Setting Up a Mac Media Center Part 2: Plex vs Boxee

by Phil Olin

Setting Up a Mac Media Center Part 2: Plex vs Boxee

by Phil Olin on May 11, 2009

Post image for Setting Up a Mac Media Center Part 2: Plex vs Boxee

plexboxxeheader
Now that we have the hardware set up in part 1, it’s time to hit the software that will make everything possible. There are three real possibilities, Front Row, Boxee and Plex.

I’m only going to cover Boxee and Plex as Front Row doesn’t provide the full media center experience. For one, managing your media is a pain with Front Row. You have to add them into iTunes (which is fussy about most formats), then add metadata, artwork, which is all a lot of hard work. It’s acceptable as a default media center, but when there’s better options out there, why not explore them.

Boxee

I first started with Boxee as it’s had more media coverage, and I’ve heard more about it. Of the two, Boxee is more of a social media center. It’s front page shows clips and episodes that your friends have recommended, and watched. Setting up Boxee isn’t that hard. Once you’ve signed in, (you do have to create a login at Boxee.tv before you can use the application) head to your settings. We are looking for the “Media Sources” heading. Once there, you’ll see your local music, photos, and movies already listed as a source. We need to add the TV Shows folder we created last time.

tvsource

Next we need to fix the overscan problem with 720P HDTVs. If you don’t have a 720P TV, you don’t really need to worry about this. Under the “Appearance” tab in your settings, we need to go to Screen and then select Video Calibration. Once that is set, all your media will fit your TV screen instead of disappearing beyond the edges of the screen.

boxeecalibrate

Boxee apps are next. You need to add whatever apps you want to use within Boxee. These apps will add sources like Hulu, South Park and Pandora to your media lists. There are many to choose from, but some are country specific. BBC’s iPlayer only works in the UK, which is a disappointment if you want to watch Top Gear and you live in the US.

boxeeapps

Now we can enjoy our media. On Boxee, the media menu is hidden on the left, once activated, you can select from any of your sources. Just remember that they are all based on 3 categories, Videos, Music and Photos.

boxeemain

Adding new content is as easy as telling Boxee to rescan your library. With Boxee running, hit “A” and you will get your library stats. Most of the time, it will automatically scan your library, and get the needed info, which includes artwork, episode details, artist and album information, from either IMDB or theTVdb.

Plex

Plex is to Boxee as Mac is to PC. While Boxee certainly is capable, Plex is more “Mac-like.” When you first start up Plex, you are greeted with a large and easy to read menu on the left and a nice fullscreen image corresponding with what is selected in the menu. Like Boxee, if you are using a 720P HDTV, you’ll need to calibrate the display. This is done under the Preferences, System, and Display Calibration.

Additional sources are all managed under the Videos category. This is where you’ll use your apps that you download, and where you’ll add files and folders from your HDD. You’ll want to add you TV Shows folder here, and when adding, make sure that you set the content to TV Shows and for the content info I’d recommend The TVdb.

plexvideos

Adding additional apps is somewhat like Boxee. Under the App Store menu item, you’ll find numerous apps for additional media. They are organized nicely, and it is very easy to find what you are looking for. New apps are getting added all the time. The Featured list has all the popular ones, including Hulu, Netflix, and Apple Movie Trailers. The latest version of Plex will also use your default language as a basis to trigger subtitles, so you don’t have to turn off english subtitles on an english movie.

plexapps

Adding new content to Plex is done with either a keyboard, or the Apple Remote. On the keyboard hit “C” and on the remote press and hold “Menu.” A list will pop-up and select “Scan for new Content.” This is done under the media (Movies, TV shows, etc) sections, or under Videos with a source selected to scan.

plexscan

Verdict

After using Boxee for a month, and Plex since, I’ve come to like Plex a whole lot more. It has a much nicer interface, and seems to run much smoother. Plex is more usage based, while Boxee seems more concerned about what your friends are watching. I’ve also had much better luck getting Plex to recognize videos and add them than with Boxee. I’m not sure exactly what is causing this, since the files are properly named.

