[Guide] Create a mobile media server setup with Plex's new app

Disclaimer: This is not an intended use of the Plex App’s “Download” feature. There is nothing in this guide that is against TOS/EULA, but Plex may decide to take this capability away at any time.
Note to Plex: Please don’t take this away from us. It’s really cool.

Overview

Despite the fact that I outright detest Plex’s overall direction with the PC (removing TV mode and killing HTPC support), they’ve added a neat feature. Using the new Plex app, you can now download to your PC.

In this guide, a combination of the new Plex app and Plex Media Server will be used to download and serve content on the go.

It’s a pretty slick, relatively hands off setup. As you add and remove media from your downloads, the mobile server will dynamically add and remove content as well.
There’s even an option to delete media that has been watched automatically.

Possible uses (not comprehensive)

  • You’re going on vacation, and you want to take a bunch of media with you, but you’re not sure if you’re going to watch it on your laptop, or your phone… or your tablet… or your Chromecast…
  • You want a mobile RV server where an internet connection is intermittent, and you want to have a library of media available on multiple devices while on the road and parked.
  • You’re going on a road trip, and you want to serve media to others (kids?) in the car.
  • You’re taking an international flight, and you want to serve media to friends/family’s devices while on the plane.
  • You’re a teacher, and you want to show an “instructional” video to your class (Movie days were the best!)

Requirements

  • A Windows or MacOS computer
    • Preferably something small / portable: NUC, tiny PC, laptop
  • Plex’s new client-side application simply called “Plex”
  • An existing Plex Media Server you have permission to sync/download from
  • A clean Plex Media Server installation on your target computer
  • Stable Wi-Fi: Even a basic pocket router is more than enough to connect multiple devices and stream Plex. You just need a stable connection. Sometimes high-traffic areas like schools and hotels can cause issues with a setup like this, so it’s best to bring your own solution.

Other info

  • This guide will cover Windows software setup only. The information for MacOS will follow the same outline, but things like the directories will be different. Should be easy enough to figure out.
  • By default, the Plex app will store its downloads on the C:/ drive. The easiest way to mitigate this is to have a large boot drive, such as a 1TB or 2TB SSD.
    • Another method of mitigating this would be to create a hardlink to another storage device, whether internal, external, or network. This will be covered in the guide.
  • If you want to use Plex Media Player to play back the downloaded files, you can do so via this guide. (Plex Media Player does not have the download feature)
  • The Plex app can start and stop downloads at any time, and resume downloading from partial files.
  • Movies and TV shows retain external subtile files when downloaded

Recommendations

  • The Plex app does not convert or optimize downloads. The more storage you can give it, the better.
    • If you’re just going to be using your boot drive, 512GB minimum is recommended, with 1TB or 2TB being ideal. Doesn’t matter whether it’s a SATA or NVMe SSD.
  • Downloading media will be fastest when local to your main server, connected via gigabit ethernet.
  • For mobile server, the hardware shouldn’t matter much. Since everything you’ll be serving will be on the local network, the server shouldn’t have to transcode.
  • For best performance, connect the mobile server via ethernet to the network you want to access media on. Using Wi-Fi will put double strain on the Wi-Fi network (server sending, client receiving) and may reduce performance on other devices.

Software Setup (Windows)

1. Install Plex (Plex’s new client) with all default options

  1. Open the app
  2. Sign in
  3. Select your primary server
  4. Once you’ve reached the home screen, close the app

2. [Optional] create a hardlink to your desired storage location for downloads (skip this if you’re using your primary drive)

  1. Click start, click “Run” (or press WIN+R) and type %appdata% and press Enter.
  2. Navigate up one directory to \username\AppData\
  3. Navigate to \username\AppData\Local\Plex\Plex Media Server\Sync
  4. Copy the entire path. Should look like C:\username\AppData\Local\Plex\Plex Media Server\Sync
  5. Determine the path that you want to use as storage for downloads. Example: D:\Plex Storage
    • Create the directory.
  6. Delete the folder called Sync if it exists.
  7. Open a new command prompt as Administrator.
  8. Make a hardlink from the Plex Sync Directory to the Target (storage) directory.
    • . mklink /J "C:\username\AppData\Local\Plex\Plex Media Server\Sync" "D:\Plex Storage"
  9. Navigate to C:\username\AppData\Local\Plex\Plex Media Server directory. Verify the Sync folder exists and looks like a shortcut.

