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Plex Media Server vs Synology Video Station for NAS

4 juin 2021 à 15:00

Plex Vs Synology Video Station on a NAS in 2021/2022

One of the most popular reasons that users choose to buy a network-attached storage (NAS) device is for use as a media server. The appeal is pretty clear. With most users now owning decades of media (either in digital form or ripped from optical media at home), the ability to enjoy these box sets and Movies on the latest devices can be complicated. Despite this, streaming all of your multimedia from a NAS to all of your TVs, phones, tablets and other devices are growing increasingly popular and a lot of this is thanks to the increasing affordability of NAS from brands like Synology and QNAP and free software from companies like Plex and Emby. The most popular NAS for home media tends to be Synology, with its support of numerous media server applications and its own premium video service app too. This combined with the oversaturation of third-party online streaming services that ask you to pay a subscription (such as Netflix) with little control or right to ownership of the media you watch means that many users just want to enjoy their own unique media collections. So now that a lot of users are choosing to switch from the likes of Netflix and Prime Video towards an in-house media server, the next question is which piece of software they should choose. The most popular private media server app right now worldwide to counter the likes of Netflix is Plex Media Server, software available in host and client form that allows you to transform your media collection into a glossy, slick and informative UI that genuinely rivals big online streaming platforms. Synology on the other hand would likely prefer users to stick with their own fully-featured media server application, Synology Video Station, which they have invested well in and developed to an impressive standard that easily rivals that of Plex. So today I want to compare these two media server choices and help you decide which one is the ideal media server choice for you.

Important – ‘Free’ Vs Paid Media Server Services on a NAS

Before going any further, it is worth addressing the elephant in the room, namely that a number of key media server services that are included with Plex Media Server are locked behind a paid subscription service known as Plex Pass. Whereas Synology Video Station is an application that is included with your NAS on Day 1 at no additional cost. All that said, neither service can technically be called free, as both still require you to purchase a Synology NAS. Additionally, it is still worth highlighting that some more recent Innovations in Plex online services and utilisation of hardware transcoding (the ability to use the CPU’s embedded graphics or an available graphics card to adapt files on the fly to make them better suited to a client) is not available on the free tier of Plex, but ARE available by default in the Synology Video Station application. You can still utilise software transcoding on Plex for free and this will deal with a large degree of transcoding requirements, but the fact that you have to pay extra within the Plex app to utilise the hardware already available on your NAS is something a number of users find difficult to accept. Throughout this article, any feature that is only available as a paid Plex Pass feature will be highlighted as such.

Plex VS Synology Video Station – Installation and First Time Setup

Installation of either the Synology Video Station or Plex Media Server application is near enough identical. Both are readily available in the Synology app centre and can be installed within two clicks. Both media server applications do not require your multimedia files to be stored in a pre-designated/directory location and the sources for TV shows, Movies and more can be scanned and indexed by each media server application after they are installed. In fact, the initial installation on both is incredibly straightforward and there is really only one main difference between them. That difference is that whereas the Synology Media application uses your original NAS login credentials, Plex will require you to set up an account with them online in order to use the software, even if you only intend to use your Plex Media Server on the local network/DLNA. As Plex is a third-party application, this is a little understandable if a tiny bit annoying for some. 

It is also worth highlighting that both media server applications will receive regular updates during their lifespan and this is treated slightly differently too. As Synology Video Station is a first-party app, as soon as an update is available, you will be notified immediately in the app centre and even have the opportunity to apply these firmware updates automatically. Plex updates on the other hand will almost always need to be installed manually, as the available default Plex application on the Synology app centre is updated considerably less frequently and as soon as you setup Plex for the first time, it will ALWAYS inform you that there is a new update available straight away. The Plex Media Server application itself will tell you when an update is available regularly at the top right and in the settings menu, but requires you to download the latest Plex server update to a connected computer and then you need to upload this update directly to the Synology NAS app centre manually. It is only a small inconvenience really, but does mean that regular updates on your media server of choice are handled more easily and with likely more frequency on Synology Video Station rather than Plex.

