What Is Plex Live TV? What Cord-Cutters Need to Know

Plex Live TV is not your typical cable TV alternative, and that's a good thing. That's because it's considerably cheaper than the competition.

After you have two key ingredients in place, you'll be able to cut the cord while spending a lot less than you would on something like Sling TV or YouTube TV. And Plex Live TV even includes pause, play, rewind and fast-forward functionality, so you've got all the control you need.

Credit: Plex

(Image credit: Plex)

For just $5 per month, Plex Live TV will allow you to stream and record live television programming in your area. To get set up, Plex Live TV requires a digital tuner (about $100) and HDTV antenna ($10 and up) to capture over-the-air broadcasts. You can then watch that programming from within the Plex Live TV interface, and if you use the company’s DVR, record shows and movies for watching later.

Plex Live TV presents a possible boon for cord-cutters, but it’s still new and you might have some questions. Here's what you need to know.

What Is Plex, Anyway?

Plex is one of the more prominent and popular platforms for organizing and playing media both inside and outside the home. At its foundation, Plex is a media server that works across platforms, like Windows, macOS and others, and allows you to store and organize all of your media content, including music, photos and videos in the service.

On the other side of the equation are Plex apps that work across smartphones, set-top boxes, and other devices, to let you watch and access all the content stored on your server.

MORE: How to Use Plex Media Server

Think of Plex as a digital repository for all your favorite content, as well as a platform for accessing that content on the devices of your choosing. It’s like your own on-demand entertainment service.

How Much Does Plex Live TV Cost?

If you’re truly looking to cut the cord and save some cash, opting for Plex Live TV might be a smart move.

In order to access Plex Live TV, you need to be a Plex Pass subscriber. The subscription costs $5 per month, or $40 per year. But if you really want to save some cash and plan on using the service over time, spend $120 and get a lifetime subscription to Plex Pass.

In addition to live TV and DVR support, Plex Pass lets you sync your content for offline access, turn on parental controls, and more.

What Do I Need to Get Plex Live TV to Work?

While Plex in and of itself is a program you can download and use wherever you want, if it’s live television you’re after, you’ll need a few more components.

Credit: Plex

(Image credit: Plex)

First , you’re going to need the Plex media server downloaded to the devices of your choosing. Plex has built the live-TV functionality directly into the server, so you don’t need to fuss. There, you can also access your DVR features.

MORE: Why I Dumped Sling TV for PlayStation Vue

Next, you’ll need to buy a HDTV digital antenna that you set up either inside or outside your home. That digital antenna will connect to a Plex-compatible tuner that will also interact with your Plex media server.

Once the hardware is ready, you can open Plex, which will automatically detect the tuner and find all the channels that your digital antenna is capturing over the air. The Plex software takes care of the television programming guide, DVR functionality and more.

Which Digital Antennas and Tuners Work with Plex Live TV? 

According to Plex, its service will work with any digital antenna you choose. So you can opt for an indoor or outdoor model of your choice and it will work with Plex without worry. (Here’s a look at how to get better reception with your TV antenna.)

Tuners, however, are a different story. Previously, Plex only worked with HDHomerun tuners. Now, though, the company has expanded its list of tuners to include a handful from other companies, including Hauppauge and DVBLogic.

Here’s a full list of compatible Plex tuners:

  • Hauppauge WinTV-dualHD

  • Hauppauge HVR-955Q

  • Hauppauge soloHD, Digital TV

  • Hauppauge quadHD

  • Hauppauge Freeview HD TV for Xbox One

  • AVerMedia AVerTV Volar Hybrid

  • DVBLogic TVButler 100TC

  • HDHomeRun Connect

  • HDHomeRun Extend

  • HDHomeRun Prime

  • HDHomeRun Expand

On Which Devices Can I Watch Programming?

Originally limited to Android TV and iOS devices, such as the iPhone, iPad and iPod, as well a a host of Android TV devices, like the Nvidia Shield, Plex Live TV is now also available on the Apple TV.

Credit: Plex

(Image credit: Plex)

What Kinds of Features Does Plex Live TV offer?

Once you have Plex Live TV up and running, you’ll find a list of programs you can watch through the service. It also comes with a handy guide, so you can see what’s upcoming, so you don’t miss a moment. The guide also lists show and series descriptions, so you can quickly determine whether you want to watch certain content.

Where Plex Live TV shines, however, is with its integration with Plex DVR. The DVR lets you record either a single airing of a television show or an entire series. And it saves it in your Plex account, so you can watch it whenever you wish. The DVR will also let you record multiple shows at once.

And since Plex is designed to work across devices over the internet, you can watch programming anywhere you are. You simply need to have your digital antenna and tuner set up and streaming over the internet, and you can watch your shows from afar.

Plex Live TV's Time Shifting feature adds pause, play, rewind and fast-forward controls to its live-streamed programming, giving viewers the option to replay amazing moments or take a second for a bathroom break.

Can I Record Live TV Programming?

Yes. But it won’t happen out of the box. Instead, you’ll need to have both Plex Live TV and Plex DVR running on your account to make it happen.

Which Channels Can I Watch and Record?

Well, that all depends. Since Plex Live TV is relying upon your digital antenna to capture programming, you’ll be limited to the networks that are beaming  content over the air in your location.

Generally speaking, most major networks have over-the-air broadcasts, and many sports channels, like ESPN, broadcast content, as well. So, you should be able to get a nice selection of content for your Plex buildout. 

