Written by Technology

Installing Plex Media Server

Note: Just to be clear – I’ve installed Plex on a DS210j and not a DS214se.

This is going to be a bit dry, but it may or may not help others.

I now have a couple of Synology NAS drives. I first bought a DS210j about two or three years ago when I started to get a bit more concerned about how well backed up my data is. In particular I was worried about music, video and mostly photos.

Since getting my first NAS, I was pretty happy. There are 2 x 2TB drives in a RAID array to give me redundancy. I also instigated a regular “offsite backup” another simple Seagate external drive which I kept at work in my desk draw, regularly bringing home to ensure that the NAS was backed up in another location (sadly a former colleague once had his hard drive stolen in a house break-in even though the value of the hard drive was probably quite low).

But even being fairly ruthless over what photos I keep, my NAS was getting dangerously close, so earlier this week I decided to invest in an additional Synology DS214se. It’s the cheapest drive they make, but I don’t need it to do a great deal. Mostly it’s going to be storing photos. I installed a couple of WD Red 3TB drives, again in a RAID array, and I was away.

The first thing I wanted to do was spread the load. That means moving photos to the new drive and leaving everything else on the old one (I say “everything” but clearly I have a whole pile of other hard drives in cases and loose. But the important stuff is on the NAS drives). But the photos alone that I wanted to move came to 1.1TB.

The first thing to realise is that it’s not wise to do a move of this size via a PC. Something will break. I’ve just rarely had a good experience of a large file move in Windows. So I used the Synology Filestation app and set up a copy direct.

All you need to know is that it took about 48 hours – so not fast. But it did the job first time with no errors. In Lightroom – my photo software of choice – I just re-pointed the top level directory to the new drive location and all was fine.

The other thing I wanted to do was install Plex. For various reasons, I’ve always shied away of using some kind of media centre software. I did once play with Microsoft Home Media Center on a cheap PC, but it was all a mess, and I went no further.

But I liked the idea of installing some software on a NAS drive – removing the need to leave a PC on. And I knew that there was a Synology app for Plex.

My first disappointment was to learn that it’s not supported on the “cheap” DS214se. Seemingly it’s because the specs of the processor on-board aren’t high enough. But it actually seems more powerful than my older DS210j. However, it actually suited me to use the older drive anyway.

The next problem was by far the biggest. I just couldn’t get Plex running. I repeatedly tried the official version via Synology. But in spite of installing, it just repeatedly gave the error message: “Failed to run the package service.”

I went through dozens of both Plex and Synology forums searching for a solution. I removed and reinstalled. I rebooted the NAS. I deleted other apps (that I wasn’t using) that might have been a problem. But nothing. I installed a direct Plex build. I used SSH to connect directly to the NAS and look to see if there was a problem there. Still no joy.

In the end I finally stumbled across the problem. For whatever reason, the Plex installer was not creating a “Plex” Shared Folder. Simply manually creating a new folder – “Plex” without quotes – did it. And it ran perfectly.

The reason I chose Plex is because there are plenty of apps for it on devices I own. The first one I actually got working properly was on my Sky Now box. This is a device that Sky were selling for £10. A complete bargain for iPlayer alone. It’s basically a rebadged Roku box. But Sky has limited the number of apps you can install – clearly they want you to use their Sky Now service. In truth Sky Now is unnecessary for me because I subscribe to Sky anyway, and have access to those sports and film services.

Anyway, if you switch on Developer Mode, you can install Plex via a PC.

Then I installed the Samsung Smart TV app, and that worked pretty seamlessly too. Just for fun, I also installed the Android app, and that happily works with my Chromecast. Lots of ways then to use the service.

The only thing I had to watch was that Plex took a bit of a while to sort itself out when I added programming to it. And sometimes the Samsung app can take a while to find graphics and metadata.

However playing back a variety of files hasn’t been a problem, and it’s certainly easier than my old method which involved lots of USB sticks. In particular, I’ve suffered no transcoding issues with any of my devices regardless of file resolution. I suspect that Plex does push my DS210j quite a bit, but it will certainly suffice.

(Incidentally, what got me thinking about this was a friend in the US who has bought an Amazon Fire TV which he’s got Plex on. The device – not yet on sale in the UK – is quite smart, although were it not for the fact that Amazon Prime Instant Video isn’t on UK Roku boxes, I’d say they’d serve you fine.)