Plex; Media & Streaming (Case Study)

Happy Friday, everyone! It’s a big day today. :slight_smile:

Our last case study of the bunch (that we’ve selected to focus on, anyway) is no stranger to the homelab world. A favourite of most, no doubt: Plex.

Mitch Hall, our Chief Storage Architect at 45Drives, has graciously outlined his experience with Plex. Mitch is a huge homelab enthusiast and hobbyist, who truly lives and breathes this stuff when he finishes at the office for the day. Needless to say, he was really excited to write this one.

Some of us here at HQ even use Mitch’s Plex server at home. :raising_hand_woman:

Do you use Plex? Feel free to share your experience as well.

Why I chose Plex
by Mitch Hall

Plex is a self-hosted media server that gives you a single place to access all types of media that matters to you. From your movies and tv, to music, podcasts and audiobooks. Plex works with metadata agents to match your uploaded media to incorporate all types of metadata such as poster, plot synopsis, actors, studio and more to make your media server feel like a high-end streaming service.

I have personally been running Plex in my home lab for many years. I am an avid DVD, Blu-ray, and 4k Blu-ray collector and many years ago I had the dream to have all of my movies and shows in a single, searchable library where I didn’t have to constantly replace disks in the player. I now host 60TB of ripped movies and tv all categorized and easy to find under a single application.

In terms of problems Plex solved for me? Plex solved a few upfront, such as the tedium of constantly swapping disks in and out when I wanted to play a new episode or movie. It also made searching and finding things much easier. When you have entire walls worth of Blu-rays, it becomes very difficult to keep everything organized.

Later on, it ended up solving the problem of loaning out my movies and tv to family and friends, only to never see them again. I now have all my close family and friends able to enjoy my Plex media anytime they wish.

Plex has an extremely low barrier to entry. Most people have a Windows desktop or laptop at home, and to get started it is as easy as downloading the Plex installer and installing, and then pointing folders to it. This is a great way to just get started and to learn. However, I would not recommend Windows for a long-term configuration or if you plan on running it 24/7. While it can be done, there are more efficient and better ways to do it. One of which is through the containerization process we will be using in our Home lab guide.

I have been running the same Plex server for many years, and I have not had a single database corruption or issue the entire time. I have also migrated the Plex server through multiple iterations and operating systems. It is extremely portable as long as you take care to follow best practices.

Another really cool thing that Plex can do is make use of webhooks. This allows you to do some really fancy home automation things, such as having Home Assistant dim your theatre room lights once you press play on the Plex app.

Plex also lets you setup pre-rolls as well, so I got our very own 45Drives video editor extraordinaire create a really cool “Plex hosted by Mitch Hall” pre-roll so anytime someone plays a movie on my Plex server, they see that first.


I am sure that many of the people/homelabbers that have their eyes on the HL15 and other 45Drives products are ones that run some sort of media server. Regardless if you are using Plex, Jellyfin, Kodi, Emby, or anything else under the sun - this hobby EATS storage.

Myself a Plex user - am very excited to pair the HL15 with quite a few high capacity drives to make the most out of this chassis. The HL15 is a great platform to host an entire homelab on, but I will be using it strictly as a NAS.

Maybe some of the 45Drives guys can tell me why I should use Houston vs. TrueNAS Scale.


Another Case Study idea:

Self-hosting a Lan Cache server for the gamers. I want to set one up so bad but I am waiting to get my hands on a HL15 and expand my storage first.

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HI @Glitch3dPenguin, we would recommend Houston or any Linux Distro over TreNAS.

We are an open-source Linux house and love the flexibility of Linux. The main advantage for Linux would be first you get the awesome Houston UI but you also get the freedom of open source software to do whatever you would like with your server.

Not only could you use Houston on Linux for a Plex server but you could also implement many other things on their server that are vastly supported on the Linux distro.

