“Hey man, check out this totally flippin’ sweet app!” said friend and co-worker, Peter, while sitting in the iX lounge sometime last summer. He had his Plex server running on his Macbook Pro and was controlling it, and viewing movies, from his iPhone. It was impressive, but my first question was: “Does it run on FreeBSD”? He snickered and ran away.

Fast forward one year later: “Bro, seriously, come check this out!”, I said to Peter while walking out of the break room, coffee mug filled to the brim. We walked to the lounge while he waited for drivers for the-operating-system-that-shall-not-be-named to finish installing. I stayed late the previous night configuring the newest plugin for FreeNAS: Plex Media Server, so I was pretty excited to show it off.

First thing, I brought up the Plex client and browsed to my “Channel Directory” which displayed more than 30 online streaming videos for topics that would interest me, like TED, YouTube, SoundCloud, NPR, The Onion, and Sesame Street (for my little girl). I know, I know, Slowpoke.jpg – but: I found this to be pretty amazing. The interface is solid and the options for content seemed endless (and I hadn’t even imported my personal collection yet!). Now I understood why people chose Plex over XBMC. MythTV users of the past, I feel your pain. I really do.

Setting it up was pretty easy and only took a few minutes. I started with a “Firmware Update” from 8.3.1 to 9.1.1 by downloading the “GUI Upgrade” img.xz file from FreeNAS.org, then opened my web browser to the FreeNAS interface, drilled down to ‘System->Advanced’ and clicked the ‘Firmware Upgrade’ button. It asked a question, I hit Ok, then browsed to the img.xz file and waited about 10 minutes while staring at a progress bar that was seemingly stuck at 24%. Once it finished, I refreshed the UI and clicked the new ‘Plugins’ button in the navigation bar at the top.

01_freenasui-plex-plugin

There I saw a list of available plugins and chose to install the Plex plugin by clicking ‘Plex Media Server’ in the list, and the ‘Install’ button below.

02_freenasui-plex-tree

Plex will now be available in the tree menu with the rest of the installed plugins.  Click on ‘Plex Media Server’ and then click the link to get to the Plex WebUI. At first, I didn’t realize there was a link there, so I actually did a little research and found that the Plex server is running on port 32400 on the IP of the jail (not the same as the FreeNAS IP) and browsing to ‘/manage’. Or in other words, by going to this page: “http://ip_address:32400/manage/”.

But first, you may want to add a mountpoint, share, and directory for media.

03_freenasui-shell

Create a directory in the Plex jail for your media.  Then create a dataset and mount it inside the jail by clicking ‘Add Storage’  from within the jail’s tree menu node.

04_plexui-add-section

Then browse to the http://ip_address:32400/manage/ to add the common media types (Or click ‘Plex Media Server’ in the tree menu, and click the link in the pop-up dialog).  I created a folder in my dataset for each media type by creating an AFP share pointed to my mountpoint, then accessing that from my workstation.

05_plexui-media-addfolder

I wanted to try out a movie first, so I chose “Movies” and a new dialog appears asking me to ‘Add Folder’; this is where I browse to the directory I created in the Plex jail.  You can call this whatever you like, and if you organize your movies in multiple directories you may change the section name to match.

06_plexui-add-folder

I chose to add a directory ‘/plexon’ to the jail so that it would be easier to find. You can place it wherever you like, though.  You can do this a couple of ways. I chose to mount the filesystem read-write and then create a directory called “plexon” in the Plex jail with ‘mount -uw /’ then ‘mkdir /mnt/zeddy/jails/plex_1/plexon’. Yes, I named my dataset “zeddy”, which is also how I refer to the dragon in one of our “Medieval Beastie” posters that Jenny (our graphic artist) designed.

07_plexui-insidefolder

Now inside the ‘/plexon’ directory, I created a different folder for each of the “media types” Plex allows you to add. These are the directories I created via that AFP share I mentioned earlier.

08_channels-block

Then I added all the channels that interested me after copying my iPhoto library, movies, and music over.  These are some of the video channels I installed.

09_soundcloud

I can even browse my Favorites on SoundCloud.

10_music-visualizer

Finally, I sat back and stared at this for a few minutes while reality started to bend to the beat.

Honestly, Plex on FreeNAS (FreeBSD) is in beta, so your mileage may vary. My personal experience was great, though. I will recommend this to my friends and family as their one-stop-shop for enjoying the multimedia they’ve acquired over the years accompanied by a multitude of online streaming media services.  Well done Plex team, and kudos to John Hixson for whipping this plugin into shape. It is truly a “game changer”.  If you have FreeNAS 9.x installed you can try this out today.  Now back to my normally scheduled work day, which does not include watching the latest episode of Breaking Bad. I’ll have to queue that up later.