Question DNLA, Plex, Transcoding - Help me understand?

d000hg

Active Member
I understand some bits of this but not the whole picture. I've tried before but ended up still confused so maybe talking in a practical example rather than academically would be easier?

I have multiple devices on which to consume streaming content:
  • A couple of FireTV sticks
  • An LG WebOS smart TV
  • An XBox One
  • iPad
  • Android smartphone
I want to be able to stream my own content from my own server/NAS so I can select a movie on any of these devices, and watch it, as I would watch something on Netflix/Amazon/Hulu.

Now I'm aware that the file is stored in one particular format on my server. Sometimes my consuming device might be able to read that format itself, other times it might need the server to convert to a different format on the fly. That last bit is called live transcoding.
So I know Plex is a server tool that can do all this conversion stuff, but then we also have DNLA which seems to be a separate media-serving protocol and I don't know what this means. On top of that, NAS products often include their own home-streaming apps.

I can't work out which of my devices will work with what. When I looked into this a while back, it seemed Plex needed pretty substantial hardware, whereas apps from Synology, etc, claimed to work on much lesser hardware. All very confusing. I feel it must be not that complicated but I just can't get my head around it.
 

MaryWhitehouse

Well-known Member
The simple thing is try and avoid transcoding by managing your content formats as they go into a library. This is because you’re spot on that transcoding takes power and is mainly a pain in the bottom. If you can manage your content then either a cheap NAS or a cheap computer can serve the content happily for your devices to happily and easily display without further thought.
 

next010

Distinguished Member
DLNA is an industry standard for playing media.

Plex is a private solution that serves the same purpose but with a fancier interface.

Transcoding converts media in real time;
software based = done via CPU, needs a good performing CPU to pull it off.
hardware based = done via hardware based video encoder, Plex restricts its support for this to Plex Pass subscribers.

You can see a list of NAS with hardware encoding support here, (click on Link - Plex NAS) if you want to go down that path.

Another option is Emby which is a more open source alternative to Plex, it does not restrict its hardware encoding support, if you have a Synology NAS all you should need to do is enable VAAPI in the Emby settings if its supported.

Emby has clients for all of your devices.

Other than that look to Plex aware media players with local decode support like MrMC on FireTV, iOS but you might not have the same interface on all devices, MrMC is not available on Xbox but Kodi is with a Plex addon.
 

d000hg

Active Member
DLNA is an industry standard for playing media.

Plex is a private solution that serves the same purpose but with a fancier interface.

Transcoding converts media in real time;
software based = done via CPU, needs a good performing CPU to pull it off.
hardware based = done via hardware based video encoder, Plex restricts its support for this to Plex Pass subscribers.

You can see a list of NAS with hardware encoding support here, (click on Link - Plex NAS) if you want to go down that path.

Another option is Emby which is a more open source alternative to Plex, it does not restrict its hardware encoding support, if you have a Synology NAS all you should need to do is enable VAAPI in the Emby settings if its supported.

Emby has clients for all of your devices.

Other than that look to Plex aware media players with local decode support like MrMC on FireTV, iOS but you might not have the same interface on all devices, MrMC is not available on Xbox but Kodi is with a Plex addon.
Thanks for that, so this would explain why low-spec NAS can do real-time transcoding - they are using custom hardware (similar to in my BR player I guess)?

So - DNLA is simply a standard for transferring data without processing (client does all the processing/transcoding locally). Plex can do this too, but also can do real-time processing on the server where the client is too wimpy. Did I get that right?

I had heard of the Plex pass but wasn't sure what it was about. Never heard of Emby, thanks for mentioning.
 

next010

Distinguished Member
Yes they used a hardware based video encoder instead of software CPU, but these hardware encoders require special support from software to work.

Yes for DLNA that is basically correct, though DLNA servers do support transcoding too but its not a core part of the standard so some servers have it and others do not.