I don’t have much experience with TrueNAS scale as it’s a fairly new thing to come out which is not a production-ready product, whereas our Rocky or Ubuntu OS with Houston has been proven time and time again in the enterprise understory to deliver what users want and need to manage their servers

In the end, it all comes down to your preference on what UI you would prefer for management as both OS would achieve the same thing in the end


I would love it if you had a guide on how you have Plex set up. You mentioned the Home lab guide, so maybe it could be there, but being able to see how someone’s server is set up (who has years of use and seemingly no issues) would be greatly beneficial. I have Plex set up, but I’m always worried that I missed something or something will happen and I’ll have to do a rebuild from scratch. (I’ve had to do that on a few occasions, unfortunately. Edit to clarify that I’ve not lost data. Just had to rebuild the Plex instance and lose the metadata such as what content was already watched, any posters or custom collections.)

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I think this time around, for my NAS I am going to need to try Hourston! I have watched a few of 45Drive’s videos about it and it looks amazing! Super simple - no frills - no BS NAS setup. I am very excited to check it out!

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I’m actually rolling with their Rocky + Houston UI build once it ships. I’ve been on TrueNAS and unRAID for about a year now and have flip-flopped between the two endlessly in hopes one can solve a problem the other can’t.

unRAID, while pleasant to use, has some things about it I personally don’t enjoy. USB boot is mandatory due to their licensing model. BTRFS isn’t exactly built for fast, nor does unRAID support ISCSI natively. But, we’re here to chat about TrueNAS.

I liked TrueNAS Core (BSD). I upgraded to Scale (Linux) for the increased app repo. I’ve found the documentation very lacking or in direct conflict of what the UI presents. The SMB permissions are a bit of a pain, leaving me with spontaneous permission issues and loss of visibility to files. The forums themselves have been less than friendly. The whole OS seems to be in a constant cycle of changing and redirection to accommodate the UI. I’ve always had a weird feeling of never “truly owning” my system.

Houston is simply a UI, using Cockpit, which is already widely used and installed natively on Rocky Linux. Should I choose to make a change via CLI, I can. However, in TrueNAS, it was never clear if cli changes would persist or not. 45Drives has also chosen what I feel are a lot of GOOD tools and utilities to manage your system, allowing you to just throw the whole Houston UI away should you choose to and managing it as a headless Linux server if things really went sour. This seems to be a philosophy someone or everyone at 45Drives truly cares about as at the end of the day you are purchasing a piece of hardware, what you do with it is up to you and only you! The same can be said of the HL15, purchase it in what form you need and upgrade hardware as you go rather than throwing the box away and replacing.

To throw a couple quick anecdotes in from someone who enjoys homelab on nights and weekends while also holding a career as an Infra Engineer:

AD Support:
TrueNAS - UI through their tooling and ticking the boxes as needed.
Rocky+Houston - The supported way is via realmd which is a favorite of mine and very common in enterprise environments.

TrueNAS - A few options available, all UI driven. Any attempts to do so via CLI have been met in forum posts with warnings that things will not persist.
Rocky+Houston - Your choice. I’m sure 45Drives will have a way in the UI in Houston, but it’s just Rocky Linux (essentially CentOS). Install Certbot and use Let’s Encrypt, do it via OpenSSL, Caddy, etc.

Root User:
TrueNAS - Is slowly deprecating root user in favor of Admin accounts. A common industry trend and a good one at that. However, it will be automatically deprecated in future releases as stated in release notes.
Rocky+Houston - This one’s up to Rocky Linux. Right now, your Linux install is YOURS and not owned by 45Drives.

TrueNAS - Kubernetes. There’s another popular repo that rivals the official one. Mixing and matching the two will lead to serious problems.
Rocky+Houston - Again, just Linux with a UI. Hop into the CLI, install Portainer, Podman, Docker Swarm, Kubernetes, etc. There’s an official Docker Houston module IIRC.

