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September 2, 2010

Plex and the Future of Television

This week has been a big one for TV-related announcements. Apple annouced their revamped Apple TV, and Boxee was quick to reply with their own thoughts on the matter. It turns out that now is the perfect time for us to explain our vision for the future of Plex and television as well.

Today, Plex requires that you have a Mac connected to your TV. As sexy as they are, a Mac Mini is $699. And let’s face it, you probably have a few televisions, so it becomes an expensive proposition to Plex-ify your house, especially now that you can stream your library all over with Plex/Nine. Of course, on the flip side, a Mac Mini is a powerful computer that can be used for other meaningful tasks like 3D modeling, genome sequencing, or World of Warcraft.

MacMini.png

Another approach is something like the Boxee Box. It’s $199, which is much better, but still prohibitive for many, and it’s completely specialized. No way you could send your kid off to college with a Boxee Box, although you have to admit, it would probably help his or her social life. Additionally, releasing a custom piece of hardware is not a trivial endeavor, if we even wanted to attempt such a thing. Embedded systems are hard, and the XBMC codebase from which Plex and Boxee are both derived is a large and complex one. And really, at the end of the day, do you want yet another specialized box sitting by your TV?

Boxee.png

Even if you get the design right, you have to be able to price it appropriately. With not outrageously different hardware from Boxee, the new Apple TV is half the price. Apple also has a two-fold advantage over Boxee: They are going to be selling their Apple TV in much higher volume (which means lower cost to produce), and – critically – they can subsidize the cost of the device because they make money every time you put your arm around your date and click “Watch” on a movie. Also, let’s face it, it’s a typical Apple product: it works perfectly as long as you don’t stray outside their ecosystem. Your files have to be in their limited range of supported formats, and you only get access to the online content they sanction. It’s not an open platform in any sense of the word, and trust me, I was the first person hoping to be able to run our Plex iOS app on it.

AppleTV.png

The optimal solution, of course, would be a box that was free, infinitely small, and required no cables. Well, we’re extremely proud to be able to introduce to you, for the first time, the Plex Box, with exactly those characteristics.

PlexBox.png

How is this possible? Well, we actually have one more “one more thing” to announce: We’re working with LG Electronics (the second largest TV manufacturer in the world) to integrate the Plex platform into their 2011 lineup of Netcast™ connected TVs and Blu-ray devices. So early next year, when you buy an LG Netcast™ TV or Blu-ray player, you will have Plex functionality built-in. Specifically, it will connect to a cloud version of the Plex platform for online content, and, if you happen to have a Plex Media Server running anywhere in your house (after all, who doesn’t have a computer in their house?), you can access your local and online content, in a rich interface, with full metadata. I’ve seen it, and it looks awesome.

I’ve been talking a lot about the importance of getting the architecture right for our platform, and this is a perfect example. Thin clients (LG TV, iOS devices), a smart media server, and plug-ins that can run in the cloud. A single integrated interface to access online content, local content, and personal content.

I can’t even begin to tell you how exciting this is to us. LG chose our platform in no small part because it is OPEN, and that is what makes it special. We have developers all over the world creating plug-ins, helping us evolve the platform, and using it creatively. We wouldn’t be here without them, and it’s been an absolute pleasure working with them over the years. I also have enormous respect for LG, who have great products, massively talented engineering, and forward-thinking management. I’ve been to Korea twice in the last year, and their engineers are super-smart, highly knowledgable, and a delight to work with. They “get” where TV is going, and I have to make a confession – the first time I saw their Plex interface, talking to a remote Plex Media Server and flawlessly streaming content, I had to pretend I had something in my eye. This is a team completely committed to revolutionizing the way we enjoy content, and clearly willing to take chances in doing so, as evidenced by working with a small team like ours.

This is also a massive win for content providers. Yesterday, writing a Plex plug-in would make their content available on a Mac, or a television powered by a Mac. Yesterday, they could suddenly make their content available on 100 million iOS devices. And tomorrow (early next year, technically), they will be able to get their content onto millions of LG TVs and Blu-ray devices. This, friends, is an unprecedented time in history. The distance between content provider and consumer has never been this close or frictionless, and it’s incredible to be a part of.

So what does this mean to you, our dear users? You’ve been so supportive over the years, and this is great news for you as well. It means, first and foremost, that we’ll be able to focus more resources on the development. This will be a full-time job for me and others on the team, which is – honestly – a dream come true. The Plex Media Server is the heart and lungs of the platform, and we’ll be making it rock solid and adding some really, really cool new features. We’ll be bringing it to more platforms, to make it available everywhere. There will be more content providers investing in writing Plex plug-ins, so your online content choices will grow. And next year, if you’re upgrading your TV, or or buying an LG Blu-ray player, you’ll have the ability to get Plex, built in, at no additional cost. Fully integrated into killer consumer electronics gear, exactly as it should be.

And *that* is cool.

It’s been a long journey this past year. Now you finally know all of the cool stuff we’ve been working on, and it’s so great to be able to share it with you. We’ve re-architected our platform for the future, and thankfully, most of that work is behind us. Now we can focus on making Plex more stable, more usable, and overall more AWESOME.

Here’s a link to the press release.

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