Exclusive Hands-On With Plex/Nine For Mac OS X & Plex App For iOS Devices

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Plex, the Mac OS X media center, has just made all of its competitors obsolete. A new version, dubbed Plex/Nine, will be released today at midnight EDT, and it introduces a number of new features that make it the media player for Mac OS X—and for the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. That’s right: there’s an iOS App for that, and it’s pretty awesome.

Luckily for us here, the Plex developers gave me exclusive access to their inner workings toward the end of the development cycle. I mean, I was in the very chatroom where decisions were made and code was debugged in real-time. I’ve also been using the latest builds of the application right alongside the developers for a few weeks now, since before E3. Needless to say, if you’re running Mac OS X and you’ve got a collection of movies that needs a-watchin’, well, you really could do no better than giving this new version a test drive. I’m all but certain it’ll find a permanent spot in your Dock.

(Note: the above video does a quick-ish once-over of some of the things you can look forward to in both Plex/Nine and the iOS App. Think of it as the tl;dr version of this giant wall of text.)

The release of Plex/Nine sees the introduction of a brand new (and much appreciated) media manager. In previous editions of Plex, all media management was done within the application itself. It’s always been easy (and fun, might I add) watching movies within Plex, but trying to add movies to your Library using the Apple Remote wasn’t exactly fluid. What happens now is that Plex/Nine includes something called the Plex Media Manager, which is installed alongside Plex proper. (The Media Manager requires Snow Leopard to function properly.) It’s an applet that sits in your Finder toolbar (next to your clock, Wi-Fi signal, and battery indicator… that sort of thing) that you use to, yes, manage your media.

From within the manager, which should feel familiar to anyone who’s spent any amount of time with iPhoto or iTunes, you create a media category, add media, let the metadata load, then go into Plex—everything is added automatically inside Plex in real-time.

For example, let’s say you want to create a category called Great Movies. Inside the Media Manager, you point to a folder on your hard drive—using your mouse and keyboard, thank heavens!—containing a bunch of videos. Let’s say you have a folder filled videos like chinatown.mkv, the_deer_hunter.mkv, and apocalypse_now.mkv. The Media Manager scans the folder, matches the file names with Wikipedia (or other online database), then adds cover and fan art, movie or episode summary, etc.

The you can command-tab over to Plex proper, and you’ll find, on the familiar main menu, a category called Great Movies. Select that and you’ll find Chinatown, The Deer Hunter, and Apocalypse Now, all kitted out, waiting to be watched.

I know that the idea of media management doesn’t exactly scream “killer feature!,” but it really, really is. No longer will you have to cumbersomely add folder after folder with your Apple Remote within Plex itself. I know I always hated doing that in the past.

And let’s not forget that Plex will put your Mac’s GPU to good use, decoding 1080p video like it’s no trouble at all. Your CPU can breathe again!

Plex/Nine for Mac OS X is a big enough story in and of itself, but probably even bigger—certainly something more likely to put a smile on your face from the sheer “coolness” of it all—is the release of an iOS App that goes live sometime tomorrow. Given that Apple takes its sweet time to approve Apps, I can’t actually say, “The App will e available at the stroke of midnight.” Just keep your eyes peeled tomorrow.

Needless to say, the App is quite handy indeed.

What can it do? There’s two broad categories:

• Use your iOS device as a remote control for Plex/Nine

• View your Plex/Nine media on your iOS device

Using your iOS device as a remote works quite well. You can either use the provided on-screen interface or take advantage of your iOS device’s gestures. The gestures are as you’d expect: tap the center for OK, double-tap the center to go back, swipe up to go up, swipe down to go down, and so on. Using an iPad opens up additional, two-finger gestures.

So long as you have an iOS device, you’ll no longer have to mess about with the Apple remote control (who buys that thing anyway?) and various third-party drivers.

The other main part of the iOS App is the ability to view all of your Plex/Nine media. (Again, consult the video to see this in action.) What this means is that, right from your iOS device, you’ll be able to see any single piece of media that’s part of your Plex/Nine library. So let’s say you have a TV series ripped to your Mac’s hard drive, and you use Plex/Nine to watch it. Well, you can start watching an episode on your Mac, stop playback, then resume playback on your iOS device.

Granted, watching a full TV episode (much less a full-length film) on the tiny screen of an iPhone or iPod touch may not be ideal, but watching on an iPad is another matter entirely. (I don’t have an iPad, mind you, but the gallery below contains a few photos of what Plex for iOS looks like when running on Apple’s magical and revolutionary device.) Image having access to your entire Plex library on the iPad you leave at your bedside. “You know what, I want to see that one episode of TV Show before I go to bed. Let me fire up the Plex App…”

Or, maybe you were halfway through Great Movie before you turned off your TV. A couple swipes of your fingertips and you’re finishing the film from right where you left off on your iPad.

Of course, you’re not limited to the content you have stored locally in your Plex/Nine library, or libraries. You can tap into the various plug-ins that work in Plex/Nine right on your iOS device. In the video I show off the Revision 3 plug-in, but there’s plenty more plug-ins from you to choose from, and they can be found in the Plex Online area of Plex/Nine. Once the plug-in is installed you can access it right from your iOS device.

The combined weight of Plex/Nine and Plex for iOS is the whole reason why I keep my iMac on my desk. If I just needed some Mac OS X goodness I could just as easily whip out my old MacBook. (And lest you think I’m a fancy rich person: the iMac is going on four years old and the MacBook is nearly three years old!) But the media center is so thoroughly great that I happily keep the iMac on there, hogging up all my elbow room.

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