Plex VS Synology Video Station – GUI, Media Support and Browsing

The user interface of Synology Video Station and Plex Media Server are quite similar when viewed on a client device, such as a console, TV and Amazon Fire TV stick. With all of your available Movies and Boxsets clearly shown and the metadata collected by each media server application creating a great user interface for your connected users. 

However the back end/server view of each media server application is considerably different and where the Synology Video Station application is designed exclusively around video media options and configuration (as Synology have a wide range of applications for different Media types and general NAS server maintenance already available), Plex, on the other hand, is a far better equipped tool for a complete server, with the bulk of server maintenance and customisation options built into the single Plex GUI. If you are something of an IT novice, the wide range of options that Plex Media Server throws at you for system maintenance can be a touch intimidating and because Plex is designed around many different kinds of media support (something we will touch on later) it’s configuration needs to be noticeably broader than the video-centric options in the Synology official video application. These additional options, if you take the time to go through them, will definitely lead to a better media server user experience and a far better multimedia streaming system overall, it’s just a question of how bespoke and how elaborate you want your media server to be.

As mentioned, there is a clear difference in the multimedia types supported in Plex Media Server or Synology Video Station. In terms of handling of video Media, they are near enough identical with some exceptions with regard to specialist audio handling for certain dense Media. However, much like the back-end server control mentioned earlier, Synology Video Station only handles video media and relies on alternative applications such as Synology moments, photo station, Synology photos, audio station and download station to play and obtain other kinds of multimedia. Plex Media Server is a much more diverse multimedia tool with support of your photo collections (AI-assisted too), album collections, podcast streaming and several online video streaming services included. In both cases, it makes a lot of sense why they are designed this way, but some users may prefer their media server to be more of a Swiss army knife and others may want their video streaming, music streaming and photo streaming to be different services for different devices and clients. Neither Plex or Synology Video Station really gain any advantage here but simply show how they are different in their architecture. If you want simplicity in the user interface, go with Synology Video Station. If you want simplicity in your media server as a whole, go with Plex Media Server.

Plex VS Synology Video Station – Meta Data Scraping

The scraping of metadata in a media server is precisely what separates a bog-standard selection of files and folders on your screen from a slick graphical user interface that is engaging, informative and a joy to use. When we talk about metadata, we are talking about thumbnails, box art, media descriptions, cast listings, review scores, trailers and more. When we say scraping, that is the process of the software accessing numerous online databases to retrieve and store this information locally to the NAS. The result is your years of TV and movie collection being transformed into something near identical to Netflix and Amazon Prime video in presentation. Metadata ultimately benefits connected users and their client hardware devices, with both Plex and Video Station being very similar in how they look to a client device, albeit with a few branded differences in colour and config.

However, on the server-side, both Synology Video Station and Plex have gone a different way with metadata scraping at a setup level. Of the two, Synology Video Station is definitely the less option-heavy and although this is thanks in many ways to a lot of key options being found in the general server GUI outside of the app, it is still pretty thin on the ground for configuration of your video media server. This is not an enormous surprise given how Synology have generally erred towards keeping things as user-friendly as possible and this is often done by simplifying configurations and sitting numerous settings to system default. The options for scraping metadata on the Synology are surprisingly thin on the ground and some more advanced options require you to sign up to some resource database websites to obtain a two-way key. Despite this, Synology still manages to scrape a tremendous amount of metadata without this key and resource linking. Indeed, although the number of supported databases for metadata listed on the Synology Video Station app is few and far between, it was still able to find the same level of metadata found on the Plex Media Server application and displayed all of the test media perfectly. 