Installing Grafana / Prometheus:
TrueNAS - I’ll get back to you if I ever figure out an easier way to touch the file there. The config file is obfuscated away in their applocker or what not dataset. It’s difficult to touch easily or remotely using tools such as Git.
Rocky+Houston - Install Git, Ansible, or any other preferred method of pushing/manipulating a config file to where you store your configs in Rocky.

Now, with all that said, TrueNAS is still a good system. Both Core and Scale have lots of love. However, neither are really for me. If something breaks, is not supported, or even doesn’t play along the way I prefer, I want to be able to jump in and fix it without having to rely solely on one vendor’s documentation.


I’ll try and find where it was posted or said, but I believe recently they announced they have plans on picking 6 common apps and writing up guides. Who knows, they may even extend past that as time allows.

This community itself will hopefully fill in the rest of the blanks, such is the way of Open Source! I for one am really hoping to this space become much more over the coming months. Checking in here has almost entirely replaced my former scrolling time on R(IP)eddit.


That would be fantastic! And yes, same here. I’ve started coming here daily just to see what folks are up to.


Yes! I hope they open up some sort of Wiki documentation or github documentation and we the community can help make documentation and comment on maybe different solutions too.


45Drives reached out to some seriously awesome folk too while getting this thing kicked off.

We’ve Jeff Geerling in the forums, an absolute god among men in the world of Ansible and making anything he pleases run on a Raspberry PI. Jeff does a LOT for the homelab community.

Tom Lawrence has been tapped, who is a large proponent of TrueNAS and ZFS as a whole. He also gives a great perspective from a MSP/VAR side of things, as his dayjob is Lawrence Tech Systems.

Wendell from Level1Techs has enough knowledge around ZFS to write the book on it himself!

TechnoTim fits in wonderfully as an all around tech loving geek like the rest of us and has a great way of breaking things down in an entertaining way.

There’s many more I’m sure I’m forgetting. 45Homelabs and Rocky+Houston UI isn’t the END of the documentation or knowledge out there, instead I see it as the beginning of the journey for many and a very welcome onboarding hardware wise.

Everyone in here should check out: Creator Cartel to see the plethora of content 45Drives have gathered up for us. There’s bound to be a video or blog from one of them that can help you on your way with whatever shiny new thing you’re playing with.


I’m looking at different OSs for my HL15, does 45 drives have a nice setup guide for Houston? (Plex, home assistant, etc) Or is truenas scale which has the apps I’m looking for stable enough to run for Plex?

Most any Linux Distro will run Docker or Kubernetes. Houston is simply a UI (based on Cockpit) with modules made for their products and ZFS. I would not call TrueNAS Scale “stable” on the Apps front, nor would I call almost ANY container stack. Apps in my opinion is a bit poorly chosen of a term the industry has leaned on. Apps are after all just applications, but the term was kind of co-opted by the mobile industry and caught on in mainstream desktop distros.

Regardless of what stack you choose, if you want stability, you’ll need to spend a bit of time learning the ins and outs of containers. Along with spending a bit of time learning each application. Grafana and Nextcloud are very popular, both of which can exist as simply a software package on a base distro or in a container. However, both have entire knowledge bases and wiki’s respective to themselves.

I’d suggest taking an evening and searching up some youtube videos on different NAS/Hypervisor solutions. Watch videos on setting them up and how to troubleshoot them, then pick your path from there.

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I’ll be running TrueNAS Scale. If there is anything that won’t or can’t be installed then you can always spin up a VM.

Side note, have you checked out the Steam implementation? The other night the wife installed BG3 and it was oddly fast. That’s when I learned Steam has a flag you can turn on to allow downloads from LAN!

There are so many ways you can go about building a Plex server. I think if you are looking at a Plex server re-build, I would figure out what your server’s requirements and then start doing some Googleing.

For example:

  • What OS/Platform (linux, windows, docker)
  • do you need to have GPU
  • Are you running bare metal or virtualizing.
  • Are you going to running any addons?

There are a lot of creators on YouTube that have shown how many different ways there are to go about building out a sick Plex server!


