There are plenty of apps that will stream your home video collection from your computer to your Android phone, and there are other apps that will convert on the fly for you before it’s streamed, but not too many apps do both at the same time and do it well enough that you can actually watch your video in the process. For that, we think Plex is the best video streaming and live conversion app for the job.
- Streams videos to your Android device over Wi-Fi or 3G
- Converts videos on the fly so they’re playable on your Android device regardless of the source file format
- Plays virtually any media file format (not including DRM-protected files, which Plex cannot convert on the fly)
- Plex Media Server desktop suite handles file conversion so your Android device doesn’t have to
- Supports Mac OS, Windows and Linux, can stream files located on (or shared with) your home computer where Plex is installed and connected to your MyPlex Media Hub
- Also supports streaming media from Plex partners and supported streaming media channels available inside the Plex application
- Intuitive interface, little-to-no setup required on both the home server and mobile applications
Plex offers a dead simple media streaming and conversion utility for Android (and other platforms, including iOS and — coming soon — WP7) that requires little to no setup. Install the Plex media server on your home computer, install Plex for Android on your handset, create a myPlex account and log in to it, and you’re pretty much finished. Fire up the Android app and log in to browse the media on your home computer, whether you’re at home and streaming over Wi-Fi or you’re across the globe wishing you could watch a movie you swore you downloaded to your NAS.
While you have to have your media server or source running at home in order to stream to your phone, Plex’s recent updates and the introduction of the myPlex Media Hub have taken the heavy lifting out of making sure your phone can talk to your home computer when you’re away, and completely removed the need for another utility to transcode video before it can be displayed on your Android phone. Perhaps best of all, that on-the-fly transcoding takes place on your home media server, not your phone, so you don’t have to deal with super-long buffering times to watch your movies or play your music.
Even though Plex is easy to set up and easy to use, it’s not perfect by any means. In fact, if recent updates hadn’t made it easier to stream remotely, it wouldn’t have taken top prize. Plex is pricey compared to some of its competition, even though it’s only $5, and until recently it only had a server component for Windows and no media centre component. Also, the fact that Plex has two desktop components, a media center and a media server can be a bit confusing when you want to get everything configured on that end. Even so, once you do have everything installed and set up, we can’t find much to complain about.
Subsonic (free) is your next best option, and possibly even your best option if you’re more concerned with audio than video, don’t need on-the-fly transcoding, and don’t want to pay a dime. Subsonic works amazingly well, it’s flexible, and it can stream to your Android device anywhere you roam. The setup process is a little more involved, and Subsonic won’t do the same video transcoding that Plex will (although it does some seriously great audio transcoding), but it gets the job done and delivers your home media to your Android phone quickly and seamlessly once you have it set up. And it’s all free, unless you want to donate to the project. It is, after all, open source.
Orb (free/$9.65 pro version) is another option, but instead of being a utility, Orb is more of a service. Orb will definitely stream media from your home computer to your Android device, but the video aspect is largely for web video that you can get through other apps and services, or if you have a TV tuner installed on your home computer, get cable or satellite, and also have an Orb appliance at home. If you’re a big TV fan, Orb is worth a look, but if you want to watch your own media, or take your downloaded movies and videos with you, it’s not the best option. Plus, many users report issues streaming over 3G, and note that Orb really works best over Wi-Fi.
Qloud Media (free/$2.88 ad-free version) is another option for anyone looking for an app that — when it works — is designed to operate much like Apple’s AirPlay, only for Android. That’s the real trouble though — in our tests, we just couldn’t get Qloud to live up to its lofty promises of on-the-fly fast transcoding and seamless playback. When it worked, it was clunky, but at least it worked, and streaming over 3G was hit and miss. Plus, the desktop server software only supports Windows, so Mac and Linux users are left out. Still, if you really can’t get Plex or Subsonic to work for you, it’s good to have an alternative.
Do you have a preferred app that you use to transcode and stream video to your Android phone when you’re at home or on the go? Let us know in the comments.
Lifehacker’s App Directory is a growing directory of recommendations for the best applications and tools across multiple platforms.