Recently, I have been wanting to catch up on some old indie movies I used to watch when I was a child.
But they were local files I had stored on my computer and not available online on any streaming channels on my Roku.
So my mind settled on one local media server service that can help me here: Plex.
In a matter of seconds, I streamed my local content directly onto my 4K Roku TV without cables just like I stream from any OTT application.
This guide will help you understand how to use Plex with your Roku.
To use Plex with your Roku, install the Plex Media Server app from the official Plex website on your host computer and the Plex channel on your Roku. Create and log in with your Plex accounts on both ends and add the desired local media folder paths onto your Plex Media Server app.
What Is Plex?
Plex is a media streaming service that can stream the local files on your computer or server directly to your Roku or any other supported device.
This means you can watch your locally stored movies, music, and everything in between directly on your Roku just like you watch movies on Netflix without using any connecting cables.
What makes Plex different from other local media streaming services is that it is cross-compatible with almost all operating systems from iOS to even your PS5.
You can even stream movies and Live TV directly from Plex if you wish to, just like you stream from Netflix without needing a local server.
Plex offers its content for free too, with strategically placed adverts.
Since you can join streams of other Plex users, Plex currently supports a wide variety of useful plugins that give you access to even more content.
You can even invite your friends to watch content that you are locally streaming, even if they are in the most remote place on earth.
All they need is a Plex account and a good internet connection.
Prerequisites For Setting Up Your Own Plex Channel
Since Plex works as an intermediary between your local content and Roku, there are a few key components required to get the setup fully functional:
A media server simply refers to your computer that contains your local media.
This can be your own personal computer, a separate server, or a Network Attached Storage (NAS) solution.
Since this is a key component that hosts and transcodes the local media to be viewed on your Roku, you need to make sure it is amply specced to handle your streams.
Now for a casual streamer, any Plex-supported device would suffice to play conventional media formats on your
But if you want to play multiple heavy files like Blu-Ray across different screens, you might need to invest in a good server or NAS.
There are no Plex-specified specification requirements for streaming, but if you're planning to set up a dedicated server for streaming I recommend at least the following specifications at the minimum:
- 8GB RAM, considering about 1.5GB RAM gets used for each video stream at the most.
- A new generation graphics card, GTX 1000 series or more with 4GB memory. Video transcoding might suffer if you use an old graphics card.
- A good SSD to store Plex metadata.
- A spacious server case, just in case to increase storage space if required in the future.
- Backup battery in case of power failure.
- Most importantly, a premium account on Plex (named Plex Pass). This unlocks hardware-accelerated transcoding, which uses your server hardware instead of the slower Plex servers to transcode your streams.
A key factor to note is that your computer/server needs to be up and running every time you stream content.
Personally, I use my Synology Disk Station DS920+ as my Plex server to host my local files on my TV while my friends and I watch it in the comfort of our homes.
A Good Internet Connection
Every media server requires a stable internet connection and Plex is no different.
TCL Roku TVs are reputed to have certain WiFi connectivity issues that can hinder your experience.
Remote devices can't communicate with your Plex media server without an internet connection.
But to play local server files or connect to a live TV stream that is brought to you by an HD cable provider, you need not connect to the internet and use your data.
But I personally would recommend you to have a working internet connection anyways just so that Plex can download metadata like media art from the internet.
This makes the content-watching experience much more desirable.
Your Roku, Of Course
Roku natively supports the Plex app and can be downloaded easily from the channels store.
For a more seamless and faster video transcoding, make sure your Roku and host computer/server are connected to the same internet connection.
How To Set Up The Plex Channel On Your Roku?
Now that you have everything you need to set up your own Plex ecosystem, let's get on with what you need to do on the software end.
1. Create a Plex Account
Plex relies on its account as an identity to host or receive your streams. You can create your own account by visiting their app on Roku or any supported device.
This account can be used to view media from remote locations by you or your invited friends. This also helps you make system setting changes remotely.
2. Download The Plex Applications
Plex relies on two main applications to stream media:
- Plex Client, which you downloaded on your Roku as the Plex channel. This is the app you use on your Roku or smart TV/device to receive your media.
- Plex Media Server, which is to be downloaded onto your host computer/server.
- This is the app you use to host the media. Once you log in with your Plex account, you can rename your server for cleaner management of servers.
