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.

Save Space on Jolicloud

I’ve been happily running Jolicloud Alpha 2c on my Asus Eee PC 701 for the last couple of months. Along with the Google Chrome Dev Preview¬†browser¬†for Linux, this is without question the best lightweight OS for my netbook’s tiny 4Gb SSD drive.

However, I was dismayed to see my remaining free space steadily dropping from about 1.3 gigs free just after installation, to less than 250 Mb free this morning. I searched online for some tips to retrieve my unused space, but could only find this terminal command to delete cached installation files:

“sudo apt-get clean”

After poking around a little more, I discovered a utility in the Accessories folder called “Disk Usage Analyzer” that was really helpful in figuring out which directories inside my home folder were taking up the most space:

This handy utility helped me realize that a bunch of Prism cache files inside my home folder were taking up nearly a gig’s worth of space on my 4Gb SSD (Prism is a minimal web browser used by Jolicloud to create local executables of web-based services). Armed with that information, I was able to delete the cache files. Now my free space is back up to over a gig.

Installing EeeXubuntu on Asus Eee PC

I’m currently in the process of installing EeeXubuntu on my Asus Eee PC, and I got stuck very early in the process because the “Forward,” “Back,” and “Cancel” buttons at the bottom of each installation screen were located below the viewable edge of the display (thanks to the Eee PC’s strange 800×480 display). I had been limping along by blindly pressing Tab to move the selection to what I had to imagine was the “Forward” button to move my installation along, but this method stopped working right after the partitioner portion of the Xubuntu installation process — no matter how I tabbed, I could not select the button to move to the next screen. I thought I was dead in the water until I read this tip on the Ubuntu forums: hold down the Alt key to click and drag a window around the screen. This nifty little tip allowed me to proceed with my EeeXubuntu installation – the installer is currently copying system files to the 8Gb SDHC card inserted into my Asus Eee PC. Coolness!