uncheck the “Use collection info from The Movie Database” because it tends to get a little carried away with automatically creating collections if you allow it to
Note: All of the changes above are changes I make to suit my own needs. You may find a different combination of settings that better accommodate the functionality you’re looking for and you’ll be able to figure that out over time.
When you’re finished, click “Add Library”. If you’d like to add another library, repeat the previous steps and click “Next” when you’re finished.
Click “Done” on the next page where it tells you about the variety of Plex apps available and it should take you to the default homepage of your server where you can finally begin managing your media.
Default Plex View
The page you’re now viewing is where Plex will bring you when navigating to app.plex.tv. There are several ways to customize it to fit your needs, which involves choosing which order to show recently added items and items on deck, as well as organizing the quick access navigation bar to the left.
Play around with the settings until you find something that suits your needs, and then move on to the next section.
Organizing Your Media in Plex
Clicking into a media library on the left will bring you to a page where you can view each item within that library (using the menus at the top to organize or sort based on various criteria).
Hovering over each item will allow you to select options to manage and edit that particular item. The official Plex documentation does a fantastic job outlining each individual setting that can be changed per item.
Configuring Collections to Manage Media
As I mentioned earlier, the ideal setup for Plex is to store all of your files in a master folder, which you can then further tweak within Plex’s library settings.
One of the best ways to organize your media is through a Plex feature called Collections. This functionality allows you to group media items together based on your own desired criteria, but is typically used to organize movies within a series or movie universe.
When editing an individual item’s details as discussed above, a media item can be added to a collection by typing the name of the desired collection in the “Collections” field, as so:
Once you’ve created and added items to your collections, you can view them by navigating into a media library and changing the dropdown at the top from “Library” to “Collections”.
As you may have noticed, Plex allows you to upload custom posters for collections if you desire.
Now that your media is organized within Plex, let’s make a few tweaks within Plex’s settings using the settings icon in the top right:
Online Media Sources
The “Online Media Sources” menu on the left manages the options to enable or disable Plex from providing users with online media aside from the media you’ll already be providing from your own collection.
While you may appreciate Plex’s free movies selection or find the ability to manage online podcasts helpful, I usually disable everything within this menu because I’m only interested in managing my own media files from within Plex.
Users & Sharing
If you plan on sharing your library with external users, you can do this via the “Users & Sharing” menu.
To invite a user to be able to access your Plex library, click the “Share Libraries” button and invite them using their e-mail address. They’ll need to create their own free Plex account if they don’t already have one.
From there, you can use this menu to determine which libraries each shared user has access to or you can just give them access to everything right away.
Before an external user is able to see the items on your server, you’ll need to follow the port forwarding instructions in the “Remote Access” settings section below.
By default, your network and Plex may not be configured properly to allow Plex to stream media items to users outside of your local network. To do so, you’ll need to configure a port forwarding rule within your router’s settings to allow external access.
Because every router is different, I can’t outline the exact steps to set up a port forwarding rule in your router’s settings, but if you’re unfamiliar with how to do so, find your router on this site and follow the steps on how to do so.
Also, if you haven’t already done so, before creating the port forwarding rule, assign your server a static internal IP address within your router’s settings as well. This is the IP address the port forwarding rule will reference.
When you’re finished, your router should point external requests to port 32400 (which is the default Plex port – you can change it in the settings if you’d like) to the static IP of your server.
Here is what my settings look like after having been properly configured (I’ve obscured my public IP address for privacy purposes):
Find and uncheck the “Empty trash automatically after every scan” box. This will make managing and upgrading your media using Radarr and Sonarr easier and will require you to occasionally empty your libraries’ trash instead.
While I’ve only scratched the surface of what’s possible in Plex, you should at least have the base configuration ready to begin streaming your media to other devices. Everything else is yours to explore and tweak to your liking!
Below are some additional links I’ve found helpful in my Plex journey, but don’t forget to also reference Plex’s official online documentation for further configuration guides.
Feel free to reach out in the comments if you have a question or would like to leave some feedback on this guide!
- How to transfer Plex metadata from Windows 10 to a different operating system
- How to change the Plex data folder location on Windows
If you’ve found this or any of the other posts on SHIFT14 helpful, please consider supporting the site through a one-time PayPal donation or ongoing support through Patreon. My goal is to continue providing in-depth guides for the technical community and the support helps justify the time and resources spent doing so.