Free Plex streaming service tested – A long way from Netflix

Plex recently launched its own free ad-supported streaming service which offers “thousands” of movies and TV shows through a partnership with Warner Bros.

This content includes titles from studios like Lionsgate, Legendary, and Metro Goldwyn Mayer.

We tested the platform to see how it measures up to other streaming services available in South Africa.

Plex is available on desktop or via an app on most major smart TVs, streaming boxes, smartphones, and gaming consoles.

The service allows users to create and organise their own local content library and stream it to other devices via the internet.

In addition to a free account, users also have the option of paying for a Plex Pass, which unlocks access to 60 million high-quality songs, exclusive movie-related content, enhanced photo management, and a host of other features.

The free streaming service is available to both free and premium accounts.

Our setup

For our test, we used a free account to log into the desktop version of Plex’s streaming platform.

Before we began streaming, we tested our connection, which delivered the following results:

  • Download Speed – 92.69Mbps
  • Upload Speed – 90.86Mbps
  • Latency – 3ms

Library

It is immediately apparent that the library of free TV shows and movies on Plex is extremely limited.

Plex said that its streaming service offers popular movies like Lord of War, Rain Man, Apocalypse Now, Terminator, and Raging Bull.

However, the company also said that certain content may be geo-locked due to local content licensing agreements, and South Africa seems to be limited to titles that are mostly old or obscure.

Off the bat, the most recognisable titles were Zulu (1964), Django (1966), and The Last House on the Left (1972).

The better-known stars on the library thumbnails were not actors, but musicians like Adele, Kylie Minogue, and Steve Aoki, shown on posters for various music documentaries.

Even this lineup was disappointing, however, with only 13 titles listed under Musical Documentaries and Concerts.

Furthermore, just three TV shows were available – a kids cartoon programme called Spike Team, reality chat show Maury, and science fiction series Starhyke.

We also picked up another strange issue where, after trying to stream a thriller movie named Enemy Within, Plex started playing a dancing documentary instead.


Adverts

With a wide range of ad-free subscription video-on-demand services to choose from in South Africa, it’s difficult to enjoy content with unskippable advertisements.

We found that Plex does not exactly bombard you with ads, however.

The first movie we watched was Django (the film from 1966), at the beginning of which a 30-second advert was played.

After a few minutes of watching, we skipped ahead about 30 minutes, which loaded two more consecutive adverts.

We could not determine how exactly Plex scheduled its ads, as no ad was presented at the start of the next movie we watched.

After skipping forward in that movie, Plex delivered the same three ads in a row from the previous movie.

From our initial tests, Plex apparently shows a total of three ads per movie, although the exact timestamps aren’t indicated.

The prevalence of adverts did not significantly reduce the viewing experience, but it may be jarring during important scenes.


Streaming experience

Both movies we watched were streamed in very high quality with no stuttering or buffering issues.

Plex offers a maximum streaming resolution of 1080p with a bitrate of 20Mbps.

Users can choose from a number of quality presets, including 1080p, 720p, and 480p, or choose to have Plex automatically adjust the quality based on their connection speed.

Our high-speed connection was more than adequate for Full HD streaming.


The verdict

Plex is an excellent media management platform, but it remains to be seen if it can compete in the streaming market.

It would have been easier to forgive Plex for its use of adverts if even just a few of the movies that headlined its announcement were featured in the South African catalogue.

The current selection, however, cannot be compared with streaming services like Netflix and Showmax.

The service is free, however, so the only thing you stand to lose from trying it out is time.

Then again, this is time which you could spend streaming high-quality, modern shows and movies on Showmax, Netflix, and Prime Video.

Now read: Showmax will take on Netflix in South Africa – MultiChoice

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Free Plex streaming service tested – A long way from Netflix