Plex’s hardware-free media server, Plex Cloud, opens to all

After a couple of stops and starts — and some concerns — media player software maker Plex is opening its online service known as Plex Cloud to all paying Plex users. The service, which was first introduced into private beta in September, eliminates the need for an always-on PC or other network-attached piece of hardware in order to use the Plex media player software for watching your saved TV shows and movies, viewing photos or streaming from your music collection.

Initially, Plex Cloud used Amazon Cloud Drive to host users’ files, where they could then be streamed to the Plex app. The service then required a $60 annual subscription to Amazon’s cloud storage service, which some Plex customers already had.

Others purchased a subscription for the sole purpose of using Plex Cloud, however. This became an issue when Plex encountered some “technical problems” with using Amazon Cloud Drive. (Some Plex users guessed that Amazon placed limits on the uploads, but Plex wouldn’t confirm the technical details, saying only that it was “a wide range of issues.”)

The company hints at some of the challenges it faced in building Plex Cloud in its announcement today.

“It’s definitely not a trivial thing to take the best media server on the planet and make it work seamlessly as a scalable cloud service, load-balanced and clustered across multiple geographic regions. It turns out a lot can go wrong,” the company blog post reads. The post references, without detail, issues with the transcoder and communication problems that the development team faced.

Despite the problems with Amazon, Plex moved on. In December, it rolled out access to Google Drive, OneDrive and Dropbox, all of which remain supported today.

Now exiting beta, Plex Cloud is an option for anyone who subscribes to Plex Pass, the company’s $5 per month, subscription-based service offering a variety of premium features, including offline access to files you’ve synced to mobile, parental controls, Plex music features like Plex Mix and more. It also includes the ability to use the newer DVR feature, which lets you record free HDTV shows using a digital antenna, then streamed through Plex.

This latter addition is one of several changes to Plex in recent months which, along with Plex Cloud, are aimed at attracting more casual users and cord cutters to its service. The company also acquired video news service Watchup in January, with a similar goal of making Plex a place to discover, watch and share media content.