3. Before going any further, download at least 1 piece of content from each library from your main server. This generates the directories necessary for the next step.

4. Install Plex Media Server with all default options

  1. Sign in and claim the server.
  2. Name your server, leave remote access enabled
  3. Delete the default libraries (movies and photos) and skip the next sections until you reach the home screen
  4. This next section covers setting up a new Plex Media Server from scratch, including some options that are specific to this guide.
    1. [General]
      1. Give your server a friendly name if you haven’t already.
      2. Uncheck “Send Crash reports to Plex”
      3. Do not change appdata path
    2. [Remote Access]
      1. No changes
    3. Agents
      1. Movies
        1. Plex Movie: uncheck “Local Media Assets (Movies)”
        2. The Movie Database: uncheck “Local Media Assets” (Movies)"
      2. Shows
        1. TheTVDB: uncheck “Local Media Assets (TV)”
        2. The Movie Database: uncheck “Local Media Assets (TV)”
      3. Artists
        1. Last.fm: uncheck "Local Media Assets (Artists)
      4. Albums
        1. Last.fm: uncheck "Local Media Assets (Artists)
    4. Library
      1. Check “Scan my library automatically”
      2. Check “Run a partial scan when changes are detected”
      3. [Optional] Check “Scan my library periodically”
      4. Check “Empty trash automatically after every scan”
      5. Check “Allow media deletion”
      6. Change “Weeks to consider for On Deck and Continue Watching” to 2
      7. Uncheck “Run scanner tasks at a lower priority”
      8. Change “Generate video preview thumbnails” to never
      9. [Optional] Change “Generate chapter thumbnails” to as a scheduled task and when media is added
      10. [Optional] Change “Generate chapter thumbnails” to as a scheduled task and when media is added
    5. Plugins
      1. Uncheck all
    6. Network
      1. Uncheck “Enable server support for IPV6”
      2. Check “Enable local network discovery (GDM)”
      3. Under “List of IP addresses and networks that are allowed without auth” add the network and netmask that you will be using your server on (note: this exposes your server to other devices on the same network. Generally speaking not a huge deal, but something to consider turning off if you’re on a Hotel’s wifi for example) Sample entry: 192.168.1.0/24 (to find the address of the network you’re on, open a command prompt and type ipconfig and press enter.)
    7. Transcoder
      1. [Optional] Check “Use hardware acceleration when available” - more info here
    8. Languages
      1. No changes
    9. DLNA
      1. Uncheck / disable all
    10. Scheduled Tasks (these settings may change based on your preference, but here’s what I use)
      1. Change “Time at which tasks start to run” to Midnight
      2. Change “Time at which tasks stop running” to 10 am
      3. Check all other boxes
    11. Extras
      1. No changes
  5. Click the home button in the top left of the web interface. Make sure your mobile server is selected.
  6. [Info before going onto the next step to create a library]
    The Plex client creates a separate directory for each server AND each library that content is downloaded from. If you’re going to be downloading from multiple servers and/or you use multiple libraries with similar content types, you will need to add multiple directories for each library you are creating.
    For example, you download some movies to your client. The syntax is ...\Plex\Plex Media Server\Sync\[ServerNumber]\[LibraryNumber].
    Example: ...\Plex\Plex Media Server\Sync\1\1
    Subsequent downloads of content from the same server but different library would be stored in ...\Sync\1\2, ...\Sync\1\3 and so on.
    Downloads from a different server would be stored on ...\Sync\2\1, ...\Sync\2\2 and so on.
  7. Add a new library by clicking the + sign when hovering over “Libraries”
    1. Adding a movies library
      1. Click “Movies” on the “Select type” tab
      2. Name your library, select language. Click “Next”
      3. Click “BROWSE FOR MEDIA FOLDER” (repeat this process as many times as necessary)
      4. Navigate to C:\Users\username\AppData\Local\Plex\Plex Media Server\Sync\X\Y and make sure there are movies in that directory. Click “ADD”
      5. Click the “Advanced” tab
        1. Change “Agent” to Plex Movie
      6. Click “ADD LIBRARY”
    2. Adding a TV library
      1. Click “TV Shows” on the “Select type” tab
      2. Name your library, select language. Click “Next”
      3. Click “BROWSE FOR MEDIA FOLDER” (repeat this process as many times as necessary)
      4. Navigate to C:\Users\username\AppData\Local\Plex\Plex Media Server\Sync\X\Y and make sure there are TV shows in that directory. Click “ADD”
      5. Click the “Advanced” tab
        1. Change “Agent” to TheTVDB
      6. Click “ADD LIBRARY”
    3. Adding a Music Library
      1. Click “Music” on the “Select type” tab
      2. Name your library, select language. Click “Next”
      3. Click “BROWSE FOR MEDIA FOLDER” (repeat this process as many times as necessary)
      4. Navigate to C:\Users\username\AppData\Local\Plex\Plex Media Server\Sync\X\Y and make sure there is Music in that directory. Click “ADD”
      5. Click the “Advanced” tab
        1. Change “Agent” to Last.FM
      6. Click “ADD LIBRARY”
  8. Once you’ve added all of your media, Plex should scan, import, and tag your media.