If you want to see a full list of over-the-air channels in your area, click here for a handy guide from AntennaWeb.

MORE: Best Streaming Devices: Chromecast, Roku, Apple TV & More

How Does Plex Live TV Compare to the Competition?

Plex Live TV has several competitors, all trying to get you to use their service to watch live TV. The biggest difference between Plex Live TV and these alternatives is that Plex has a much lower monthly cost of just $5 per month, even though you need other gear like an HD antenna and tuner. Which Sling TV, Playstation Vue and other options, everything is streamed directly over the web.

Sling TV: Sling TV won’t require you to get your own digital antenna and tuner. Instead, you can simply boot up the app and start watching programming on your favorite channels. However, Sling TV comes in several bundle options, like your cable or satellite provider, with prices that start at $20 a month. It’s available in the browser and other devices, like your smartphone.

PlayStation Vue: It’s a similar story with PlayStation Vue. The Sony service doesn’t require that you have a digital tuner and instead lets you choose from several plans, based on the number of channels you prefer. The basic Access plan costs $30 per month. The Ultra option will set you back $65 a month.

YouTube TV: YouTube TV is one of the simpler services in the live-TV market, since it only requires you to pay $35 a month without worrying about bundles. For that price, you’ll find several channels, including major networks, that support live TV streaming. You can also subscribe to premium channels like Showtime for an additional monthly fee. And no, you don’t need an antenna or tuner with this service, either.

Hulu: Hulu only recently joined the live-TV market with a new service called Hulu With Live TV. The offering, which is still in beta and streams over the Web, includes access to all of Hulu’s on-demand content, but includes live streaming for a range of sports, news, and entertainment programming. You’ll pay $40 a month for all that. 

DirecTV Now: AT&T’s DirecTV Now offers more than 120 channels and more than 10,000 on-demand titles that are all available when you access the service. Like the others, you won’t need any hardware to get it up and running and you can access it for as little as $10 a month if you have an unlimited wireless plan from AT&T. DirecTV Now pricing is regularly available for $35 for those who don’t take advantage of the AT&T offer.

Don Reisinger is CEO and founder of D2 Tech Agency. A communications strategist, consultant, and copywriter, Don has also written for many leading technology and business publications including CNET, Fortune Magazine, The New York Times, Forbes, Computerworld, Digital Trends, TechCrunch and Slashgear. He has also written for Tom's Guide for many years, contributing hundreds of articles on everything from phones to games to streaming and smart home.

  • Nei1
    What? It's a DVR?

    It gets is programming from Over the Air. The article doesn't make it clear that all you need is a TV to watch Over the Air digital broadcast TV. If you have an LCD TV, switch the menu to "Antenna," plug in the cable from an antenna, and watch the free TV, signals -- which has less compression than cable and satellite. At your convenience, play with some antennas -- which vary from cheap and simple to $100 and are intended to be installed on the roof -- and see what you can get for free. The bigger the antenna, the more signals you'll be able to receive, but if you have a city nearby, then a cheap, simple, even indoor antenna will get all the networks. When you need a break from experimentation, just switch back to your usual cable or satellite. Conversely, if you got plenty of signals coming in for free, then you won't be the first to cancel your cable or satellite after discovering all the free TV.

    Check http://antennaweb.org/Address for a good estimate of what signals will be available at your location, how strong you can expect them to be, and therefore how small or large an antenna you would need to receive each signal.

    The article compares Plex to Sling, Playstation Vue, YouTube TV, Hulu, and DirecTV Now. But it doesn't compare Plex to running the antenna directly into your TV or getting a DVR for free digital broadcasts. That's where the article should have started.
  • Margie_37
    MERGED QUESTIONQuestion from Margie_37 : "Plex Live TV"
    I read the article about Plex Live TV and it sounded like all you were going to get is the same channels that you would get with an antenna.
    Did I miss the point of the article other than the fact that with more equipment installation you could record some content?
  • americanaudiophile
    All it seems to do is merge the output of an over the air tuner with the Plex app and allow DVR functions. I guess if you use Plex a lot it would be convenient but you can get a ova tuner with built in DVR functions including some that have multiple tuners such as the Tivo or Channel Master. That might be easier if you watch TV in a more old school way.
  • ASimpleLife
    Since I could NOT and still Cannot afford the Ourtragious Middle Man Cable Fees {WHILE NOW HAVING TO WATCH COMMERCIALS}, I cut the cord 2 years ago. With the FREE Stations I get Without Paying ANYONE is just fine with me (Unless ~Maybe~ If I could get Fox News back). To me; this is just another middle man company trying to make $$$$ and they will eventually Raise Their Prices. I am Done With That HEADACHE! A Simplier Life is Much Better :-)
  • Gh0stWalker
    I used to like Plex as a thing until this. They want $5 a month to enable you to stream live tv (free to air tv no less) around your network, and maybe do some PVR/time shifting. Why pay for free to air? You already paid for it by watching the adverts - you want to pay to watch adverts? Just get another antenna/cheap set top box. Or get a HD home run. Or configure your own raspberry pi or NAS/linux box to do your own streaming. Just don't put it near the internet or the cable companies will ratf*ck it for you. Don't be conned into paying a parasitic middleman good money for doing nothing for you...
  • PRDiddy
    Until they enable LiveTV on the Xbox One app, I won't bother.....looks promising though.