Running Plex on ARM

I’ve recently been trying to get the Plex media centre running on an ARM machine. I had previously experimented with Kodi as a media server, and while I could get it running and serving from a variety of devices including a Raspberry Pi 2 machine as the playback, making it all work for my family seemed too much Heath Robinson-esque with computers stuck to the walls of my daughter’s bedroom and long lectures on complex controls.

It may be helpful at this point to understand some of the main differences between the two software alternatives for home theatre PCs: Kodi and Plex. While there are others, these are the common choice. While they had a similar beginning and may share some code they do operate in different ways: Kodi is a client, while Plex runs on a server. With both the actual recordings can be held anywhere, and neither will record TV without extra plugins.

A table taken from HTPCBeginner.com may help:

FEATURES KODI PLEX
Database of movie information On the client On the server
Interface An app or application running on your client device – computer, phone Any browser
Transcoding – playing the recording onto your viewing device Handled by client Needs a beefy server
What client hardware can be used Lots Lots and lots
Add-ons Lots Limited
Customisation Very flexible, and necessary! Limited
Help Community Professional
Cost Free Free and subscription models
Remote Streaming Difficult Easy

So the choice comes down to the open-source, configurable Kodi or the simple to install and standardised Plex. More than their development models I appreciate the difference in their approach: one works out of the box, the other takes some configuring but is very flexible.

Having got Plex running under Exagear on my  Odroid quad-core C2 server, I then ran into the problem of the CPU power required to do ‘transcoding’.  Transcoding is essentially converting the recorded film into a format that can be displayed on the client device whether a mobile phone, web browser, or TV. The formats in which films are recorded is a whole subject in itself and changing them from one format to another is a difficult process. My little single-board computer could not cope.

Even the old Intel Atom system I used to run could not cope – apparently I need something called a passmark of over 2000 and although my quad-core server could perhaps do the work, the Plex software sometimes decided that it couldn’t. So I’ve started looking for a low-powered, small and silent system with enough processing power that it can happily transcode all my movies. Apparently some NAS (Network-Attached Storage) boxes can do it, however the price point of those is a significant purchase and not something I want to spend on entertainment. I’ve looked at AliExpress and there are some very good i5 mini-PCs available and I may go that route.

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