Plex Media Server has access to significantly more online databases and although the system will generally ask you to select which one individually you wish to scrape for metadata in each library, it does do it with a high degree of accuracy. It also manages to scrape this metadata for more than just your Movies and applies this also to your music collection and podcast collection too within the app. Metadata scraping via Plex Media Server also does not require any kind of log-in to these individual databases and is largely automated off the bat, with users being able to switch designated databases for each Media type and folder on the fly. Of course, this all doesn’t guarantee accuracy and will still always be based on the format and layout of your Media in many cases (tv shows listed as S01E01 for season 1, episode 1, etc), but nevertheless, it has to be said that with more available resources and less configuration required for each of them, that Plex Media Server has the broader and more likely to succeed position on metadata scraping.

Plex VS Synology Video Station – Playback and Transcoding

This is one of the most important parts of any media server in the grand scheme of things – multimedia playback and transcoding. This is typically the action of changing a media file into a version that is more acceptable to the client device that you are enjoying it on (TV, Phone, Console, etc). This extends to but is not limited to, changing the resolution, changing the bitrate, changing the file format and ultimately compressing a file into a smaller version in most cases. Because Plex and Synology Video Station are available on the same NAS system, it means that media variations with regard to codecs, compressions and file types will be equally supported at the default level. If a file can be played back in its original version on Plex, it can be played back on Synology Video Station. However, it is when these files need to be adapted with transcoding that we see clear distinctions between each of them. Transcoding is something that remote accessing client users will likely use without even realising it, as they might well be on a limited data connection (speed or coverage at the time) or using a smaller device (such as a phone) to playback a monster 4K 60FPS movie that is overkill on that hardware. So, transcoding is at its best when you do not notice it is being done OR it is adaptable in as many ways as possible to cover all your likely scenarios.

When the NAS needs to perform a transcode on a file on the fly (eg, so you need to convert a video file into a better-suited version for the client watching device upon request and without delay) it will typically do it with software transcoding or hardware transcoding. Software transcoding is when the system uses the raw resources of the CPU and memory inside the NAS to convert the file. Hardware transcoding is when the NAS system features a graphical component (such as embedded graphics featured on a CPU) or an available graphics card that is installed – as these are designed for handling video files and/or graphical manipulation tasks, and will therefore utilise considerably fewer resources. Plex Media Server only provides hardware transcoding in the paid subscription service Plex Pass and then needs to be enabled in the encoding section by selecting the option ‘make my CPU hurt’. Software transcoding is available for the free version of Plex Media Server but is far less efficient and will result in much higher-end Media in 4K and 1080p playback consuming the majority of hardware resources to transcode or will simply not play at all. 

Synology Video Station on the other hand, because it is a native first-party app, has full access to the hardware transcoding element of the NAS and therefore allows users to take advantage of it easily and immediately, and at no additional cost. This has been one of the driving forces behind the popularity of Synology Video Station application, as although the majority of NAS brands have their own video player, Synology is the only one that manages to merge the slick meta-data supported graphical user interface found in Plex but still manages to provide the free and unlimited limited access to the hardware resources you would expect after spending several $100s on a NAS. That said, the way that Synology handles the subject of transcoding in its user interface is a little peculiar, especially for users who are trying to balance the best possible playback vs the most appropriate transcoding level on the fly/manually. 

When you wish for the NAS system to transcode a file in the Video Station user interface, you are presented with the options for adjusting the picture quality to high, medium, low, very low, etc. This is exactly what one might expect from a brand that wants to consistently keep things as simple as possible, however, for those who want to select a specific quality level to playback the file or want a better idea of the best quality level in future should be for other files, this will be extraordinarily limiting. Plex Media Server on the other hand allows you to switch between an automatic transcode option that changes the file to the recommended quality level for the client and connection, or you can specifically switch one of numerous video quality levels that break down into both resolution and bitrate in several places. Overall, the ability for Video Station to be able to take advantage of hardware transcoding at no additional cost and with little or no intervention from the end-user is still ultimately the best thing here. I just wish they gave uses a better degree of control and choice as found in Plex Media Server.

