Streaming content from your Plex Media Server is great, but sometimes—like when you’re going to be offline or stuck with cruddy internet speeds while traveling—there’s no substitution for having a copy of the media stored on your device instead of in the cloud. Fortunately, it’s easy to grab your media and go.
Downloading, Syncing, and the Premium Difference
With Plex, there are two ways to approach this issue, dependent on whether you’re a free Plex user or a Plex Premium user. Both free and premium users can download content from their Plex Media Servers, but this download functionality is 1) manual action only; 2) simply downloads a copy of the media to the computer or mobile device you are using; and 3) does not automatically transcode your media (to make it smaller and more mobile-storage friendly).
The upside to this technique is that you get a copy of the media to do whatever you want with (like give to a friend) and that copy is in the original quality. The downside is that it does not automatically sync, you have to manually transcode if you want smaller file sizes, and you have to load the media in a third-party player (e.g. if you download a movie to your iPhone using the manual download method, the movie won’t load in the Plex app but it will load in any media player on your iPhone capable of playing it).
The other method, available only to Plex Pass premium subscribers, is the sync method. While the download method might be great for a one-off download (like grabbing a movie or two to copy to your laptop before you head to the airport), the syncing method is vastly superior for consistent use (like keeping the most recent episodes of your favorite TV show synced to your phone and ready for viewing on the commuter train). The upside to the syncing method is that it is fully automated and highly customizable, thanks to flexible syncing rules. You can sync files from your Plex Server to any Plex app that is registered to your Plex account, including Plex for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and Windows desktop.
Let’s take a look at how to download and sync content, respectively, using a season of the TV show Archer as our sample media.
How to Download Content from Your Plex Media Server (Free or Premium)
To download a couple one-off videos from your Plex Media Server, you simply need to be logged into your Plex account and access the web interface. You can do this either while your’e at home or while you’re away from home, as long as you have a good internet connection. The only real restriction on downloading is that you must be the owner of the Plex Media Server—this means you can download everything from your own server, but you can’t download content from a server someone has shared with you, nor can they download from a server you share with them.
From that web interface, it’s super simple to download content. First, navigate to the media you’re interested in. We’re interested in grabbing a few episodes from Season 1 of Archer to watch away from home, so we’ll head there now. Here in the Season 1 entry, we need to select Episode 1 and then click on the “…” menu icon, as seen below.
In the context menu, click “Download”.
The file will be downloaded, in it’s full original file size and resolution, to you computer or mobile device. Additionally, you can also click on the full detailed entry for any media item (individual TV episodes, movies, songs in your music library, etc.) and click on the “…” menu in the left side navigation bar to also select “Download”. You cannot download entire seasons of TV shows at one time and will need to repeat this process for every episode you wish…