If you’re looking to save some money and cut the cord, there are several free media servers available. Whether you are looking to create your own personal Netflix or just want to playback some old home movies, you can’t go wrong if your next project is setting up your own media server. With many similar features, it can be difficult to decide which media server will best suit your needs.
When looking for the best Plex alternative in 2021, there are really 5 main alternatives to check out. To save you some time, I’ve tested out the best 5 free media servers available.
The 5 Best Plex Alternatives in 2021
If you’re looking into streaming, you’ve no doubt heard about Kodi. It’s been around since the original Xbox and continues to receive regular updates. It’s also been sold as a ‘Kodi Box’ with many illegal add-ons pre-installed.
Having used Kodi since it was called the Xbox Media Center, I’ve become very familiar with how to set it up. The main menus really haven’t changed much since it was introduced.
The biggest difference between Kodi and most of the other options is that Kodi is a stand-alone piece of software and doesn’t require a server to be running on another computer. As long as you can share your media across your network or have it located locally, you can use Kodi to playback just about anything.
One of Kodi’s biggest pros is also its biggest cons. You can customize Kodi almost endlessly which can cause problems if you don’t know what you’re doing. There are many addons available for Kodi, which will allow you to expand your media collection (both legal and illegal).
If you don’t appreciate the look of the default Kodi skin, there are many more options to choose from. You can spend hours tweaking things to look exactly the way you want.
One of the other drawbacks of Kodi is that you will need to set up additional addons if you want your viewing history to be shared between your devices.
If you are looking for a media player to experiment with and customize in a very specific way, Kodi is great for this. Its ability to play almost any type of file is still one of its best features.
Kodi is 100% free and is a great Plex alternative if you don’t mind spending some time with the initial setup.
Emby is very similar to Plex in that it’s based on having a ‘server’ installed on your desktop computer or Nvidia Shield. You use this to add your media to the libraries and Emby will keep itself updated whenever you add new TV shows or Movies.
One of the key differences with Emby is that it provides more support if you are looking at IPTV than Plex. It has the same ability to share your media with friends and family as Plex does and generally behaves in a very similar manner.
Much like Plex, Emby offers a subscription option with additional features but the core ability to watch your own media remains free.
Depending on the type of media you’re trying to playback, you may find more success with Emby. Personally, I’ve found it to be very similar in terms of quality to Plex and have found that the real differences are in how they each handle the extra features. They are both so close in how they work for playing back your own content that it may come down to IPTV and a preference for which interface you prefer.
Jellyfin is 100% free and a fork of Emby. It provides a lot of the core features of both Plex and Emby. If you’re looking for a basic media player that will allow you to add your media to a library and play it back on your TV, Jellyfin is a good option to check out. I found that it wasn’t quite as accurate when matching metadata to my media as Plex but the playback of movies and TV worked very similarly.
As far as setup is concerned, it is again very similar to both Plex and Emby. You will need to install the server software on your desktop PC and add your libraries to it. Jellyfin will allow you to add multiple users so you can keep content separated. This is great when you have kids and want to keep their content separate from your own.
Jellyfin can be found on the Firestick and Roku but will most likely not be available for most Smart TVs.
The one thing I found frustrating with Jellyfin was getting the client app set up on my Firestick. I had to manually enter the IP address of my server and wasn’t able to see the users that I had created. It took some searching but by default user profiles are set to be hidden. This is good for an admin account but it wasn’t obvious why my profiles weren’t visible on the Firestick. After making the change on the server, the user profiles were immediately visible.
Jellyfin hasn’t been updated with as many features as Plex and Emby have over the last couple of years but if you just want basic media playback with a decent IPTV option, Jellyfin is a great Plex alternative.
4. Media Portal
If you are looking to turn your Windows PC into an HTPC, Media Portal might be the best Plex alternative for you. Designed for Windows, Media Portal is a great replacement for the Windows Media Center. There isn’t a native app allowing playback from other devices in the way that Plex, Emby and Jellfin have but if your PC is connected to your TV, Media Portal looks great and has a lot of the same features and the other media servers. You are able to playback both your own local content as well as live radio and TV.
Media Portal will scan your TV shows, movies, music and photos and add them to its database. This is pretty standard among all of the media servers. Where Media Portal really stands out is its ability to playback live streams. Only available on Windows is really the main drawback but it remains a great Plex alternative if you have a desktop PC.
Adding Plex to a Best Plex Alternative list may seem like an odd choice, but sometimes it just doesn’t get any better than Plex, at least not for the media server part. Over the course of the last decade, I’ve rarely had problems with the Plex Server software and why I’ve had issues, it was actually my own hardware that was to blame. The big issues I’ve had have actually come from the client or player side of plex.
For this reason, sometimes it’s best to stick with what’s working with the server-side and make some changes on the client end. I’ve always had good the best experience with Plex correctly identifying my media. There are always a few matches that need to be fixed up, but nowhere near the number of manual changes I’ve had to make with some of the other servers on this list.
There are a few things we can do to improve the experience of using Plex. The first is to try and avoid transcoding at all costs. This is the biggest issue and the one that causes the most headaches as it will make your server work overtime. The best way to avoid this is to use recent hardware such as a Firestick 4k or Nvidia Shield. For the most part, these devices will do a good job of direct playing or direct streaming most of your content.
The only issue I’ve continued to experience is trying to playback 4k content through the Firestick 4k on a 1080p TV. The newer versions of the Plex Android client have broken this. If you revert back to the Android APK “kepler-armv7a-amazon-stdExo-184.108.40.20603-5c57babb” you shouldn’t have any problems. To do this, you will need to sideload the APK onto your Firestick but once you do this, you will be able to playback 4k content on a 1080p TV.
The other option is to avoid using the Plex client altogether. There are a few options for this, such as using the official Plex Kodi plugin from the Kodi repository. It will even let you start Kodi and go directly into Plex. The interface is dated but you will be able to direct play just about anything you throw at it. I’ve also had success using Plex Kodi Connect. It will let you integrate Plex with Kodi and will keep your library up-to-date with what you’ve watched. I also like it because you can set up the add-on to allow you to play your files directly from the server location. Plex will still so that the file is being played but if you look at the data transfer, you will see it’s 0.
There are a couple free to try If you are using an IOS device and are willing to pay for a solid player, Infuse is an amazing player but it’s only available for only Apple devices. They do have a free version that you are able to use and test out before spending any money. Another free to try player app that some people have had success using is MrMC. I personally haven’t found much success with it but some people have reported that they have found it works for them.
Plex has really done a great job in developing new features while maintaining its core ability to manage your media. There have been a few missteps along the way but overall, Plex is still my go-to for ease of use and reliability. There is nothing worse than sitting down to watch a movie and it doesn’t work. If you are looking to get more out of Plex check out 5 Ways to Get the Most from Plex – 2021.