Plex DVR Beta First Impressions


I’ve been using Plex DVR beta for about a week now, and here are my first impressions.

  • First of all, you need to be a Plex Pass subscriber to have access to Plex DVR. As a heavy Plex user, I recommend it, as I enjoy getting exclusive access to cutting edge Plex features.
  • You have to install a special version of Plex Media Server to use Plex DVR, which is available from the Plex forums. Installing Plex DVR beta was very easy and straightforward. The only snag was that I had to uninstall my current Plex Media Server to install the beta version — there was no clear documentation, and I had momentary fear that I would have to re-setup my Plex libraries, which is a PITA under Ubuntu.
  • Once installed, there’s a new button in Plex server settings: Set Up DVR. It detected my SiliconDust HDHomeRun Connect on the network instantly. Then it gave me the option to select which of the 60 detected channels it should download EPG info for. Once selections are made, it took about 5-10 minutes to download the 2-week episode guide from the Plex servers (powered by GraceNote).
  • Once the EPG was downloaded, all shows available to record appear in a new Plex menu on the left side, Program Guide. Unlike a traditional DVR which lists upcoming shows in a TV schedule grid, Plex DVR lists them in categories: Starting Soon, On Right Now, New Episodes Tonight, Upcoming Movies, Upcoming Sports, and Upcoming News. You also have the option to drill down into categories like Movies, News, TV Shows and Sports.
  • Programming a recording couldn’t be easier: select a program, hit the record button. You can set options to record all episodes, a particular episode, new airings only, or new and repeat airings.
  • Because I went cheap and bought the HDHomeRun Connect (base model), the recording quality is MPEG-2 original broadcast resolution, so a 1-hour HD broadcast could take up to about 5-6 Gb of HDD space. If I had spent a little more money, I could have gotten the HDHomeRun Extend, which transcodes to H264 on-the-fly, for much smaller file sizes. I might just purchase that in the future.
  • My first recording was standard definition, 640×480, 1 hour, 572Mb. Not bad.
  • The TV tuners (there are 2 of them) on the HDHomeRun Connect are much better than the TV tuners in my Vizio TV, and the MediaWorx DVR. On those tuners, some channels have static and pixelation. On the HomeRun, everything is smooth and clear.
  • Plex DVR currently does not have the ability to show live TV, only recordings. Plex says they are interested in developing live TV viewing and time shifting capabilities.
  • Recorded an episode of Bones in HD, 3+ Gb file size. Plex DVR has an option to transcode while recording, but that needs a fast CPU. I suppose I can manually transcode after recording using Handbrake, or generate mobile-optimized versions using the Optimize feature in Plex.
  • You can only browse the Program Guide and set recordings in the Plex Web interface, not in any of the Plex apps.

Overall, Plex DVR is already a great product. It’s certainly the easiest over-the-air DVR software to set up and use. The biggest limitation for me is poor over-the-air TV reception due to my indoor TV antenna. Once I am able to get an outdoor TV antenna installed, and have solid access to all of my local over-the-air stations, I expect Plex DVR to be an essential component of my cord-cutting efforts.

More on Plex DVR

One of my favorite features is the ability to program recordings and change DVR settings in the Plex web app, which means full control over the DVR front and back end from my phone, tablet or computer. I don’t have to sit in my living room and program the DVR with a remote, I can do it from anywhere, especially since I have configured my Plex server to be accessible remotely.

In the future, it would be nice if the DVR could be programmed from the various Plex apps. I’m sure this is on their product roadmap after the DVR feature goes 1.0. But being able to access it via Plex Web is good enough for now.