Which ever you choose, make sure the device you are using it on is connected to the internet. Since they both pull info of the internet, adding media gets a whole lot more difficult if you aren’t connected, you’ll have to do everything manually. Next I’ll cover remotes and what you can use to control your Plex/Boxee running media center.


{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Merrin

I’m using Plex for almost a year and I’m very satisfied. I’m only use Front Row to listen music and DVD and I hope it will not for a long time.

   

MILE

As Merrin mentioned, both Boxee and Plex work fine with all kinds of video content but they both equally suck when it comes to Music…! So while I also switched fron Boxee to Plex and really love the GUI and features I still use FrontRow for accessing my music liobrary…

Also it might be worth mentioning that both apps are still aiming at the the experienced user when it comes to stiing things up as well as using them sometims — so while I don’t really have much of a problem with all that it’s definitely not something I’d recommend to my dad or someone who’s not really tech-savvy…! Ease of use is definitely something that has to be improved…

   

David

I agree! I see myself as a pretty tech-savvy person, but to find myself around in the menu systems in especially Plex, and set up the various settings and sources really annoys me. I must be possible to make something that does not require you to watch a bunch of screencast first. The thing about hitting “C” on the keyboard was completely new to me.
Another thing I hope is that they will be a lot kinder to the CPU and not crash as often when they eventually come above 1.0.

   

MILE

@David: Check out version 0.8 of Plex which was released today — apparently they have tried fixing some of the well-known CPU issues…

@Yû: Both Boxee and Plex are actually based on XBMC but are trying to include more/new features and optimize it for Mac users…

   

David

@MILE: Yes and that was what I thought as well, but my CPU fan still goes bananas after a short time of running Plex. Even when I’m not playing anything.

   

MILE

@David: Yeah, unfortunately that’s a thing that XBMC and all its “offsprings” have in common — the idle CPU usage…!

So while everything is fine and smooth when I actually play a video, for some weird reason my Mac mini’s fans go nuts when I pause the playback or even when I just browse through the menus and/or my media files…! Everyone seems to be awrae of it and even thopugh all the devs (the Boxee team as well as the Plex team) claim that they are working on it, it’s either not too high on their priority list or for some reason they just can’t figure out how to actually fix it…?! Either way, it really is annoying that the fans start roaring a few seconds after I launch Plex (or Boxee) and that they keep going until I finally start playing some video…

   

simba22

what do you guys use for blu ray playback on the mack mini? an external blu ray player like the one from fastmac?

   

Phil Olin

@MILE and David what model Mini are you using? I have the latest edition, and I haven’t noticed that much CPU/fan usage while idle.

@Simba22 I have a stand alone Sony Blu-Ray player..

   

David

@Phil Olin: I do not own a Mac mini, yet! But I have testet the apps on my Macbook Pro 2.4ghz (early 08).
But great if it’s not that big of a problem on the new Mini.

   

MILE

@Phil Olin: I’m using the previous build of the Mac mini, with 2.0 GHz and 2 GB of RAM — but the problem actually occurs on all kinds of machines and has been discussed repeatedly in the relative support forums of each app…

Glad you’re not having any trouble though…

@simba22: I don’t really have that many BluRay discs and I’m still not convinced that teh format is here to stay so I haven’t really bothered finding a Mac based solution — which is why I am using my PSP3 to occasionally play BluRays…

   

Dan

I’m curious if any of the solutions work with Elgato DVT products, such as the EyeTV Diversity. I currently use this great USB device for my High Def TV including recording, time shifting, and EPG (powered by iceTV).
I’ve been wanting to setup a Mac Mini based media centre just like this for years, but without the live/pre-recorded TV feature built in I wouldn’t be completely satisfied.

   

DjMayhem

I tried out Plex, it is pretty cool, and is great visually, but trying to find the artwork for your downloaded media is such a pain in the ass. I have a bunch of seasons of tv shows, and i had to go through and change my folder naming scheme, then search the imdb databases for each damn season. No Thanks.

