Streaming video to my devices: Plex, Roku Streaming Stick, and my Mac

For several years, I’ve used my Xbox 360 as a way to stream video from my computer (via DLNA server software) to my TV. Unfortunately, the Xbox is rather finicky: when streaming works, it works fine, but it’d occasionally stop working for no discernible reason or refuse to play certain videos. I suspect it’s the nature of the 360’s age—it was originally designed/produced at a time when streaming wasn’t as prominent. The 360 also came along when Microsoft was more proprietary about supported media formats. Although there’s been software updates (to make it more of a streaming device), it’s clearly a video game-first device. I assume its successor, the Xbox One, is more up-to-date in this regard.

I finally decided to give my whole streaming video system an overhaul. At a Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale, I bought a Roku Streaming Stick. While I could’ve bought a Chromecast for not much less, with the Roku I get an actual remote. The Roku’s also a more platform-neutral device. Chromecast’s made by Google, while Fire TV’s made by Amazon.

For streaming media from my computer, I’ve installed Plex, a media server program that runs on pretty much every device. While I’d tried Plex before and found it lackluster, it’s improved since.

The Roku Streaming Stick features the various apps for Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and tons of other services. Unlike the Fire and Apple TV, it also has a Google Play channel, which is useful for the few videos I have through that service. Roku also supports Amazon Instant Video. While the Stick’s not a speed demon, it’s faster to fire up and use than my Xbox.

Roku also offers for installation the “Roku Media Player” channel. This allows the stick to stream videos from Plex or any other DLNA media server software. Unlike the Xbox, streaming from my Mac works flawlessly, offering up all of my videos. Plex does have a Roku app, but it’s not free (though there’s a 30 day trial). Ironically, I’ve found the Plex app both on the Roku and on my Android device to take some work to become functional; it didn’t automatically detect my Mac. Since Plex works fine as a server without needing to use its own apps, the Media Player channel/other DLNA compatible apps will do just fine.

Overall, I’m enjoying my Roku, as well as using Plex to stream videos through my house. As for the Xbox, I still have it around to play video games, but I won’t need it for streaming anymore.

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