Plex VS Synology Video Station – Client Support

Having a slick and well-performing media server is always good, but if you cannot watch the media inside it on the devices you regularly use, then it’s all a bit pointless. Most people are already well aware that the multimedia collections they have on a NAS can easily be streamed over the local area network via popular methods such as DLNA and UPnP (digital living network alliance and universal plug and play). However, they are much more file and folder, breadcrumb level streaming and in order to enjoy the pretty GUI of Plex and Synology Video Station, an official client app needs to be available on the respective app centre or made unofficially and manually installed. This is an area where Plex Media Server almost completely wins over Synology Video Station, as it simply cannot compete with the variety and accessibility of the Plex client availability in popular app centres. 

Full credit to Plex, they have really taken the time to make sure their platform is available on pretty much any modern device, in what multiple client or media server application forms. They also take the time after an official update of services and then push these updates across each available downloadable client. This is largely impossible for Synology to compete with and they instead opt for a much more targeted client support regime, supporting all modern mobile phone OS’, desktop operating systems and some of the major sofa accessible app centres on TVs and streamers like Amazon fire TV. In  8 out of 10 cases, your device will support both Plex and Synology Video Station, but this is by no means total and sometimes a hardware client (such as an off-brand Android phone, tablet or media box) that you hope to support Video Station will sadly not. 

It is once again worth mentioning that Synology separates different multimedia types towards their own individual client apps, for example, DS Audio or Audio Station for music and DS Photo for photography. Indeed, some of these apps are quite advanced with practically unique connectivity to the likes of Amazon Alexa (something currently impossible on any other NAS platform without a 3rd party application like ‘my-media’ Alexa skill. But this, unfortunately, does not make up for being truly overshadowed by the wider degree of support available on Plex across numerous clients and smart Home devices – though the latter does require a Plex Pass. For sheer volume of connectivity on the clients, Plex wins by an absolute landslide.

Plex VS Synology Video Station – Conclusion

Throughout this comparison of Plex Media Server and Synology Video Station, it has become abundantly clear that one tool is designed around being a Swiss army knife of features and functions, whilst the other performs a smaller but key range of services exceptionally well. Those who have been using Plex Media Server for a number of years are highly unlikely to make the jump to Synology Video Station, as it may feel less feature-rich and perhaps a tad bare-bones. However, those users who are new to the idea of private NAS based multimedia streaming would do very well to try out Synology Video Station first, as I genuinely believe when it comes to concentrating on video streaming services, it is genuinely one of the best platforms out there – albeit clearly restricted to just Synology NAS devices. Plex Media Server attempts to do many things in its pursuit of being the go-to media server of choice for those jumping ship from Netflix and succeeds in most cases, it is just worth remembering that in recent years the platform has perhaps tried to diversify a tad too much. 


Synology Video Station

Best for Mixed Media

Best for Ease of Access on Client Hardware

Best for Transcoding Control

Best for Add On Services

Best for Metadata Sources

Best for Price

Best Performance for Transcoding

Best for Ease of Use

Best for Ease Setup

Best for Updates & Firmware Revs

Thanks for reading and I hope this guide helps you choose the perfect multimedia server for streaming with your friends, family and colleagues. If you are still lost on the right NAS, multimedia software or ideal backup system for your needs, then take advantage of the free advice section below. This is a completely free and unbias service to help work out their ideal data storage solution for you. It is manned by my myself and EddieTheWebGuy, so although replies may take an extra day or so, we will answer your email and have your best interests in mind! Have a great week.

