I’ve been using emby in anger now for two months, so thought I’d provide a quick update on how things have gone. I still have a jail running Plex 1.8.4, but it remains logged out of plex.tv and other than running in the background, scanning and updating with any new media I’ve added, I’ve not used it for watching any media in the house (although my 5-year-old daughter has used it occasionally on her iPad!).
For me, the best reason for switching from Plex to emby is still the control I have over my media server. It doesn’t connect to any emby.media services and I can access it directly on my own network (using the internal IP address) from any of the client devices (mainly tvOS and iOS, although I use the web UI through Safari on my iMac and have played around with some Linux options on my MacBook Air) without them being connected to any emby.media services. This also applies to anyone connecting externally (through my secure https://emby.domain.com address) and almost all of the friends and family I shared Plex with now have access, using a whole mix of clients (including Android, Fire TV, Chromecast and various browsers I don’t use).
The support forum would also have to be another good reason to switch to emby. When I first started using Plex, the forums were a great source of information and support. Over time, and especially after the old forums were hacked and they moved to a new platform, they have become less and less useful, in part by a lack of support by the Plex team themselves. You’ve stood more chance getting a response from Plex in the Reddit forum of late! The emby community feels very much like Plex did in the beginning, with quick responses from their team to both issues and requests for future functionality.
My friends and family benefit from my Emby Premiere subscription, so haven’t needed to pay for any of their client apps. While this is obviously a good thing, it’s also found a place on The Bad list below.
The media server app has been updated three times in the time I’ve been using it, and while I haven’t noticed any significant improvements to how I’m using it, it’s nice to see that development continues at a pace. This was something that had slowed down with Plex, and while it’s not always a good thing, updates that don’t break anything, even if the new functionality is oblivious to me, is fine. The Apple TV client app has also seen some updates, including support for live TV, although I still find the excellent Channels app to be the best for this.
Movie collections in emby are really useful, and I’ve consolidated many of my films into Collections (just counted and there are 53) making it easier to browse the stuff you’re looking for. That said, I used to do this in Plex using Smart Playlists, and the advantage of these over collections is that they automatically update when new content is added based on the filters you’d added to the Smart Playlist. For example, if I have a Disney Smart Playlist and add a new film from Disney, this is automatically added to the Disney Smart Playlist. I’d have to manually add it to the Disney Collection.
Live TV should probably be at the top of this list, as it’s one of the things I’ve found that emby does significantly better than Plex. I’m using an HDHomeRun Connect TV Tuner, and while I could use this in Plex, the guide data is presented in such an unusable way that it was little more than a gimmick. With emby, you can bring up a TV Guide layout that looks like something you’d find on any TV or DVR box, with a timeline along the top, channel listing down the left-hand side, and whats on in a grid in the middle. The easiest way to keep this up to date is a subscription to Schedules Direct, which costs about $25 a year. It’s possible without this but required a little more effort, and I was looking for the easiest solution.
It’s also possible to integrate an IPTV service into the Live TV, although I’ve found this doesn’t play very well with many of the clients I’m using and has only really been of use using the Web UI. It’s also a lot slower than using VLC on my iMac, which tends to be what I use.
The start-up time on the Apple TV client is pretty slow and is probably one of my biggest bugbears as I use it almost daily. I used to click on the Plex icon, and it was ready to use a second or 2 later. emby takes a few seconds to find the server and then a few more to log in, which in comparison just feels really slow. It’s slower to use too, which probably just detracts from the overall user experience. It’s usable, but not as nice to use as Plex
Running on FreeBSD and ZFS means that new content added to my library folders isn’t automatically detected and added into emby. It wasn’t added into Plex either, although I had an hourly task scheduled which only took a few minutes to run if there was nothing new in the library, and only a few minutes more when there was. A scheduled library scan in emby is taking much much longer, and I can only schedule a full scan (which includes thousands of pictures and music files) rather than just specific libraries, which tend to be updated daily while the other stuff might only be updated weekly. It would be great to schedule specific library scan at specific times, rather than all or nothing.
I’ve added Emby Premiere to The Good list above, but the lack of control also means it finds a place on The Bad. Emby Premiere provides some useful extras for either a monthly, yearly or lifetime subscription, pretty much like PlexPass. It also allows you to use these extras on up to 15 active devices, and this is why it’s on this list. There’s no control over which these devices are, or which devices are counted toward the active devices. Some clients require Emby Premiere to play more than 1 minute of media. Some clients don’t have this restriction. But I have no idea what is using what, which is a problem. When I set everything up internally I received a message to say ‘I was well within the device limit’ and that’s it. As I’ve added friends and family, that’s now changed to ‘your device usage is close to the limit’. I’d like to control which devices can or cannot use Emby Premiere, and for those that can’t, they can simply pay to unlock the device which will then allow unlimited playback. I’m not sharing any of the other Premiere features, like DVR recording or library sync externally. It’s something lots of people have raised on the forum, but there doesn’t appear to be a very clear way forward. Over the last few days, the message has gone back to ‘your device usage is well within your limit’ – all very confusing!
Interfaces are a very subjective thing, and generally take some time to get used to, and whilst I don’t mind the emby interface it’s not as nice as the Plex one, at least in my humble opinion. Feedback from friends and family would suggest they agree.
While I added IPTV to The Good, the fact it works on a limited number of clients means it needed to be mentioned elsewhere too. I don’t think it’s bad and wasn’t something I could do with Plex, so I’ve thrown it on here as a bit of a ‘meh’
There’s probably other stuff that I’ve completely forgotten about, but these are the main things that sprung to mind when I thought about writing this blog. The fact of the matter is that for the past two months I have completely replaced my use of Plex with emby, and for the most part it has done a far better job than I was expecting. I really did love Plex and still feel saddened by the need for me to switch away, but there’s nothing to suggest Plex will be doing an about turn on their approach or changing the direction of travel. Control over my server and my content are more important to me than a slicker looking UI/UX, and in some areas, emby does things better than Plex. Given what I’ve experienced over the last few months, I can quite easily see a point where emby will actually be the better product, although only time will tell….