Plex Pass is their way of monetizing their software by locking features behind a subscription.
 

d000hg

Active Member
I've no problem paying for software but I'm not really a fan of subscription models. I'd rather just buy a license.
 

pxr5

Member
An alternative to Plex and Emby (both of which cost to get the full benefit) is Jellyfin. It's a free, Emby fork with loads of clients and is well supported and maintained. I store my media on a NAS and run Jellyfin on a little Raspberry Pi. Works well both locally and remotely. Of course a Raspberry Pi is not the most powerful, so avoidance of transcoding is likely needed. A more powerful NAS can run Jellyfin (or Plex/Emby) in a Docker container. I've noticed quite a lot of people jumping ship from Plex to Jellyfin too for various reasons.
 

d000hg

Active Member
An alternative to Plex and Emby (both of which cost to get the full benefit) is Jellyfin. It's a free, Emby fork with loads of clients and is well supported and maintained. I store my media on a NAS and run Jellyfin on a little Raspberry Pi. Works well both locally and remotely. Of course a Raspberry Pi is not the most powerful, so avoidance of transcoding is likely needed. A more powerful NAS can run Jellyfin (or Plex/Emby) in a Docker container. I've noticed quite a lot of people jumping ship from Plex to Jellyfin too for various reasons.
If you're not using transcoding, what is the benefit of a separate device serving content from your NAS via Jellyfin rather than using the NAS' own apps (or plain old DNLA)? Have I missed something?

It does raise the more general point I hadn't considered, that the device serving the content doesn't have to be the NAS on which its stored.

All this Docker stuff is over my head though as a software developer it's probably time I got around to figuring it out :)
Thanks.
 

Bryn1

Active Member
Just to clarify, Plex Pass is also available as a one off lifetime purchase thus, eliminating any further subscription charges (which is the cheapest way and also currently available at a cheaper black Friday deal price)
 

next010

Distinguished Member
If you're not using transcoding, what is the benefit of a separate device serving content from your NAS via Jellyfin rather than using the NAS' own apps (or plain old DNLA)? Have I missed something?

It does raise the more general point I hadn't considered, that the device serving the content doesn't have to be the NAS on which its stored.

All this Docker stuff is over my head though as a software developer it's probably time I got around to figuring it out :)
Thanks.

To get the fancy interface with all the cover art and other stuff.

DLNA cannot do that, you get plain file/folder listings.

The benefit of the Emby/Jellyfin/Plex client server system is that it makes discovery easy (connecting to the server via client) and your preferences persist across multiple devices, pause on one client and resume on another for example.

In contrast Kodi does not require a media server or transcoding, it can read network shared folders directly and make a fancy media library too but its confined to that local install of Kodi, you would have to repeat for every other instance of Kodi (through there are workarounds for this).

You can also combine them, Kodi can connect to the above media servers and act as local video decoder so the server never transcodes, however Kodi is not available on all platforms and how well Kodi can handle the video depends upon the underlying hardware and state of Kodi port.
 

mushii

Distinguished Member
As a long time Plex user, although not perfect, it is a very easy to deploy and use platform. Kodi is great for geeks and nerds but it has subterranean WAF. Plex is just easier to use for non-tech people.
 

a5ian300zx

Well-known Member
Plex also has great features for plex pass users.

Eg skip intros, new hdr to sdr tone mapping, plex TV etc.

Emby is also great. I run both emby and plex server. Have not tried Jellyfin yet.
 

Sloppy Bob

Distinguished Member
Plex is just easier to use for non-tech people.

People keep saying this and in an experiment to try it I spent a couple of hours trying to get my media to display on it as it plays Dolby Vision.

I gave up as no matter what I tried and read it just wouldn't work.

Kodi, the first time I used it, within 10 minutes I had videos displayed and playing in a GUI.

Admittedly it took a bit of tweaking to get things working, but compared to Plex, just getting it to recognise videos was easy.
 

mushii

Distinguished Member
I have probably done 30 or 40 Plex installs, never had a single problem and everyone has been able to use it right off the bat. Kodi is an illogical mess for non tech people. I have run plenty of Kodi boxes at home, my wife tried it a couple of times and gave up. Plex she uses all of the time.
 