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Plex vs Emby on your NAS Drive – Which Should You Choose For Your Media Server

14 mai 2021 à 01:03

Choosing Between Plex and Emby on a NAS in 2021/2022

Despite the fact that network-attached storage NAS has a vast number of services and utilities for home and business use, many users predominantly use their NAS for a media server. From streaming multimedia to numerous devices in the home, to sharing their entertainment collection with friends and family worldwide, the advantages in using a NAS as a centralised location for all of your movies, box sets, music and photos are pretty obvious. Many users choose to buy a NAS as a viable alternative to streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime video in order to watch the media they own, rather than pay monthly for media they can only rent without choice. In recent years, creating a private media server with your own collections of TV shows and more has become increasingly easy and even manages to provide the slick, detailed and appealing design of internet streaming giants. Two of the biggest media server applications for NAS drives in 2021 are Plex and Emby, two free media server applications set are available 4 pretty much all the client and playback devices in your home, your bag and your pocket worldwide. Both services not only package your own media in the most appealing way possible, but also the connections to online media databases and the scraping of metadata can allow you to transform your decades of multimedia into your very own personal Netflix. However, each kind of media server application for NAS has its own advantages and disadvantages, with some people preferring the more user-friendly plex or the more customisable Emby. Today I want to compare the Emby and Plex media server programs for NAS and figure out which one is best for your own personal multimedia collection.

Plex vs Emby Media Server – Installation

After you have set up your NAS for the very first time, you will have the option to install more applications on your device and make the most of all of those terabytes of storage you have to play with. Both Plex and Emby are completely free applications that are supported by the majority of modern NAS brands, with installation being possible within minutes. However, it is worth highlighting that although Plex media server is an available application in practically all NAS app centres from Synology, QNAP to Asustor and WD, Emby in most instances needs to be downloaded directly from the official website and then installed manually in the NAS system software. This is by no means difficult and only adds around a minute to the initial installation, but the result is that many users are not even aware that they can use Emby due to its apparent absence on most NAS application stores.

After its initialisation, both the Plex and Emby media server software will ask you the location of the media on your NAS, categorise it by type, configure how much metadata scraping and from which sources you want the media server software to perform it. Metadata is crucial in how the media server software creates a beautifully graphical user interface of thumbnails, media descriptions, cast lists, reviews and just overall makes your multimedia collection into your very own fully-featured personal streaming service! However one of the earliest differences between the Emby and Plex media server software is that Emby allows you to scrape from multiple sources at once and then it will select the best result for your media (so, a larger capture area), whereas Plex asks you to choose one source from several choices and then pull the metadata from that single source. There are exceptions in some of the background data that Plex pulls from multiple metadata sources, but in the majority of cases and where graphical details are considered, you have less flexibility in Plex than you have in Emby.

Once your media collections are complete and metadata scanned and applied, you can create multiple users to connect with your media server and stream those lovely box sets and movies. Another early advantage of Emby media server free version is that it allows you to create multiple users on a single NAS that each have a custom level of media access and NAS control. This allows you to share the contents of your NAS with some users but prevent them from changing all or accidentally deleting any of your content. Plex media server has this but unfortunately is part of the premium Plex pass service that requires an additional fee.

Overall I think it is safe to say that the initial installation is definitely easier and a lot more straightforward on the Plex media server application, however, the Emby media server application is a great deal more customisable and arrives with numerous features at the setup that are either absent on Plex or require a paid subscription. 

Plex vs Emby Media Server – User interface

The difference in the user interface of your media server NAS depending on whether you use Plex or Emby is notable, but more on a backend/server level. The actual front-end that connected clients use when browsing your multimedia on their phones, Amazon Fire TV, consoles and more is is quite similar with each type of media being clearly distinguishable and the scraped metadata immediately doing its job to create a smooth, slick and intuitive user interface for your connected users and devices. Indeed, logos aside and use of green vs orange, the UI for a connected client/user is largely the same.

However, the back-end where you customise your Plex or Emby media server, adjust user privileges, produce Analytics, adapt the system behaviour and just generally control your entire media server are very different indeed. Plex media server is the slightly more user-friendly option of the two, as you might have expected. The areas related to users, the server, file handling and connected services are all clearly indicated and although the number of configurable options on Plex is a fraction lighter than those found in Emby, they are easy to follow and for the most part, do not require any kind of technical understanding.

