If you're not a Mac user, you may not have heard of Plex, a media streaming solution that currently runs on OS X. That's about to change, as today Plex is announcing both the latest version of their service, Plex/Nine, and a partnership with LG Electronics under which LG will ship TVs and Blu-ray players with Plex technology built in.
So let's back up a bit for people unfamiliar with the technology. Plex Media Server, as I said, runs on OS X and facilitates both streaming media from the web, and transcoding and streaming local media to connected devices. For now that connected device is generally another Mac or an iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch, but Plex tells us an Android client is coming soon (and a Windows version of the server is in the works as well). Plex uses a plug-in architecture that allows 3rd party developers to create plug-ins that provide access to virtually any streaming video source. There are plug-ins for the usual suspects (Netflix, Hulu, iTunes) and more obscure sources as well, like Gametrailers and Sesame Street; over 100 plug-ins are currently available. CrunchGear recently covered Plex/Nine and the client app in great detail (including a video, which I'll embed below).
So Plex is useful but a little geeky when it's on the Mac platform, but what LG is doing with it makes it much more accessible. When you buy an LG 2011 NetCast™ device (TV or Blu-ray player) Plex will power streaming content from the web. By default the device will connect to an LG-run media server in the cloud with a good set of plug-ins ready for use. That'll be a great experience for most users, but those who want even more can download the Plex Media Server software, run it on a local machine, and add any additional plug-ins they require for streaming additional sources, or for streaming music and video files from the computer to the LG device.
Right now iTV is on many people's minds, but having Plex built into an existing device means you don't have to add any kind of additional set-top box to your entertainment center in order to access a much richer set of features than iTV can provide. Fewer boxes is always good, right?
Of course there are other, similar services out there (Boxee springs to mind), so why did LG decide to incorporate Plex? Hojun Nam, LG's Director of LCD TV R&D, had this to say:
"After considering many alternative solutions, LG Electronics chose to utilize Plex's media server platform technology as a part of its next generation NetCastTM enabled home entertainment products because of the breadth of available applications and content and the ease of developing new services. Plex's capabilities offer our customers' additional methods of displaying their content on LG's next generation TVs and that is exciting to us."
Here's the video from Crunchgear, and see page two for the full press release.