updated 11:40 pm EDT, Thu August 30, 2012
PlexPass subscribers gain access to beta software versions
Media streamer Plex received some significant changes on Thursday. Beyond a litany of bug fixes in today's server update, Plex has announced PlexPass, an optional subscription service giving users early access to features in-test and premium additions. The first of the new features available for PlexPass users is the new web client, which tests nearly as fast as the native OS X media manager, but also offers full media playback in-browser.
Plex has historically been donationware, with a significant amount of user support. PlexPass, at $5 per month, or $30 per year gives users access to beta releases of Plex, including releases with premium features. PlexPass members also receive access to private forums for discussion of the new features, with a voting forum to assist the developers with prioritization of enhancements and fixes. In addition, when the future premium features are released to the entire user base, PlexPass members can purchase them at a discount.
The first PlexPass feature is a completely new web-based media manager replacing the old version. Offering all the features of the OS X media manager application, speed is maintained, even with enormous libraries. MacNN performed some tests with the new Bootstrap-based web application, and found it to be responsive and fluid when coupled with the new (required, and free to all users) media server application. In fact, some search tasks were completed faster with the web client than on the native application. Playback was fluid across an 802.11n wireless network, both with H.264 M4V video files encoded at 4,200kbps as well as the same video in MKV format at a higher 8,000kbps bit rate.
Based on forum comments, some users are concerned that the application is shifting to a paid model. Some users have complained about recent donations made before the announcement, with others complaining about a lack of focus. The developer offered on at least one occasion to refund a donation, so the user could pay for the PlexPass, and has generally attempted to soothe irritated users concerned about the streamer's developer roadmap and the entire concept behind the paid PlexPass. The current model for Plex is to offer features tested by PlexPass users to the free users of the application after they have reached a stable state. The developer is clear in the intention to make the new web-based media manager available for free to all users of the application, but time will ultimately tell if the promises are kept.