Where options can become technical in areas of DLNA configurations, port forwarding, checking on system resources and monitoring connected devices, Plex has hidden most of the technical aspects behind an ‘advanced tab’ option. As you might expect, some more useful and popular aspects are only accessible with the Plex pass subscription and although most of these can be ignored, the fact they hid the task manager, adding multiple users and system resource monitor behind a subscription service seems a little mean to me

Emby by comparison throws a whole lot of options and choices at you immediately when entering the system & software settings of this media server. If you have ever used the back end of a WordPress website, then the general server admin user interface will seem very familiar. Although much like Plex, it also provides an advanced tab that hides some information deemed more technical from the user, even the standard options and configurations of Emby are a few steps above the novice tier and despite descriptions and clarifications of what each setting is for are available, can still be a tad intimidating for those less tech-savvy. Emby media server makes up for this by being incredibly adaptable and if you are willing to take the time to configure it and navigate each of the settings available, you can easily create a farmer custom and ultimately better media server for your needs.

Overall I prefer the flexibility and customisation found in the Emby media server over that of Plex because it allows a wider degree of customization to the end-user. Little options such as saving metadata and grouped media background files locally to the NAS in custom locations to be used in other ways (info files too for other media players and resources). Then you have the much more open worldwide supported functionality towards subtitles and metadata downloading where you can be more regionally specific to your needs and wider simultaneous support of metadata sources at once means that although the Plex media server is incredibly user-friendly by comparison, after a while the advantages of the Emby system become abundantly clear. You should take the time to learn your way around your new media server with Emby.

Plex vs Emby Media Server – Client Applications

Although both Plex and Emby are available as media server applications for multiple NAS host platforms, in order to watch and enjoy the multimedia on your NAS, you will need to utilise the client applications of each software. The majority of modern internet-accessible household entertainment devices have access to either their own dedicated app centre (Google Play Store, iTunes, etc) or provide the ability to manually install third-party applications. Both the Emby and Plex multimedia client apps are available for numerous hand-held, desktop, home cinema and console platforms. However, Plex has by far the larger coverage of these devices and the majority of devices in your home probably have access to the Emby client app but certainly have access to Plex.

The advantage that Plex has in client support is further improved by the fact that a number of key devices do not feature the Emby client app in their native app centre, leading to many users having to manually install the application (mentioned earlier). It’s a very small distinction and one that generally has little to no impact in the grand scheme of things, but many devices will ask you to confirm and accept liability when installing applications from outside of their official app centres. This can all too often make users give Emby a miss and stick with the presented security that the Plex client app provides. Overall Plex most certainly winds in terms of client support and availability over Emby.

Plex vs Emby Media Server – Playback

Once you have your Plex/Emby media server NAS ready and installed all the proprietary clients on your entertainment devices, the next big deciding factor is simply going to be playback. The performance of your NAS multimedia server is something that theoretically you should NEVER think about and if a media server is doing its job properly, you should never notice any performance problems. As both Plex and Emby media server are third party applications (i.e neither have 1st party hardware and rely on a NAS or custom PC server build for installation) this leads to an additional layer between the software and the server hardware that does all of the tricky media handling, transcoding and tweaking to ensure that the multimedia client applications playback faultlessly. So, it is worth mentioning that technically, both Plex and Emby will never outperform the native NAS video application on the hardware itself (see Synology Video Station vs Plex/Emby videos below).

Generally, if either Plex or Emby is installed and deployed on a NAS system, they will playback files pretty much the same and any differences between them is barely noticeable in the case of playing back media in its original file format. The user interface of the player as well as the location and navigation on both media software clients is intuitive and everything is where you might expect it to be. One small difference between them that is worth a brief mention is that Emby has a stats for nerds button that allows real-time playback and media information to be displayed on the screen. This is an incredibly niche and largely overlooked feature, but still pretty cool for those that want to know the quality of the multimedia they are watching.

