Plex on Synology DiskStation

Install Plex Media Server on Synology DiskStation

With the Video Station, Synology already offers a video streaming server including a playback client. The Video Station has a great user interface and is easy to use. Unfortunately, the Video Station weakens a little when it comes to the compatibility of audio and video formats. The Plex Media Server is an alternative. It looks similar to the Video Station and is also easy to use and different formats and codecs are no problem for it. In this article I will tell you how to install and set up Plex on your DiskStation.

Compatible DiskStation models

Plex is available as a package in the Package Center but also as a download at https://www.plex.tv/media-server-downloads/ (Attention: There are different packages, depending on the processor of your DiskStation). Plex is available for a large number of DiskStation models. In the package center you can see immediately whether your model is supported. But keep in mind that streaming videos requires a lot of hardware resources and even if Plex can be installed on your model, the smooth playback can cause problems (similar to the video transcoding of the Video Station, which is available on many models but not enables smooth video playback on all of them). Also consider what other tasks your DiskStation performs and how busy it is. I have Plex running on a DS218 + (Intel CPU) that also runs Nextcloud and other tasks. But also my older and weaker DS215 + (ARM-CPU) could stream videos smoothly with Plex.


Excursus: media management

Before we start, I’ll give you a little digression on the subject of media management. First there is the folder structure. How and where you put your films and series is up to you. Since I used the Video Station before, I use the shared folder /video. It doesn’t matter to Plex. But what you absolutely have to do, is pack your films and series in their own sub-folders (if you haven’t already done so). Media servers (no matter which one) manage series slightly different than films. Series are shown as such with seasons and episodes. So that the media server knows whether it is dealing with series or films, media libraries of the type “movie” or “series” are created. Those Libraries are then getting assigned folders. If you had films and episodes of a series in a shared folder, the media server would try to process the episodes in a movie library and vice versa.

The second big and above all really complex and annoying topic is the naming of the files. While the file name is particularly irrelevant for audio files, since the title, artist, etc. are read from the metadata, media servers use the file name for films and series to search for detailed information on the Internet.

Movies

Movie files can be placed in their own subfolder. This makes sense if you have additional material such as movie posters, subtitle files or bonus material. However, sub-folders per movie are not required, you can store all files in one folder. In order for moviess to be processed correctly, Plex has the following naming scheme:

movie-title (year-of-release).ext
/movie-title (year-of-release)/movie-title (year-of-release).ext

/Movies
    Avatar (2009).mkv
    /Batman Begins (2005)
        Batman Begins (2005).avi
        Batman Begins (2005).eng.srt
        poster.jpg

The year of release is important because there are many movies with the same name or remakes, live action movies, etc. The naming scheme for movies also applies to other media servers such as Kodi or Video Station. For more details, see this article from Plex.

Series

Episodes in a series must be stored in a subfolder for each series. A subfolder per season is not necessary, but if you use one it must be called “Season XX”. The following naming scheme results for series:

/series-title/series-title SXXEYY optional text.ext

/Series
    /The Orville
        The Orville S01E01.mp4
        The Orville S01E02.mp4

Year of publication is not required here, but it helps if there are several series with the same name. The episode title is also not required, this is retrieved and supplemented by Plex from the internet. But you can attach the title or other information as optional text. This format is also accepted by all common media servers, even by the Video Station, although this provides a point in the scheme before and after the season tag. For more details, see this article from Plex.

Renaming episodes of a series can be very tedious, especially if the season and episode details are not available. For older series from abroad (especially animation series that were shown on TV) the episodes are often simply numbered, seasons are not given. This is because series that have already been completed were often bought as a whole or several seasons in a row and then broadcasted. Seasons were irrelevant, as they could not be published in one go, as only a few episodes had space on VHS tapes. Series were often divided differently in other countries, seasons shortened or only divided into seasons when they were rereleased on DVD. If you have any problems, check out TheTVDB.com to find out which seasons and episodes a series is divided into.

