Plex comes to the Drobo 5N

05.29.13 36 Comments

Here at Plex, we’re big fans of Drobo. Many of us have owned them since the first-generation units (I had two, personally), and none of us ever lost a single byte of data in years of use.

We were excited to hear about the new Drobo 5N devices, because they seemed like a really good fit for the Plex Media Server. The deceptively compact boxes are packing a quad-core processor (of which 3 cores are available for applications), and it’s got much more RAM than your average ARM-based NAS.

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The usual issue with running on low-powered, energy-efficient devices is the lack of ability to do transcoding. However, the Drobo’s ARM processors, while not able to perform video transcoding in real-time, CAN transcode multi-channel audio to stereo AAC in real-time (easily!), and can remux (a fancy word for repackaging audio and video without converting it) video much faster than real-time. In fact, in our testing it could sustain multiple simultaneous streams without issues.

What does this mean? It means that you can stuff a Drobo full of MKV files and stream them in real-time to our highly rated iOS or Android or Roku apps. Or stream them to a PS3 using DLNA, or to the Windows 8 app. Or of course use the Plex Media Center (which doesn’t require any transcoding), or Plex for Google TV (which plays most formats natively), or the Plex app for Samsung devices, or an LG TV. Lots of possibilities!

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You can see Drobo’s great page on Plex here or read the announcement on their blog. Last, but not least, I should note that Barkley fully approves of the Drobo 5N.


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  • Nice,

    I hope to see a full linux media center release next so I can remove my last xbmc from the house and replace it by plex!

    Keep up the good work!

    • @Tom: The new Plex Home Theater (in PlexPass right now, out for the public before long) runs on Linux.

  • I don’t understand. Transcoding seems like a big deal, what can’t be done if I do this?

    • @ChuckieJ ~ you can’t convert a file on-the-fly to a lower bitrate/resolution, or to a different codec. these days, with many devices, especially around the house, remuxing (aka Direct Stream) is what happens already, and it produces the best (original) video quality.

  • Thanks Elan. One of the coolest things about Plex is that what is happening in the background is almost invisible. I think when I was at my grandmother’s house watching an episode of NCIS over 4G my Plex Mac Mini at home was doing transcoding. Not positive though. And that situation is so rare for me it’s probably not a big deal if that ability went away. I’m trying to think of use cases because the Drobo 1st gen that feeds my Mac Mini now is so stinkin’ loud. New ones are supposedly much quieter! :)
    Thanks for all your hard work.

  • So if I’m reading this right, I don’t need to have my Mac Mini attached to my current Drobo Pro in order to stream directly to my iOS devices? I can basically just get a Drobo 5N and ditch the Mac Mini for say a Roku box connected to my plasma TV?

    • @Tuyen: correct, with the caveat that it can’t transcode, so you wouldn’t be able to transcode a 20Mbps video down to 2Mbps to watch over 3G (e.g.) Or convert an AVI file to H.264.

  • Could you not do this audio transcoding on the Synology ARM boxes as well? At the moment I can’t watch any MKVs on my Nexus 10 through Plex as there’s no native AC3 support (I can watch them just fine using Archos Video Player on Android and Plex DLNA but this doesn’t support resume from..).

  • Very cool! I’ve wanted a Drobo for a while (even though they are a bit expensive) so this might help push me over the edge!
    Any news on a Roku update that I think I remember being mentioned a couple months back?
    Keep up the great work guys!

  • Thanks for the clarification, Elan. Is there any way to know whether a video is being transcoded or not? I have 11 remote people who I have shared my videos with. Plus I personally use 2 iPads, an iPhone, Google TV, and a Roku. Chances are that all of your options are being used by me or my friends. I wouldn’t want to lessen my experience by removing the ability to have something transcoded, but if I don’t, then this would be great for me! (I have a 2nd gen drobo that I’d consider upgrading to a 5N if this worked for me)

  • Thanks Elan! Now who wants to buy my Drobo Pro so I can get a Drobo 5N?

  • hi elan! is plex on the drobo fully compatible with can i share videos with other myplex users (via ios) or is it just for one?

    • Plex for the Drobo supports myPlex.

  • but it will not transcode for those with ipads or iphones outside of my local wifi, is that correct?

    • Correct, not enough CPU power to transcode video.

  • This is GREAT news! I love both Plex and Drobo myself. I have the Drobo 5D, however, not the 5N, so will I be able to utilize the Plex app as well?

    I realize the Drobo 5D is a “DAS” (direct-attached), not a “NAS” (network-attached), but my (Late-2012) Mac mini is always on and so is my Drobo, with very few exceptions. I use Plex for iOS (both iPhone and iPad), which works very well and until I recently sold it, I even had the unofficial Plex app for the jailbroken 2nd generation Apple TV. 😉

    I wish there was a Drobo 5N (or Synology NAS) with Thunderbolt and/or USB 3 or a Drobo 5D with one or two Gigabit Ethernet ports. (a kind of “best of both worlds” scenario). Put another way, I wish I could connect a Drobo 5N to the computer with USB 3 (or ThunderBolt).

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Great stuff, guys, as always!

  • Hi

    So what if I want to connect the three Drobo 5N with the first one as being the server .. is that possible? And will it be able to handle 6-7 MKV Streams?


  • Can we have the Drobo 5N run the PMS and using another computer (Mac Mini) turned on running PMS also to take care of Transcoding when needed?

