Dave, I see that you write about Plex enough that you must run a Plex server of your own. I do too, and my son’s complaining that when he tries to watch movies they pause and buffer endlessly. He has a TCL TV with built-in Roku, so he’s watching through the Plex app. How can we fix this annoying problem?
You’re correct that I am not only a big fan of the Plex Media Server, but run one of my own. 99% of the time it’s just so I can organize my movie and series collection and track what I’ve watched through the Apple TV Plex App, but I do have a few other people who have remote access accounts too. And you’re right, the Plex client apps have a tendency to want to show the best possible resolution for any content chosen, so if your server doesn’t match, it can try to do what’s known as transcoding. Real-time scaling or interpolation of video data to have it seem higher or lower resolution for the viewer is great, but it’s a huge burden on the Plex server hardware.
No surprise, many Plex users complain about this performance issue, sometimes mistakenly thinking that the problem is Internet bandwidth. With modern higher speed connections, it’s typically not an issue unless your server’s on a really slow connection, but the wrong settings can definitely trip your son up with his client app.
PLEX PLAYBACK SETTINGS IN ROKU
Each version of the Plex client is a bit different but the Roku app that’s available with TCL TVs generally works really well. Choose it from the app store, download it, log in to the remote server, and you should be ready to go! My daughter’s TCL Roky Plex app looks like this when she goes to view a movie:
She wants to finish watching the amusing animated Scoob! but has paused halfway. You can see that with the tiny yellow progress bar superimposed over the movie poster on the screen.
Most people click on the movie poster and then immediately click on Play to watch the film, but it’s the next screen that’s the secret to alleviating the transcoding buffering problem…
Rather than choose Play, choose the “••• More” button that’s rightmost of the options. Also be aware that the number of options in this view will vary based on a variety of factors including whether the Plex can find a trailer for the film to include.
Turns out that “More” doesn’t have a lot of options, but it does include the one we care about:
It’s worth noting that if you’ve never tried “Watch Together” it’s a pretty slick feature. You can learn more about it here: Intro to Watch Together. For this task, however, click on “Playback Settings“.
PLEX CLIENT APP PLAYBACK SETTINGS
The playback settings are surprisingly easy to understand:
You can safely ignore Streams, so choose Playback Options. As you can see there are four possible options here. I recommend you leave Direct Play, Allow Direct Stream, and Burn Subtitles as shown. What we care about is Quality.
Choose Quality and you’ll see something that would warm the heart of a network admin:
In this instance, the original film is in HD quality, but I’m going to step to a standard definition stream bandwidth setting. Why? Because it’s what Plex recommends for the original video, as denoted by “(Original)”. In other words, if I match the original resolution then there’s no transcoding needed, it can just stream the video for remote playback.
Click to choose whatever your Plex client shows as the “(Original)” resolution, then go back to Play. The video should work a lot better, without buffering or pauses. If you’re still seeing problems, then it’s reasonable to consider both your bandwidth for your server (most Internet connections are much faster on download than upload) and on your son’s network connection too. If he’s in the dorms and every other resident is trying to stream Netflix, well, it might just slow down a bit. Good luck and let me know in the comments if this helps fix the problem!
Pro Tip: I’ve been running and sporadically writing about my Plex server for quite a while. You can find the articles in my Computers & Internet Basics area if you’d like to read more while you’re visiting!