Once installed, the Plex Media Server runs in the background of your computer/server, making sure you can instantly connect once you boot up.
3. Add Your Media Libraries
Once you logged in with your Plex account on both the Plex Client and Plex Media Server, go back to your host computer/server and add the content you want to watch on the Plex Media Server.
To add your content, simply follow the following steps:
- Click on the plus (+) symbol beside your server name on the left sidebar menu.
- Select the type of media you are adding. This helps Plex in sorting out your content and creating metadata according to your media formats.
- Click on the Add Folder button to configure and assign the folder paths accordingly. Make sure you add all the folders that you require to be streamed.
Now the Plex media server will make sure your content can be streamed directly to the Plex Client while your host computer/server is running.
4. Open The Plex Channel On Your Roku And Enjoy Streaming
That's it! Once you log in with your Plex account on your Plex Client/Channel, your server should reflect directly on the home screen.
You can add more users to your Plex account by doing the following steps:
- Obtain the usernames of the people you wish to invite.
- Go to the settings page and click on the Users tab.
- Click on the Friends button and tap on invite friend.
- Input the username and wait for the account to be recognized.
- Set custom settings on what content and server you want to share with them and click on the Invite button to send the invite.
You can accept the invitations to streams from your friends by doing the following steps:
- Make sure you got your invitation. Plex will send you an email if you get one.
- log in to your Plex account on your Plex channel/client
- Go to the settings page and click on the Users tab.
- You should see a pinned menu named Invites where you see the invitation of your friend to share their libraries with you. Click on the green tick mark to accept.
Now your friend's libraries should be synced to your home.
Plex vs Plex Pass
Plex is a service that offers most of its features for free.
But free applications typically don't generate money, so the Plex developers introduced a simple subscription plan that provides some premium benefits.
The best part is that the subscription plans for Plex Pass include a one-time lifetime subscription option so that you get rid of one more monthly recurring cost.
The plan starts at $5 a month, $40 a month, or a $120 lifetime.
These are the key improvements Plex Pass users have over the free counterpart:
Hardware Accelerated Video Encoding and Streaming.
This enables the local host computer/server to do the encoding with its own hardware resources, rather than relying on the slower-paced Plex servers.
This is key if you have a powerful system to handle the workflow and if you host multiple streams.
This is also important if you need lossless transcoding of video in 4K, or similarly high-resolution content for your Plex channel.
Offline Live TV and DVR Capabilities
If you are tech-savvy enough, it is possible to hook up a TV antenna directly to your Roku device to stream live TV without a Plex Media Server or the internet.
You can browse through the channels offered by Plex on Roku and watch the content, provided you pay for the cable antenna charges of course.
You can also record your live TV and other footage directly via the DVR functionality.
But the free version can also view live TV, albeit with the help of the internet.
The number of channels that can be viewed is also the same, but you can't rewind or record footage.
Downloading and Multiple Users Management Functionality
The free Plex app can only stream content from the Plex online servers, while you can download and sync with multiple devices only if you are a Plex Pass user.
You can also manage multiple accounts and users directly from the Plex app if you have a Plex Pass. Inviting friends is still available on the free version
Plex on my Roku has been somewhat of a must-have app for me to stream local content.
Whenever I want to share my media content with my friends or family, Plex is the number one choice for syncing media without data loss.
Personally, I have built a great setup over the years by using my NAS as my local content server and since it is running 24x7, my invited friends and I can easily access the content I have at any time.
I also am a proud Plex Pass user with a lifetime subscription plan.
I wouldn't recommend it for a casual user, but if you have a good computer or if you want to support the awesome developers, feel free to purchase the premium version.
I hope this article has given you a deep insight into how you can implement Plex on your Roku. You can also use the same steps to implement Plex on any other smart device and that shows the versatility it provides.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are the free movies on Plex legal?
Watching free movies on Plex is legal and safe. It has licensing agreements with multiple distributors and is primarily funded by investors, premium users, and adverts.
Does Plex know what local content I have and watch?
Plex does not store anything from your host computer/server on its cloud servers. It does collect diagnostic data for user experience improvements, but that is an option anyone can opt out of at any time.
What are Plex plugins?
Plex plugins are additional software that lets you stream on other apps within the Plex app. However, Plex recently announced it will be removing plugin support from its app.