There are ways to record live programs for your digital library, but they’re fairly niche. Plex, the popular media server app, has a new solution to compete with the likes of ChannelMaster, Simple.TV, Tablo and TIVo. Plex can now act as a live TV and DVR guide, recording shows directly into your existing collection. Better still: the service is available right now, at no extra charge to Plex subscribers.
Plex briefed me on the program’s new DVR features, which promises to be of special interest to cord cutters (although there’s a little something for cable subscribers as well). The process is extremely simple: Purchase an HDHomeRun digital tuner box, hook it up to an HD antenna (or cable box) of your choice, then connect the service with your Plex account. The whole process takes only a few minutes, and while it costs a little money up front, there are no extra fees on top of the regular Plex subscription costs.
I saw a demo of the new features in action, and both setup and navigation seem extremely simple. After setting up the HHR box and antenna, users simply use the Plex Media Server program on a computer connected to the same Wi-Fi network. Plex finds the box, scans the channels and sets up a comprehensive guide.
From there, users can either search for specific content or browse. Browsing especially seems rather sophisticated. Not only can users browse by channel, like through a cable box, but Plex also organizes content into a few helpful categories. In addition to “On Right Now,” “Starting Soon” and “Premieres Tonight,” which are exactly what they sound like, Plex also users your existing library to suggest “Upcoming Favorites.” Users can also find movies, sports and news, with potentially more categories on the way.
Plex was also quick to highlight the program’s useful conflict management algorithms. An HHR box has only a certain amount of tuners, so if you try to record more programs than you have tuners, Plex will notify you. You can then simply drag and drop programs to prioritize which ones need to be recorded at all costs, and which ones Plex can catch on a rerun. If someone turns on the TV during this time (which would occupy a tuner), the program will also notify users that someone is interfering with their recordings right away.
The DVR feature is in beta right now for all Plex subscribers, which means you’ll need to dish out $5 per month, $40 per year or $150 for a lifetime pass. While the new functionality doesn’t radically change Plex’s functionality, that’s kind of the point. The program is still clean and intuitive, but now offers a feature that users previously had to get elsewhere. If you’re ready to cut the cord, this seems like as good a reason as any — although you don’t have to, as HHR works with cable boxes as well.