  • Elan,
    This is great, thanks for getting this working on a 5N!
    Installed the Plex App today, and it was a relatively “easy” process. It’s finally working well, but had to do some troubleshooting…
    My Video library loads fail during the initial load. For some reason, after I load a bunch of video files (50-1000), the app locks up, and I need to stop and restart the app from within the Drobo Dashboard (I waited 30min for the 50 file load). I also cannot load or refresh a library, at all, when it’s setup to pull metadata from Freebase or Movie DB Agents (online). It only completes the file load, and properly refreshes the library when it’s setup to pull metadata from the Personal Media Agent. I noticed the Freebase and Movie DB Agent defaults are set to check almost every DB source. Lastly, since it hangs after the initial file load, I have to manually run an Analyze session from within the Library for Plex do update all the files with their own metadata. Not sure if these are issues you’re team has seen, or anyone else reading this, but some things I’ve had to deal with in my initial test. Any suggestions would be most welcome.
    Otherwise, now that it’s working, I’m watching movies on my Roku without a desktop or laptop!

  • I’m having a odd issue with my PS3 and Plex. Ever since installing it (I was using MediaTomb) I can’t seem to stream most (if not all) of the movies down to my PS3. It will take forever to load or will just sit there. I’m operating wirelessly and have yet to test it wired. Used to work fine via MediaTomb but I really like the Plex interface a lot better! Anybody seen this odd issue? Running a Netgear 3700 for wireless and the Drobo5N is on my gigabit network on a PowerConnect. Thanks in advance!

  • So, my friends who access my Plex server on a Drobo 5N from their myPlex account still can do off-line sync on their iPad?

  • hi elan, i used to have plex run on my mac mini as the media server where i load my mkv files. it streams seamlessly to both my iphone and windows phone 8 over wifi and 4G. I recently bought a drobo5n and moved my mkv files into it. Now, my windows phone 8 cannot stream the files both on wifi and 4G, although my library shows up on the app. My iphone 4s streams it without a problem over wifi. Can you help me figure this out?

  • Is it possible to run multiple instances of Plex Server on a single Drobo 5N? Each with its own shared volume.
    This would help with selecting a limited number of video files for remote viewing.

    • @Jake: You can run a single media server with many different libraries.

  • Will Plex Server on a Drobo 5N play .avi files directly on a Roku3 running the Plex App?

    .avi could be using Divx or Xvid.

    Or do I need to change the container from .avi to .mp4?

    • Jake: The 5N doesn’t have enough power to convert AVI files, and I don’t *think* the Roku plays them natively. So you’d need to convert to MP4 or MKV (the latter of which just got added, if memory serves me).

  • Thanks for your help.

    Will Roku with the Plex App added play .avi?

    The documentation seems to say the Roku only supports mp4 and mkv for attached storage. It is not clear, but it seems that if the Plex App is added to the Roku3 then it can play additional formats if they are streamed from the Plex Server. Though it is not clear if the Drobo 5N Plex server can handle this as well as a Mac running the Plex Server.

    Is the WD a better option for streaming .avi from a Plex Server, as regards the streaming media, not the Internet streaming options.

    • @Jake: The Roku needs AVI files to be converted, so you need to be running a powerful enough media server for this. The Drobo5N isn’t powerful enough, but you can run one on your Mac and then load the files from the Drobo without a problem.

  • Thanks for all your help.

    To summarize, if I use a Drobo 5N I need to transcode, or change the container, to mp4 before adding them to the Plex share.

    For a hard drive using the Roku3 USB, I need to convert to mp4 or mkv.

    If I use a Mac Mini with Plex Server I can stream any file format supported by Plex, including .avi, to the Plex App on the Roku3.

    Are there any other products similar to the Roku3 that can stream .avi from the Drobo 5N?

  • @elan will try it then. Hopefully it is as easy as installing openelec.

    And you should release it for the mass. Will win a lot of people from xbmc over to plex!

  • I was so excited about this, as a Drobo would be great easily expandable storage for my Media. I got a 5n and put the Plex app on it and loaded it with my mkv movies and tv. Unhappily, it fails to stream to Roku. Video stutters and stops. If I try to play the files using the direct play setting, then video plays fine, but without sound. I am disappointed.

  • I have just ordered a Drobo and I have two questions:

    If I am streaming from my Drob 5N to Plex Media Center running on my MacMini connected to my HDTV, can the Drobo cope with any format (avi,mkv etc.) since no transcoding is necessary?

    What about streaming from the Drobo 5N to a Roku 2 XD? Or Chromecast? Do these require transcoding?

    • @Olly S ~ The Drobo can only remux content, not transcode. So it’ll work with an MKV, for example, remuxed to HLS for iOS or Roku. Chromecast might have more issues, as it can’t play high bitrate remuxed H.264.

  • I’d love to see a Plex app made for Oppo.

  • Can plex stream native dsd files?

  • When I first got my Drobo 5N all was great with plex stream to a few devices. Lately thou I have been having issues streaming to a few device because the ARM processors (more than one?, I didn’t think so) Struggle to send it to windows device (Surface, windows phone)

    But has no issue sending it to an IPhone. I did a test where I set the Plex media serve onto another “server” and streamed the movies from Drobo thru that computer out – Had no issues – even streamed a 1080p movie from NY to NJ.

    I ssh’d into drobo and even changed some settings on the windows devices – which held a lot. Sadly those streaming lower quality video when you have a GB network and Wireless N – just doesn’t seem right, so I will get a Intel Nuc act as my Plex server and let drobo just do storage.

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