Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Video have their place, but the truly savvy streamer knows that Plex has the potential to put them all to shame. Plex is a clean, intuitive, powerful media server app that lets you stream any media you own from your computer to almost any device, almost anywhere in the world. Up until now, the service's versatile media player has always required a premium subscription to get the most of it, but now, the app’s basic features are available to anyone, free of charge.
Plex announced the change in pricing structure on Nov. 30, and outlined the differences between free and paid accounts on its website. While many of the service’s fancier features are still stuck behind a paywall, Plex will now let you use the media player — arguably the bread and butter of the program — without dropping a dime. The perks for free users don't end there, either: they can host any content they want on their computers, then stream it to their Web browsers, media players and game consoles. Plex will automatically organize free users’ media libraries, both video and music.
There are a few other useful features, like screen mirroring and sharing your library with friends, but the message is clear: Basic functionality with one of the friendliest media server programs on the market won’t cost you any money.
That’s not to say that you should run out and cancel your subscription, however. For one thing, streaming your video library to iOS and Android devices will cost non-subscribers $5 for a one-time activation fee. Missing out on some of Plex’s more advanced features is even more of a drawback.
Free users do not have access to Plex DVR, which allows HD antenna owners to record broadcast shows, or Cloud Sync, which lets users set up cloud-based media servers through Amazon Drive. Subscribers can sync content on their mobile devices for offline viewing, as well as let Plex identify songs and provide lyrics. Those with small children should also take note: Only subscribers can set up parental controls.
Plex Passes cost $5 per month, $40 per year, or $150 for a lifetime pass. Whether or not it’s worth upgrading from the free version depends on how much you rely on the program. Either way, new users would be wise to give Plex a try, especially at its new price point. If you can bring your own media to the streaming party, it’s easily one of the prettiest and simplest ways to get it on your TV and mobile devices.
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Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.