So, it is finally here. A cloud server for your media that can be set up with a single click. No need to fiddle with network settings, recalcitrant hardware and broadband with the stability of a frisbee in high winds. But does Plex Cloud live up to its promise?
As a Plex Pass subscriber, the concept of the Plex Cloud is of great interest to me. Whereas at present, I have a ridiculously over-powered server sitting in the corner of a room, serving up media (photos, music and video) that I already have backed up to the cloud in the form of OneDrive, the arrival of Plex Cloud means that this server is, theoretically, redundant. Moving to a Plex Cloud server should mean not having to worry about power spikes causing sudden shutdowns, the broadband experiencing a hiccup or the Plex service itself falling over at inconvenient times (normally when I’m away, and relying on the media collection to keep bored children amused). This is surely A Good Thing.
What is Plex Cloud?
Skip back to show #581 and you’ll find Ian Dixon interviewing Jason Williams of Plex, where the beta of Plex Cloud was discussed. Plex Cloud (not to be confused with Cloud Sync) is a Plex Media Server running in Plex’s cloud environment. The intention is that it can replace or augment your existing Plex server (because there are some limitations). Your Plex Cloud server is configured to point at media held in OneDrive, GoogleDrive or DropBox, treating it as seamlessly as if it were a local server running local content. The difference, of course, is that you no longer have to worry about the server staying up – that is in the hands of Plex and your cloud provider of choice. Whether that is a good or bad thing (keeping in mind the recent outages) is a matter for debate.
Available free to Plex Pass subscribers, the Plex Cloud server is simple to set up. A single click from your Plex account is enough to kick off your Plex Cloud server (there is only one server permitted per Plex account) and from there, content can be added from any or all of the supported cloud storage providers (you can combine providers, but are only allowed one of each). In my testing, I used Microsoft OneDrive.
Adding content from a cloud storage provider is as simple as pointing a local Plex server at a local drive, with the additional step of entering your login credentials. From there it is a case of navigating to the media location and hitting ‘Add’.
The Plex team have worked hard to make this process as painless and as familiar as possible. Eventually, all the media you have stored in your cloud storage provider will appear and be accessible through any Plex client. However, the key word in that sentence is ‘eventually’.
Glacial vs. Plate Tectonics
There’s fast. There’s slow. There’s glacial. And then there is how long it takes your Plex Cloud server to make a library held in OneDrive available. I have about 20,000 photos and around 8,000 music files. The music took around a week to be indexed while the photos took longer (not helped by me selecting the auto-tagging option). In comparison, my local server took a few minutes to add the same libraries from a local disk. To be fair, Plex do warn that adding media can take time and anyone who has used the likes of OneDrive in anger will know that there can be a large overhead incurred when trying to treat it like a local drive. Ultimately, be aware that adding media to Plex Cloud is going to take considerably more time than working locally.
Once added, Plex Cloud ‘feels’ quick. Perhaps not as snappy as accessing my local server, but certainly within the bounds of acceptability. Libraries appear quickly, and searches are rapid. Playing media, such as music, works well and reliably, and I was pleased to note that there was no problem with streaming HD video content. My un-scientific test consisted of accessing first my local server and then my Plex Cloud server through the cellular network and performance was comparable. Subjectively, I found video a little quicker to start from my local server, but once running there was little to tell between the two.
Taking aside the performance issue when adding media, Plex Cloud does have some other limitations, some of which may make it a non-starter for a few users. Missing are camera uploads, Alexa control, channels, cloud sync, DLNA support, DVR, media optimiser, scheduled tasks, transcoder settings, video thumbnail generation, webhooks and, most seriously for me, mobile sync. In addition, only 3 simultaneous transcoded streams are possible. The logic behind these omissions and limitations is quite straightforward – this is a cloud server, and Plex need to keep resource consumption to a minimum, particularly since Plex Cloud is a no-cost option for existing Plex Pass users. However, I would have liked the option to pay a bit more and have some of the functions that I use regularly made available.
Finally, Plex Cloud only ‘wakes up’ when it is in use, so it is not possible to have it add new media during downtime in the same way that a local server does. Simply adding some more media to your cloud storage provider will not appear on a Plex Cloud server without bringing up that server.
Plex Cloud is a step in the right direction and, once media is added, is very reliable and snappy in use. However, the time to add media is a problem and is exacerbated by new media not being indexed until the Plex Cloud Server has ‘woken up.’ The lack of mobile-sync is a show stopper for me, since being able to transcode and download media locally is a feature I use frequently. If you can live with the limitations, manage the process of adding media, have your media in the cloud and are a Plex Pass subscriber, then this is a no brainer. Otherwise, it is a case of keeping an eye on developments and seeing where Plex take this new functionality.