We’ve been talking about providing integration for a while now with iTunes and iPhoto, and with the feature I’m describing today, your wait is officially over.
The Plex Media Server is a standalone program that runs alongside Plex (or alone on any machine, it’s a Universal Binary). It serves up media from your iLife applications (iTunes and iPhoto today, Aperture and Lightroom shortly). Plex communicates with the Plex Media Server on the local machine, on your local network, or even across the world over the Internet. This means that you can play your friends’ iTunes playlists or browse their podcasts or photo albums.
FEATURE: Access to your media locally or across the network.
The Plex Media Server knows where all your iTunes and iPhoto libraries are, monitors them for changes, and reloads them seamlessly in the background upon update. Add a new album or two to iTunes on your server in the basement, walk over to your home theater setup, and the new albums will be there already for you to play. It’s also extremely fast, loading about 3000 tracks a second.
FEATURE: Hassle-free continuous access to all your media.
Without further ado, let me take you through the iTunes integration. There are lots of little details that enhance usability. Primary browsing is of course through Artists, Albums, Compilations, and Tracks. When you want to browse by Tracks, you pick the starting letter so you don’t sit there waiting for a 30,000 track list to display.
FEATURE: Designed for high performance, even across the network.
When you display albums, the year is displayed alongside. When browsing through all tracks, the track and artist are displayed. When displaying tracks of an album, only the track number and name are displayed. The Plex Media Server automatically adjusts the display to provide you with exactly the information you need.
FEATURE: Smart display of data.
So far I haven’t displayed album art. I mean, who needs it, right, when you have the correct information being displayed? Wrong. When Plex talks to the Plex Media Server, it obtains 100% of the album art, whether it’s stored in the iTunes album art cache, ID3 tags, or cover art files in the album folder.
FEATURE: 100% iTunes album art, even over the network.
(Bonus points to anyone who can name all of the albums displayed.)
Podcast support is also excellent. Both the Videos and Music sections in Plex communicate with the Plex Media Server to provide Podcast browsing and playing. Anyone else out there a Fresh Air fan?
You can also browse albums by genre, or even by decade:
You can also see the albums you’ve added recently, as well as your recent plays by artist, album, or track. This is another example of where we’ve taken the basic iTunes functionality and enhanced it for Plex users.
All said, we think it’s very spiffy! We’ve had a lot of fun browsing friends’ iTunes catalogs over the network; the speed is excellent, and will be improved even further in future versions.
Support for iPhoto (thanks to James, who also added support for Bonjour in the Plex Media Server which will be put to good use shortly) is also rich. You can browse by Event, Album, Keyword, or Rating. Here we are browsing albums (sorry, most of my stuff is in Aperture):
And here we are browsing by keywords:
All said, we’re really excited about this new component to the Plex experience. We’re definitely going to be taking the Plex Media Server in some interesting directions in the coming year.
I’ll leave you with this photo of Barkley and his friend Manu, in which Barkley looks distinctly less clean-cut.