In the event that you need to adapt files to be better suited to destination device hardware, network strength and screen size, the system will need to utilise transcoding. As mentioned, if you are using older client hardware, using a device with fewer supported formats, streaming over a more limited connection or just generally want to view a more compressed version of a file, both Plex and Emby support this functionality. However, both media server platforms only provide software transcoding in the free versions and in order to take advantage of hardware transcoding (i.e use the NAS system embedded graphics or a graphics card) you will need 2 views Plex Pass or Emby Premiere on a monthly subscription. Nevertheless, in testing when trying to play HEVC/H.265 10bit files that required transcoding or forcing the system to transcode files on the fly, the Emby application was notably the more responsive and executed these transcoding actions marginally quicker on almost every occasion (even with just software transcoding). Both platforms allow the numerous different transcoding formats to choose from but Plex would take those extra few seconds longer to continue playing the file after each instruction. It’s a small edge, but the Emby Media Server did do a slightly quicker job which will likely be felt in exceedingly high format media (whilst still considering the base level NAS hardware of course).

Plex vs Emby Media Server – Metadata Scraping & Plugins

The thing that sets Plex and Emby media players apart from regular DLNA multimedia streaming and basic file servers is the awesome graphical user interface that ultimately allows you to turn your bog-standard decades of multimedia collected over the years into your very own personal high-quality media centre. Premium media server applications like Plex and Emby are able to utilise resources found on numerous film and TV databases such as IMDb and then use this to present your own collections alongside box art, descriptions, cost lists, published reviews and even trailers. The information gathered from these third-party databases for use in Plex and Emby media servers is known as metadata and the act of collecting the appropriate resources for your personal collection is known as scraping. Despite their similarities, these two media server programs approach the subject of metadata scraping slightly differentially and the resulting implementation makes a difference on your media server. 

Plex media server has access to all of the usual official TV and movie online databases, as well as review sites and casting information. It also has access to some third-party and unofficial databases that allow users to have a more bespoke user interface on your Plex media server. Likewise, the Emby media server has access to practically the exact same resources for all of this metadata. However, the big difference is that whereas Emby allows you to aggregate and apply metadata from all of these sources at the same time (with the system prioritizing metadata from multiple sources for a single media file by priority of source), Plex asks you to select just one source for that metadata for it to scrape at any time for each category. This is a small but significant difference as it ensures that more obscure media in your collection has a higher chance of having its metadata found and applied automatically. 

If your collection is made up of popular classic media and all from reputable sources, then this will be little or no difference for you as Plex will no doubt find all of the metadata appropriate to your media. However, if you have slightly harder to come by media in your collection (older recordings of non publicly released content that has been found on older film forums and Reddit sharing for example), unique versions or simply multimedia that is formatted in a less common way, you are far likely to find the metadata applied initially on an Emby based setup overall. 

Emby is made significantly more attractive when it comes to custom content over Plex when you also factor in plugins. Services from data and coverage upgrades, the IP TV streaming, add-on media services and smart home upgrades are available to be downloaded and installed on the Emby Media server in it’s very own app/plug-in center. Plex Media server seems to have largely abandoned this feature (available in a more open form in earlier versions of plex and now largely cut off) in favour of connecting plex with numerous online content sources for shows and movies, though many question the appeal of this as they are not exactly premium service and ones that can still be accessed online easily outside of plex. There are newer innovations for Plex (such as the recent Plex Arcade from emulation service at an additional cost) but these are all seemingly paid extras or small diversion services that Emby provides in a better way in the plug-in center.

Plex vs Emby Media Server – Free Vs Paid

Both Plex and Emby require you to create an account with the respective media server developer. This allows you to access long-term software updates, access numerous software add-ons and also enables remote access over the internet to your NAS multimedia server collection. Both Plex and Emby media server do not require any kind of payment to use the base-level services and features of their programs, but both platforms have a premium level subscription service for around £5-10 a month that allows access to more fully-featured services and functionality, such as hardware transcoding, trailers and more.


