Plex has achieved widespread adoption among home theatre enthusiasts. At its simplest, Plex is a sort of do-it-yourself (DIY) Netflix. While a powerful Plex server is a must, the Plex client is equally as important. As with all servers, media resides on the server and remains accessible on clients. With Plex, devices such as set top boxes access media via client apps. There’s no shortage of Plex client devices. Here are the top 5 best Plex client devices 2017. This is an updated list from our previous list of Plex clients.
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Best Plex Device List – 2017
If you’re familiar with servers, especially Plex servers, you’ll understand the importance of a server. Since media is hosted on the server, components such as CPU largely dictate streaming quality. Plex recommends a minimum PassMark rating of 2000 per individual 1080p transcode. Factors such as your Plex server bandwidth further shape the streaming experience. However, the Plex client device matters as well. Depending on your Plex device, transcoding on the backend may or may not be required. Additionally, specifications such as Ethernet ports and responsiveness determine which client is the best Plex device. To achieve optimal Plex media player performance, you’ll want a device that’s direct play capable, features passthrough, and has Ethernet. Although for direct play, you’ll want to ensure your video files are encoded properly and that your Plex server is calibrated to transcode automatically. Additionally, consider what else you’d like your Plex client device for. The Apple TV for instance lacks access to Amazon Prime Video. A Raspberry Pi can access Netflix, but it’s rather cumbersome.
1. Raspberry Pi Plex Client – $35
The Raspberry Pi is a utilitarian computer. You can use this budget device for all sorts of projects. Home theatre buffs benefit from installing Kodi on a Raspberry Pi or installing media center distros like Recalbox, OpenELEC, etc.. Notably, a Raspberry Pi serves as one of the best Plex client devices. For starters, the Raspberry Pi is pretty cheap. The board itself costs a mere $35. However, the base Raspberry Pi doesn’t include a few necessary items like a power supply, microSD card, or case. While you might have these essentials lying around, the most cost effective solution is purchasing a kit. For about $60, you get a complete starter kit. [Read: 7 Raspberry Pi accessories to build a Kodi media center]
There are a few methods for transforming your Raspberry Pi into a Plex media player. If you’re running Kodi, there is a free Kodi addon, PleXBMC. PlexKodiConnect is another excellent means of combining Kodi and Plex. You can install the PleXBMC Kodi plugin on any XBMC-based operating system. This is my solution for turning my Raspberry Pi 2 into a plex device. Currently I have PleXBMC installed on OSMC, as well as the Kodi apps within Recalbox and RetroPie. Learn more about turning your Raspberry Pi into a retro gaming and media center by installing RetroPie or using Recalbox. There’s also RasPlex which turns your Raspberry Pi into a Plex client device. For Plex Pass users, there’s even an official Plex for Kodi app. [Read: Plex vs Kodi Comparison Guide]
What posits the Raspberry Pi as a best Plex device is its low price and bevy of features. The Pi can handle 1080p video and offers direct play compatibility. However, the Raspberry Pi lacks 4k support. Moreover, this is a DIY solution so don’t expect any tech support for troubleshooting. Nevertheless, there’s plenty of community support. Although the Raspberry Pi 2 should provide more than enough horsepower for a Plex client device, I suggest the Raspberry Pi 3. With its enhanced specs, the Pi 3 promises increased longevity.
- Useful for many projects
- 1080p support
- Direct play capable
I have no shortage of Plex client devices. Among my Plex device arsenal, I’ve got a Raspberry Pi 2, PlayStation 3, Windows 10 laptop, Android phone and tablet, and Roku 2 XS. Of those, the Roku is probably the best plex media player. For best Plex client devices 2017, I recommend the Roku Premiere+. Roku devices come tiered. Although the Ultra is Roku’s flagship model, the Premiere+ boasts the best cost-benefit proportion. Like the Ultra, the Roku Premiere+ sports 4k support and HDR. Onboard you’ll find an Ethernet port. While Wi-fi might avoid the hassle of wires, for 4k streaming you’ll want to use Ethernet.
In addition to 4k and HDR, the Premiere+ features DTS passthrough and direct play. Therefore, the Roku Premiere+ stands as one of the best Plex media devices. It’s powerful, capable, and allows access to the massive Roku app repository. You may also consider the Amazon Fire TV. For slightly less, the Amazon Fire TV adds a remote with Alexa voice search. Additionally Amazon’s streaming device features 4k support, Ethernet, and a microSD slot like the Roku Premiere+. But the Amazon Fire TV lacks DTS passthrough. [Read: Complete Amazon Fire TV Kodi Guide]
- 4k with HDR
- Direct play capable
- DTS passthrough
- Tons of apps available
3. Apple TV
Apple continues to produce fantastic devices. Its streaming set top box, the Apple TV, is no exception. In 2015, Apple revamped the Apple TV with hardware updates. As a result, Plex performance is smooth. Furthermore, the Apple TV brings iTunes content to your television set. There’s Ethernet, 1080p, and loads of apps. Plus, the hardware is pretty powerful.
