New look brings a totally new feel to the media center
Plex is now available on the new Apple TV. Only days after it launched Apple’s latest foray into the living room is beginning to reveal the true power of its fully functioning App Store (December can’t get here fast enough for me). On Apple TV the quickly growing media center app has a home on possibly its glitziest platform yet. Plex for Apple TV like other apps on the device has been branded to look and feel like the rest of the apps on the New Apple TV complete with the ability to select art work and wiggle it with the touch pad. I call this “movyness” (patent pending). Plex has long been an official app for the Roku family of products and was a launch partner with Fire TV and the Android TV platform but this is its first foray into official inclusion on Apple TV. Plex was available on earlier incarnations of the Apple TV via a hack. Now all one has to do to add Plex is enter the App Store and type “P” and Plex will be listed right at the top. Special note. Before using Plex to access your own media and channels on the Apple TV it is very important that you update your Plex Media Server software. Shared servers do not require a local host computer. To see it in action check out the video at the bottom of this story.
The Interface for Plex on the new Apple TV is completely different than the Plex Interface on other streaming devices or even on IOS devices. Apps on the new Apple TV have a specific style or branding that incorporates a collapsible menu at the top of the page in order to dedicate more screen space to the media and art work. Like others it has a silver/grey theme. If your local server is set up with folders the Plex app for the new Apple TV will display the folders at the top of the home page much the same way as it displays the main Apple Apps on the home-page of the new Apple TV. The app also provides icons and color codes the folders according to the type of media that is contained in them. Upon opening the folders users will be given the same navigation menu to explore. The entire experience feels unified and matches great with the rest of the new Apple TV’s other apps.
The New Apple TV offers support for Plex Channels right out of the box. Channels is among the choices in the main navigation window at the top of the page. The channels section displays
multiple channels much like the interface found on the Plex Home Theater App. No more scrolling left to right like you are using the old Roku SDK. There are limitations to the channels in the channel store as it appears that a number of Plex channels that have official Apple TV apps are not compatible. USA and ABC for instance would not launch for us though we will take a look to find out if there is an update needed. On the other hand the CBS Plex channel does work and provides free access to full length CBS shows without the need to sign up for CBS All Access. The new Apple TV also recognized third party apps pulled from the Unsupported App Store like USTV Now. The new Apple TV will eventually have thousands of apps but it may never have something along the lines of Filmon and some others that are available through Plex.
Users will be able to access their media in a number of ways on the Plex app for Apple TV. Besides search which utilizes Apple’s somewhat archaic a-z word line instead of an onscreen keyboard or grid. The system is set up to allow users to search via things like Genre, when in movies users can search by ratings among other options like Family, Sci Fi etc. Music allows search via type of music there are also search options by era 1990s, 1980s etc. All of this is based on the actual files that one
has in place and Plex’s ability to gather meta data on artists, films and television shows. Users can also search for content alphabetically with a folder search. The effectiveness of this search method will depend on how organized the folders are on the server side.
From the color coding on content folders to the use of artwork it is quite apparent that both Apple and the Plex team are putting a heavy emphasis on both the user experience as far as performance as well as the look of things. Plex has always been a functional app on any given platform but the new app on Apple TV almost remakes the look. Gone are the classic Black and yellow trademark colors that have come to signify Plex since it launched. The performance of the app is top notch too. We launched media from third party apps, official Plex apps, remote shared servers and local content. All of it loaded quickly with no stuttering. Do keep in mind that the performance of an app like Plex is going to be affected by the quality of Internet connection in the home as well as the speed of what is being used as a server whether it be a network connected hard drive like a NAS or a personal computer. This means that no matter how much work has been put into the app and Apple TV hardware one can still shortchange themselves by having poor equipment on their end. For our part we were very happy with the performance.
What it lacks
The only drawback that I have run across on Plex for Apple TV is a common one for Plex clients in general. There is not a way to add new channels to the interface via the app. The only example of this option that I ever saw was on an older app for the Roku. Users looking to add other channels to their Plex setup will still have to do so either via signing in to their account on the Plex website here or adding via the Plex Home Theater app for computers, which does feature a channel add feature. With the option to add channels Plex could be an entire ecosystem on to itself. As is what you get instead is a beautiful interface with great playback options.