I prefer using my xbox360′s and streaming to them via Connect360. Format these days doesnt seem to be an issue ever, the menu system rarely fails, and best of all…. You keep the media on your main desktop! I use my main tower to host the same media on 3 big screens in the same house… No wondering where your fave movie is, no transferring, no space issue (seriously 500gb goes very fast when it comes to video, my 1tb is almost full…)

I feel like if i for some odd reason wanted to go the mac mini route i would probably still just use VLC and VLC Remote on my iPhone to control it. Maybe other people have had better luck moving your library into Plex than i…

   

Phil Olin

@DJMayhem I’ve only had problems with season 2 of Futurama finding the thumbnails. All of my other TV shows and movies have the proper thumbnails and fan art pulled from either TheTVdb or IMDB, depending on the media type.

   

David

@DJMayhem Yes with Plex I have also had a lot of problems with finding information for my media especially newer movies. Boxee does a better job of finding info and artwork, but can also fail.
Would be nice to have a feature to put in the data manually or edit the existing data somehow.

   

Justin

I just tried plex for the first time and I am not having good results. Its super glitch, crashes, and I cant use my mouse (is that normal?) I like the idea and the interface. But it does not work well. Hope there is an upgrade because in theory its really cool!

   

David

@Justin Yeah exactly, I had the complete same experience with Plex, but yes it is still in a very early stage so hopefully it will get better!

   

Ameri

Hey, have you ever looked at XBMC?

   

Ameri

never mind i feel stupid >_> i just re-looked and realized their the same, XBMC just changed names to plex *slaps head*

   

Phil Olin

@Ameri Plex and Boxee are both based on XBMC but they aren’t the same. XBMC has it’s own set of developers.

   

Ameri

oh i see thank you! :D i like XBMC but its a little rough. and Plex has a lot of faults that need to be fixed. (mostly graphic issues) but thank you for clarify that. :)

   

Steph

I use plex to play mkv 720p movie files.I have the movies stored on my mac pro and I stream them through airport extreme to my mac mini which is connected to my projector. The problem I have is that with files larger than 1GB the movie stops when it gets around 40-50 mins in.It just goes back to plex menu. I can play the same movies when stored on my Windows PC and stream to Mac mini through plex no problems.Also I can stream them from Macpro to Macmini by using VLC player, no prob. I want to use plex though cos the interface is awesome and I love all the info etc. I can stream TV shows and avi files no worries but the it has probs with the mkv. I am running snow leopard on both my macs and have the latest version of plex on both macs.
Any input would be appreciated.

   

Chris

I just did a head to head comparison Boxee vs Plex as well.
Pro Boxee:
While the older versions of Boxee were problematic (crashes and difficulty identifying correct movies/TV) it now is a much better product. Specifically Boxee had much easier time identifying movie and tv files. (i used the IMDB naming conventions suggested by both Boxee and Plex). I found confusion while navigation Plexs MOVIEs vs VIDEOs. One list would reconize a title and the other wouldn’t.
Pro Plex:
The interface is more Mac-like and beautiful to look at. Currently Plex has Hulu working. Boxee not so much.
My .02, Cheers

   

Martin

For me neither Plex nor Boxee are doing what they should do.

At mac-media-center-com I describe in a review and tutorial my thoughts and solution for a media center on my iMac…

   

Claudio70

well i tried PLEX – adn it did not.

1. find all the audiobooks – a missing mix between .mp3 . and .m4a files
non of the files had the correct names or only some of the names where added correctly.
same goes for music and film – the program had not updated all of the file informations.

etc..

so recon the app is no where complete.

it need to fetch the correct artwork – and transfer the file info – directly from itunes to the Plex interface.

til then ill stick to Itunes – that still is the king ( except for the movie section)

we need an app that can do it all but with ease.. so why cant peole make on that does?

best regards
claudio

   

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