Unfortunately, as with most Apple products, the Apple TV is pricey and restrictive. You’re essentially limited to using your Apple TV with other apple products and media. Furthermore, for the price there are much better devices available. The Roku Premiere+ for instance clocks in a bit cheaper and handles 4k whereas the Apple TV is is limited to 1080p. Additionally, there’s no passthrough. Despite these drawbacks, the Apple TV features a gorgeous user interface and is one of the few solutions of using Apple store apps on a set top box. If you’re ingrained in the Mac ecosystem, the Apple TV is the best Plex device for you. But if you’re an Android or Windows user, or platform agnostic, consider a different Plex client device.
- 1080p support
- Direct play capable
- Access to iTunes App Store
Nvidia SHIELD TV – $200
The Nvidia SHIELD TV 2017 is arguably the best plex device available on the market. The Android-based set top box is a game console. Yet premium specs hone the Nvidia SHIELD TV as fantastic Plex client device. There’s 4k HDR support and DTS passthrough. While many devices supporting passthrough remain limited to 5.1, the SHIELD TV goes up to 7.2. An included gamepad makes for simple navigation, and gain full access to the Android app store. Therefore, you can install your favorite HTPC apps like Kodi, Netflix, HBO Go, and Crackle. [Read: 20 Best Streaming Apps for Nvidia Shield TV 2017]
What’s more, an Nvidia SHIELD TV can run a full Plex server. So you can host your Plex media on a SHIELD TV, not only use the SHIELD TV as a Plex client. It’s the flexibility as well as powerful hardware that makes the Nvidia SHIELD TV possibly the best plex device. Powered by a Tegra X1 processor and 256-core NVIDIA graphics, the Nvidia SHIELD is a beast of a set top box. Still, the high price may be tough to justify. A SHIELD TV is almost twice the price of a Roku Premiere+. Although it does support features that optimize Plex client performance such as direct play, passthrough, and the ability to run a Plex server, it’s not cheap. Unless you’re a gamer or need 7.2 audio, you might be better suited to a cheaper Plex TV box.
- 4k with HDR
- Direct play capable
- DTS passthrough up to 7.2
- Android app store access
- Doubles as a Plex server
Game Console: PlayStation 4 or Xbox One
If you’re a gamer, a console will serve as the best Plex media player to fit your needs. I recommend the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One as they are the most recent consoles. Therefore, you’ll benefit from the latest game releases. Both the Xbox and PlayStation feature free Plex apps. While client-side hardware for Plex media players doesn’t require as much horsepower, the PS4 and Xbox One ensure that you’re perfectly capable of running Plex. Plus, both consoles support streaming apps like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. PlayStation 4 Plex performance though is admittedly spotty. Even the official Plex website offers suggestions of how to troubleshoot Plex client performance on Sony consoles. This affects the PlayStation 3 as well.
I often use my PlayStation 3 as a Plex client device. Briefly my Plex server was connected via Wi-fi until I hooked it up next to the router. Previously, streaming my client and server both connected to Wi-fi choked my bandwidth. Although I suggest a PS4 and Xbox One for the latest in gaming, the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 provide a similar Plex experience to their current-gen counterparts. The only potential drawback is that newer games typically aren’t released on last gen consoles. PS4/3 and Xbox One/360 consoles boast 1080p support, Ethernet and Wi-fi, as well as free Plex client apps. The Xbox tacks on voice control with the optional Kinect peripheral. But like the Nvidia SHIELD TV, this option is tailored for gamers. Even last gen consoles are still pricey compared to set top boxes like the Roku.
- Great for gaming
- Great for Gaming
- Voice search with Kinect
Best Plex Client Devices 2017 in Review
Ultimately, Plex client devices really dictate the streaming experience. Luckily, you have a ton of choice. Even many smart TVs can run a Plex app. However, I’d strongly recommend against a Plex app on your smart TV as a permanent solution. These rarely if ever feature direct play, and there’s often no passthrough. Notably, you can use an HTPC as a perfectly suitable Plex media player. The Mac Mini is an excellent HTPC, and small PCs like the Gigabyte Brix line are ideal as well. Both Mac and Windows support dedicated Plex Media Player apps, and there’s an in-browser version that you can use. That’s how I’m able to access my Plex library on Linux. Plus, there’s the Plex app for Android. I have Plex installed on my Raspberry Pi, Samsung Galaxy S4 and Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition. With my micro USB to HDMI adapter, I’m able to hook my mobile devices up to my television and use my Android phone and tablet as Plex clients. [Read: Install Plex on Windows 10 media server in minutes]
As a Plex user, I have the client app installed on my PlayStation 3, Windows 10 laptop, Android phone and tablet, and Raspberry Pi, and Roku. My dedicated Plex server, a Xeon-powered ThinkServer TS140, can handle about four concurrent 1080p transcodes. If I had to choose a favorite Plex client, I’d probably pick my Roku 2 XS which despite being slightly outdated retains a fantastic user interface, responsiveness, and direct play. However, my PlayStation 3 and Raspberry Pi 2 provide fantastic Plex client experiences as well.
What Plex clients are you using?
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