Now, it is important to highlight that you do NOT need a paid/premium account for Plex or Emby in order to enjoy all the main range of services on offer. In most cases, the Plex Pass and Emby Premiere add ons are related to things that require 3rd party services, are something that only a small % users might use or are genuinely things that have seemingly required technical/design implementation in the media server platform. However, that still does not make them ALL justified and overall. Here is a breakdown of which services are included on Emby and Plex that are either Free or Paid:

X = It is included in the appropriate FREE/PAID service

Feature Plex Emby
Free Plex Pass (PAID) Free Premiere (PAID)
Camera Upload X X
Remote Streaming X X
Local Streaming X X
Full Playback (Local & Remote) Web App, Non-mobile Android (Fire TV, Android TV), Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, Smart TVs, TiVO, and Game Consoles Mobile Android and iOS Apps – require Unlock fee or Plex Pass Web App, Roku, Apple TV, Smart TVs Android (including Fire TV, Android TV), iOS, Emby Theater, Game Consoles – require unlock fee or Premiere
Media Optimizer X X
Hardware Transcoding X X
Live TV X X
Mobile/Folder Sync X X
Multiple Users X X
Parental Controls X X
Photo Albums X
Lyrics X
Library Sharing X More Options X
Trailers and Extras X X
Cloud Sync
Multiple Users X (All accounts except Managed Users require Plex online account.) X (All accounts are local. Emby connect account is optional)
Smart Home Unofficially Alexa and Google Assistant
Other Content Movies, TV, Web Shows, Podcasts, and News Podcasts

Even at a casual glance, it is abundantly clear that the bulk of the services that are on offer from Plex is either ONLY available in the paid Plex Pass tier OR are only available in a more limited/streamlined capacity at the free tier. This also applies to Emby too in a number of key areas too, however, there are certainly some odd choices. Hardware Transcoding (which requires the software to understand the complexity of many hardware platforms) is understandably only in the paid version of Emby and Plex, however the fact that the dashboard resource monitor AND ability to add more users requires the paid subscription service on Plex is a little harder to justify!

The 2021/2022 Price of a Plex Pass Subscription

Parental controls on Plex being locked behind a paywall is also a little disappointing too, especially when cross-referencing the certification and suitability of media in your collection via metadata must arguably be very easy indeed. Emby is by no means perfect though, with the client application for game consoles not being in the free tier being a real shame. However, taking everything into account, when it comes to both the free AND paid services on each media server, I think Emby and Emby Premiere give you more than Plex and Plex Pass on your NAS system.

The 2021/2022 Price of a Emby Premiere Subscription

Plex vs Emby Media Server – Conclusion

Both Plex media server and Emby media server for NAS are great applications that manage to give you that great feeling of owning your very own Netflix style streaming service, however as good as Plex is, it is arguable gotten a little too comfortable as the de-facto media server of choice in the last few years and allowed a few more fringe services like Emby and the slightly more technical Jellyfin to close in and (in some ways) surpass them. With Plex trying to merge more entertainment streams into their service (3rd party online sources, podcasting, emulated games roms, etc) they might have lost their focus a little and in doing so make their platform less immediately desirable to the new NAS media server user. Emby is still a media server service for NAS that has a few early hurdles for some (either by its absence in the default app center of your NAS brand, or the more layered setup options on day one, but if you are happy to spend a little more time at setup, Emby will most certainly allow you to create the better Media Server solution on your NAS in 2021/2022.


Choosing A NAS – Need More Help?

So, those were the key considerations for those looking to buy a new NAS or looking to upgrade/migrate from an older NAS Drive. However, there is still so much that you may need to know to range from operating system compatibility, how to connect the NAS in the best way, ideal software and the best backup methods. If you still need help choosing the NAS solution for your needs, use the NASCompares free advice section below. It is completely free, is not a subscription service and is manned by real humans (two humans actually, me and Eddie). We promise impartial advice, recommendations based on your hardware and budget, and although it might take an extra day or two to answer your question, we will get back to you.


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