(Ugh… This turned out REALLY rant-y… My apologies in advance :sweat: )

Around the time you wrote this, I’d likely be in almost full agreement… I’ve had plex since it was a little open source XBMC fork, probably over 15 years now, and I’ve had plex pass since there was a plex pass to have - for a long time, the only news that ever came from plex was solidly in the ‘hallelujah!’ category actually, but then things started to change.

I could forgive that they tried some shady crap in attempting to remove everyone’s ability to opt out of data collection; they pulled it back after everyone pulled out their pitchforks, and everyone makes mistakes… Though the fact that they didn’t even consider the implications of this data collection, somehow ‘not realizing how customers would react’ (or what our concerns might be) should’ve raised a bit of an alarm, at least in retrospect.

I had a hard time doing so, but did eventually forgive them when they not only added their ad-supported ‘video streaming service’, but automatically enabled it for all users without giving them a chance to opt out. Getting calls from your family asking ‘why are there ads on your movies/tv shows now’, and having to walk each of them through removing the library from their account’s home made me hugely irritated with them, but once I’d done this with all of them, the immediate fire was out, and I eventually simmered back down.

It was fine that they automatically generated (and put at the top of my recommendations) a collection I didn’t generate for ‘seasonal content’… In 2020. It was less fine when they re-enabled it in 2021 even though I’d manually disabled it immediately after it’d originally showed up in 2020. It was irritating when they did it again in 2022. Again, this should’ve been another sign - “You’re not in control here, Plex is”, but I digress.

I was sorely disappointed when they deprecated the mobile photo backup feature (‘camera upload’). This was something that’d been HEAVILY used by my family and I, with my parents getting to see pictures of their grandkids almost as they were taken, vacation photos could be shared out across the family, etc. Silver lining that came out of this was I finally took the time out to properly tune my Nextcloud instance so it was running lightning quick, and eventually invested more fully in to the ecosystem, so let bygones be bygones.

I can forgive the fact that they were hacked and had all our creds exfiltrated, happens to the best (though the way they handled it all giving us half-truths until called out several times really annoyed me - and that they never told us how it occurred left me feeling like they still had something to hide :face_with_raised_eyebrow: ). Funny enough, they never reset my password - they sent an email stating they did and that I’d have to create a new one, but nope, the same (unique to plex and random-32-character-long) password still worked and I ended up resetting it myself. Highly concerning given the verbiage they used in their ‘annoucements’ tried to play it off as 'nobody could do anything with this data anyway - these days with most people using simple pwds (still!? I know, but an unfortunate truth :frowning: ), a GPU and a few hours and may as well have been unencrypted anyway. Anyway, I felt that was a little weird, but wrote it off eventually.

The straw finally broke the camels back this last November when they started telling users what other users watched. Was it opt in? For existing users prior to the feature’s introductions, apparently yes (though not all experienced that either it seems). Did they use dark patterns in an attempt to get as many 'typical users that click next till they get to the end so they can do what they opened the app to do’? Abso-friggin-lutely. Were they clear at all about ‘who’ exactly this information would be shared with? Not in the slightest.

So now I’m about 60% of the way through getting all my users migrated over to Jellyfin. I’ve set up Jellyfin and gotten it to the point that it does most of what plex does (only thing I’m really missing is intro skip, but I think I can deal lol), have Authentik configured with the Jellyfin LDAP integration (at least until the OIDC plugin goes mainline), and have been working through user by user to get the various apps set up across their devices. It’s a bit of a slog if I’m honest… But Plex has burned up whatever ~15+ years of goodwill they’d built up with me over the past few, and I’m no longer convinced they’re good stewards of any of my users personal information, which has kept my conviction strong enough to press forward.

Ancillary benefit - no more dependence upon their servers staying up to authenticate. It’s always bothered me that, even though I could physically look at the hard drive the data is stored on while pulling up the application, I could sometimes not access the media because they couldn’t keep their servers online :expressionless: . The 2021 holidays were especially rough lol:

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