Sloppy Bob

Distinguished Member
I don't get that.

Movies TV Shows Music

You click on one of them and there's all your Movies, TV Shows or Music.

You click on the Movie you want, it either gives you the full synopsis (and you click again) or starts playing depending upon what your default choice is.

After that it's just pause/play/ffwd/rwd/stop like we had on tape decks and VHS in the 80's

How is that difficult?

I'm not disagreeing with you, I've had guest and girlfriends that complained it was awkward.

To me, they're just luddites. I've used Plex in someone else home. I didn't find it that different to actually use than Kodi, it just looked a bit plain and had a lack of options (or was configured that way)

The difficulty to me was actually setting it up and getting it to recognise my media and NAS.
 

chopples

Distinguished Member
Neither are especially difficult to set up but Plex with has the walkthrough which makes it a bit easier for those not familiar. Obviously if using a shield as the server there is the potential extra step of mounting your nas at system level but beyond that it is straightforward and assuming all kit is appropriately wired and the players do not require any transcoding then you are pretty much good to go. The problem with Plex is when you do have an issue and are not familiar with it. Unwanted transcoding can cause quite a few headaches for those not in the know.

Conversely with kodi, prior to scanning you have to add the source regardless, the menu system is not very intuitive so for a new user you have to dig around to get this done, once done it is again easy and a case of clicking add whatever and follow the menus and browse to the source. Kodi‘s complications lie beyond the setup and scan phase, refresh rate,resolution options with an appropriate delay, audio, subtitles all need to be sorted before its fully functional, with these options scattered all over the menu system this will be far more difficult to set up for a new user. The advantage for most with kodi is the fact it doesn’t transcode, you never get issues due to your media server going rogue. If you do have a problem its either because the player doesn’t have the power to decode or your network infrastructure isn’t up to snuff.
 

d000hg

Active Member
Do you have to use the same software for server and client, or do some of these use the same data format and protocols etc?

All the consumer-focused NAS I looked at had their bespoke video (and audio) apps... some do offline transcoding others offer it in real-time depending on the model. But app support on devices like Firestick and Roku and smart TV is always much more hit & miss than on your phone/tablet which makes me a bit nervous.
 

next010

Distinguished Member
Do you have to use the same software for server and client, or do some of these use the same data format and protocols etc?

All the consumer-focused NAS I looked at had their bespoke video (and audio) apps... some do offline transcoding others offer it in real-time depending on the model. But app support on devices like Firestick and Roku and smart TV is always much more hit & miss than on your phone/tablet which makes me a bit nervous.

It depends on what your aiming for, lets to use Plex as example as the others work the same more or less.
Server - runs Plex.
Client - runs Plex.

The client is typically just the internal video player of phone, set top box with the Plex user interface on top.

For media formats the internal video player does not support the Plex client tells the Plex server to transcode the video in real time (how well it can do that depends on the hardware).

So with a Roku you will be limited to DLNA, Plex, Emby, Jellyfin as Roku dont allow anything other than basic streaming videos app on their platform.

With a FireTV you have more options, you can use the same media servers and their clients or you can run media players which don't require transcoding, they decode all the media locally on the FireTV, they can even connect to the media servers too or ignore them and access network shared folders directly.

Anything that runs Android (FireTV counts) or iOS gives you options, anything that doesn't is plex style client only.
 

mushii

Distinguished Member
As an installer / integrator the Wife Acceptance Factor is always an issue. Significant other halves dont (in general) want to go digging in menus to get to things. Likewise if Husband is not around it needs to be simple to fix. Plex is just that, its a lightweight front end, with simple menus and very easy to navigate. Depending on how Kodi is skinned it can present a very simple front end or it can be a minefield of menus and submenus, many which make little or no sense to the untrained or 'ludites'. Kodi is great for nerds, geeks and tech-heads who like tweaking and having granular control, it is not ideal for your mum (or often your wife).
 

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