5. Download media that you want to take with you

Remember, downloads are fastest over ethernet on the same network as your primary server.
When downloading TV, you can select options of how many episodes you want to download, as well as whether to automatically delete them after being watched. (This only works if the server owner’s account either watches them or marks them as watched)

6. Serve the media

  • Devices on the same local network should automatically (automagically?) have access to the mobile server, provided everything is set up correctly. If you can’t see the server, double check that you have the correct network settings under “List of IP addresses and networks that are allowed without auth”.
    • You may also be able to share files from a laptop or mobile server directly, depending on your mobile server’s hardware. You can read more about this configuration here. I wouldn’t recommend this for a long term solution, but it works in a pinch.

Hardware recommendations

There’s not much to recommend. This guide is pretty much a “run what you brung”. It doesn’t really matter what the server’s hardware is, although if you want something nicer you can refer to the other guides.

Connectivity

At minimum, buy the cheapest pocket router on here. You’ll thank yourself later. These are all USB powered (your mobile server has a USB port, I’m sure of it!). Plug it in via USB, plug one end of the ethernet cable into your device, and the other into the LAN port of the router.

I’d recommend configuring the router to use a non-standard IP address pool, such as 192.168.9.0 so that you can set that in Plex and not worry about having to turn it off. The pocket router will assign your server and any devices connected to it an IP address within that pool. You’ve just made a wireless switch! Don’t forget to add a secure wireless network name and password.

When you’re at a location that does have internet, you can connect the WAN port of the router to allow internet access to your server and every other device that’s connected to the router. Overall, pocket routers are very handy little devices.

Storage

Below are some storage recommendations for your downloads!
(Good deals are in bold and have an ⇢ pointing at them)

  1. Internal SATA SSDs:
  2. Internal M.2 NVMe SSDs:
  3. Internal 2.5" HDD:
  4. External (2.5") Portable HDD:
  5. External (3.5") HDD:
1 Like

YouTube video (coming soon)

My mobile setup (coming soon)

Reserved 5

Help me understand what this is solving than the Windows 10 Metro Plex App that had sync & download functionality? or just manually downloading your files from PMS as an admin? I feel like I a missing something, but great write-up as always!