Even if renaming a large collection can be very tedious, the effort is worth it. You can correct the movie information in the media servers afterwards, but the effort per movie is higher than renaming it. The changes are also saved – depending on the media server – in metadata files or in the server’s database. If you change the server or if you don’t have a backup and set up the server again, you have to start over. The Video Station in particular, is tedious here because it cannot be backed up. The metadata can be exported but not imported. Once you have named your files correctly, you will save yourself a lot of work in such cases.


Install Plex Media Server

I recommend installing Plex through the Package Center. This ensures that the correct package is installed and that Plex is properly set up on the DiskStation.

Open the Package Center on your DiskStation and look for Plex Media Server. You can find the package in the section for third-party packages, in the multimedia category, or directly via search. Plex is offered by Synology’s repository, if you can’t find Plex, your DiskStation model is not supported.

Plex at the Package Center
Plex at the Package Center

Install the package and wait for Plex to start.

During the installation, Plex created its own user and a shared folder that contains the server software. In theory, you could also put your movies and other media files there. But it is better if you give the respective medium (movie, audio, image) its own shared folder. There is a good chance that you will already be managing your files in folders, especially if you are already using one or the other multimedia package from Synology. In the further instructions I assume that the movies are in the shared folder /video.
Open Control Panel > Shared Folder in DSM.

Select the shared folder in which you have saved your movies/series and click on Edit.

shared folder permissions
The shared folder plex and a user with the same name got added at the installation. The permissions you have to set yourself.

Switches to the Permissions tab. Now assigns read and write permissions to the user plex.

plex user permissions
The user plex needs read and write acess to shared folder with media files.

Repeat the step for other shared folders that contain media data that you want to access with Plex.

Setup Plex Media Server

After the installation you will find a link in the DSM main menu that will take you to the web interface of your Plex server. The URL, that you used to call DSM when you installed Plex, is used. Plex uses port 32400. You can call the web interface together with the port via any URL under which your DiskStation can be reached in the LAN, regardless of whether it is DiskStation name (e.g. https://myDS:32400), DynDNS (e.g. https://myds.synology.me:32400) or via your own domain (e.g. https://plex.myDS.com). You can read more about DiskStation, DynDNS and your own domains in this article. It only takes a few steps to set up Plex.

The web interface presents you a setup wizard. To do this, you have to log in with a Plex account or register an account if you don’t already have one. Accounts from different providers are available to you, or you can use your own Plex account via an email address in the classic way. You also have the option of not using an account for the time being (skip). You will then be informed of the restrictions and can accept them and continue without an account.

Plex sign in
Sign in or register

In the next steps you see a presentation on how Plex works and you will of course be offered the Plex Pass. You can use Plex in the free version to stream your own movies without any restrictions. A Plex subscription is therefore not necessary. Of course, you can also take out a subscription if you want to take advantage of the additional offers.

Plex how it works
This is how Plex works

In the next step you can give your Plex server a name. At this point you can also activate external access. I advise you to deactivate the checkbox. If you want to access your media server from the internet, set up the access manually, only then will you know what the configuration looks like. With automatic configurations you can never know how what’s configured. You should know exactly about your network configuration, especially with external access and security.
Click on Next.

Plex server name
The DiskStations name is used as default but it can be changed.

Now it’s time to set up the libraries. Click Add Library.

add library
Add a new library

In the first window you select the type of media, which is important because the media files are analyzed and processed differently depending on the type. Therefore, you should also store films and episodes of a series in separate folders. Also selects the desired standard language (this influences the language in which the film information is displayed and which standard language is used for subtitles). You can also customize the name of the library.

choose media type
Choose which type of media the library should contain.

In the next step you have to select the folder you want. You are not bound to the shared folder, but can navigate in the subfolders. Have you selected the desired folder, click on Add.

choose a folder
Choose the folder, that contains the media files.