Ha, it’s OK. The Windows 10 app is pretty bad overall, Plex has basically admitted as much.
While you can download/sync media through that app, it was not stored in such a way that you could share it out with Plex Media Server on the same computer. The new Plex app makes it pretty easy. They don’t explicitly say you can do this, but I’ve found a way to make it work. That’s what this guide entails.

I’ve cleaned up and clarified a few of the sections, especially the introduction. Hopefully that helps prevent any confusion.

Help me understand why someone should do this?.

This is the way I see it.

If I have a PC or Laptop(since you listed storage options), I can just dump the media into it. Right? I agree, there is one possibility of serving media for others might not be possible. I personally never had to do this, but others might.

If I have internet of any kind, either reverse proxy or OpenVPN is enough to connect to your server.

Because:

  • It’s a convenient interface for managing downloads.
  • You don’t need reverse proxy or OpenVPN to download.
  • Downloading media files direct doesn’t inherently allow you to share them.
  • Downloading media via the Plex app tracks watched history, pauses, and resume times.
  • Downloading via the Plex app allows media to be deleted automatically.

If you want to manage the downloads directly with no app be my guest. You can even just use the Plex app on its own if you want to do that. This guide covers making a mobile media server to serve to other devices on the go.

So sharing is the game.

VLC does this if I am not mistaken.

And what app do you expect to use on a phone or tablet to access via VLC?

Trust me, the guide is the easiest way to make it happen.

VLC if and when you have the media offline stored.

Currently I’m an 8 hour drive away from home with 3 kids in a minivan. Too bad Plex’s new app came out about a week late, as this would have been a great solution for us! Next road trip for sure.

You should be able to do this whether you are home or away! You’ll be limited to your Wi-Fi speed for downloads to your new mobile server of course.

Thanks for this guide. Got the wheels turning in my head for something I could run in our car for long road trips rather than frantically sync’ing media to each of the kid’s iPads.

Our car has standard AC outlet so should be able to plug in the PC easily. For in-car WiFi I was thinking one of the travel routers you recommended would work for in-car WiFi network for all devices to connect to even if I don’t provide it internet access right?

Lastly any recommendations for small PC to make this work? I have a 10 year old NUC I could use but worried about the onboarding graphics with transcoding. Unless stuff would just direct play on the iPads?

For in car Wi-Fi, I’d recommend the middle option. It’s much better with antennas, and the AC model is quite overkill.

Your NUC would be fine considering you shouldn’t have to transcode. I’ve tested 5 simultaneous devices on one of those travel routers and there was plenty of bandwidth and no stuttering with direct play on 1080p 10-20Mbps files. The only problem with the NUC is that you wouldn’t have a way to interact with it, you’d need to add a screen, keyboard, and mouse.

Honestly a laptop would be your best bet. It’s got a built in battery backup so it can keep going after you shut the car off, and it’ll safely shut itself down when it runs near the end of its battery. Not to mention it has a screen, keyboard, and trackpad built in. I posted this laptop on the discord just today. It’s around $211 in checkout. It’s got an 8th-Gen i3 (so it can hardware transcode via QuickSync) and would overall work great as a mobile server. You can upgrade the HDD to a 1 or 2TB SSD.

I’ve got an old Lenovo Thinkpad X220 which has this old Intel Core i5 CPU in it:

It supports QuickSync, so good enough? It’s got a 320GB HD, so I would need to upgrade it. I can’t tell from the specs, but think it’s not an SSD… but lots of guides on how to upgrade it to SSD.

You really don’t need quicksync. I bet most of your devices will direct play your files just fine, just like they would do on your home network. You can test this with your existing server! So ultimately the processor doesn’t matter much, it’ll be more than plenty.

A 320GB drive would definitely be a hard drive, not a SSD. I’d replace it with either a 2TB SSHD (best value option) or the largest SSD you can afford. The SSHD should suffice honestly, I’d probably go that route. It’s listed in the guide!