(Optional) Under Advanced you will find further settings for the library, such as the handling of bonus material or which page should be used to retrieve the movie information. The options “Localized title” (if the option is deactivated, the media library shows the original titles of the movies, regardless of which language is set for the library and which language the movie is in), “Rating Source” (Rotten Tomatoes is not exactly known for, that the ratings correspond to the taste of the audience) or the presentation of collections, i.e. movie series (movies that are part of a series are grouped together in collections, even if there is only one single movie of the series in the library. The following options are available: the display of collections and individual movies. This can quickly become confusing. Only collections (if movies are part of a collection, they are no longer displayed) or only movies (collections are not displayed at all).

advanced settings
Advanced settings for the library

Have you made all the settings click on add library. If you have created all the libraries, you can click on Next. You can also add additional libraries later in the media server settings. Plex suggests you to download the client. You can do that if you need the client on the device. Then click on Done.

client download and done
That’s it.

Plex will now start browsing the selected folders and processing the media files. This can take some time, depending on the size of your collection. But that happens in the background. You can now repeat the process for other libraries.

P√úlex parsing media files
This icon shows the process of scanning the library. This can take a while, depending on the library size and the power of your DiskStation.

Connect the Plex client with your Media Server

The connection of the client works the same everywhere and has nothing to do with your DiskStation. For the sake of completeness, I’ll explain that too.
The client is available for many platforms such as PC, Mac and Android. The Plex app is also available for Amazon’s Fire TV. To use the client, you must have a Plex account (Plex pass is not required) and be logged into the server with this account.

  1. Download the client on the desired platform and install it.
  2. Starts the Plex client.
  3. Click on Login. A tab in the browser opens, confirm the login there.
  4. The client now automatically connects to the server.
  5. You can now customize the client and the dashboard. Your libraries are not displayed automatically, you can enable them now. If several servers are linked to your account, you can change the server in the settings.

Update Plex Media Server

Immediately after setting up, you will probably receive a notice in the web interface about an update from Plex. Basically you have installed Plex via the Package Center and you will also receive updates via this. It is the case, however, that Plex releases updates more frequently than they are delivered in the Package Center. I can only speculate whether the Package Center only offers major updates or whether the submission process is too laborious.
If you want to be on the safer and more convenient side, update Plex only through the Package Center. But if you always want the latest version, you can update Plex manually. There are supposed to be users for whom the manual update caused problems, I myself could not find any problems after a few manual updates. If in doubt, take a look at the changes in the update, does it bring new features that you absolutely want or does the update fix bugs that occur on your server or does it close security gaps, you can consider the manual update. In all other cases you can skip the version and wait for the next one or for an update via the Package Center.

For a manual update you proceed as follows:

  1. Download the update via the update message. The correct package will be downloaded immediately and you will save yourself having to choose the CPU architecture.
  2. Open the Package Center and search for Plex Media Server.
  3. Stop Plex.
  4. Now click on Manual Installation. Select the previously downloaded file and install it.
  5. Once the installation is complete, you can start Plex again.

Conclusion

That’s it, your DiskStation is now a Plex Media Server and nothing stands in the way of streaming pleasure, including video formats and audio codecs. Kodi is another popular alternative to the Video Station. I also tested Kodi myself but was not satisfied with it. Kodi is customizable through themes and plugins, while Plex doesn’t even offer themes. However, I didn’t like the basic structure of Kodi and most of the themes were way too cluttered. It also takes more clicks before you can start the desired movie. I didn’t like the basic menu structure of Kodi (an additional menu level before I could select my libraries) and the configuration effort is enormous. Simple things such as multiple libraries of the same type can only be implemented with a few tricks and plugins. The performance didn’t convince me either. Kodi was very slow on my Fire TV Stick 4K and crashed a lot. Not all movies could be played back. If the video track of the MKV file is too heavily compressed or the movie is not converted properly, Kodi will refuse to play or the playback will be very jerky. Problems that I already knew from DLNA and the Video Station. Plex runs a lot faster and has never crashed. The playback is always smooth and the problematic movies can also be played.

Only one topic is still open. You should always use https to access your NAS and its services. However, since Plex is a third-party package, it is not included in DSM’s application management or in certificate management. You can access your Plex server from all domains under which you can reach your DiskStation, but you will receive a certificate error. How you get Plex to use an SSL certificate for your DiskStation, I’ll tell you next time.

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