Best Way to Watch Media on New Apple TV: iTunes Home Sharing VS Plex

Diana Joan

Dec 16, 2015 08:57 am / Posted by Diana Joan

The release of the fourth-generation model make many third-party apps are available on Apple TV. In the past, you can only local media from your iTunes library, now, there are many other apps let you use your own sources. One of the apps worth mentioning is Plex, which helps to organizes your video, music, and photo collections and streams them to all of your screens.” The following article will compare the two: iTunes vs Plex for streaming content to an Apple TV and how to use them to share content on other devices.

iTunes Home Sharing vs Plex

How they work

The Apple TV streams content from your iTunes library, or directly from the iTunes Store, for previous purchases or rented movies, as well as streaming from Apple Music. Plex is a “media server” that you install on a computer: a Mac, a Windows PC, or even a NAS (network attached storage device).

To stream content with iTunes, just turn on Home Sharing in iTunes’File menu. Enter your Apple ID, and do the same on the Apple TV. You then access your iTunes library on the Apple TV from the Computers tile.

In terms of Plex content streaming, you will need to do more setup. After you install the Plex, you point it to specific folders for the content you want to stream. You could point it to the Movies, TV Shows, and Music folders in your iTunes Media folder, or use separate folders. Once this is set up, you configure Plex to update regularly so it adds new content.

Plex is free, if you pursue for certain features, you will need to pay for a Plex Pass, which will cost your $5 monthly, $40 annually and $150 for a lifetime subscription.

Streaming movies and TV shows

As for the function of streaming movies and TV shows, both iTunes home sharing and Plex can do the work, but they all have their own limitations.

If you stream from your iTunes library, you can play movies in a certain number of formats: files using the H.264 codec with the extensions .m4v, .mp4, and .mov, and MPEG-4 files, with the same extensions. (Note that the new Apple TV can only play certaine types of MPEG-4 files.)

Plex can play .mp4 files directly, but can also facilitates you to transcode other formats, such as AVI, MKV, and lots of others. So if you’ve ripped DVDs in formats other than .mp4, just add them your Plex which is more flexible for video formats streaming than iTunes.

Plex also helps to display metadata for movies and TV shows, but for more obscure films it won’t be able to get the information or will display the wrong information.

Plex cannot play purchased videos from the iTunes Store, since those videos are protected with DRM (digital rights management). Only the Apple TV can play these, either streamed from your library, or from the iTunes Store. Unfortunately, when you select movies or TV shows folder in your iTunes Media folder on Plex, Plex will be able to play these videos. It would be very annoying if you forget which movies you’ve purchased from the iTunes Store, and which you’ve ripped. So if you use Plex for videos, it’s best to separate the ripped videos from the iTunes purchases.

From Plex official web page, we know that Plex Media Server can not transcode every video you throw to it, if you happen to own some file formats such as Blu-ray/DVD disc, MXF, XAVC/XAVC S, etc that are not supported by Plex, you can download our powerful video conversion program Pavtube Video Converter Ultimate for Windows/Mac to convert virtually any file formats to Plex Media Server best compatible file formats such as MP4 or MKV.

As Plex Media Server can not transcode any file formats you throw to it, if you happen to own some file formats that Plex Media Server does not support, you can fix it with

Playing music

It is well know that iTunes Home Sharing lets the Apple TV access your iTunes library. You can also access Apple Music, if you’re a subscriber, and your iCloud Music Library, if you use this with Apple Music and/or iTunes Match.

However, iTunes only lets you play files in AAC, MP3, Apple Lossless, AIFF and WAV formats. If you own some FLAC files you will need to convert them to Apple Lossless format for adding to your iTunes library.

Plex, as expected, lets you play FLAC files, but also Ogg Vorbis and others (but it can’t play protected AAC files from the iTunes Store). It transcodes files from formats that can’t play natively on the Apple TV and plays the others directly. Unfortunately, Plex transcodes lossless FLAC files to 256 kbps AAC files when sending them to the Apple TV.

iTunes Home Sharing lets you play all the playlists you’ve created in iTunes, or on your iOS device (if you use iCloud Music Library), and Plex lets you import your iTunes playlists. But if you make new playlists in Plex, they don’t sync back to iTunes.

One of Plex’s features is that it pulls down artist pictures, biographies, and more from This works well when it works. When it doesn’t, it lists, for example, John Mellencamp 26 times, and for Arnold Schönberg shows a photo and biography of Glenn Gould. For some artists, Plex displays a bright red graphic telling me to “Use correct artist name in your files’ID3 tags.” Let’s just say that, for managing a music library, Plex isn’t really ideal, at least not if you’ve been maintaining your library in iTunes.

Plex does have an interesting feature. If you buy a Plex Pass, you can access music videos from Vevo when you view an artist’s page, or an album or song list. There aren’t that many videos yet, but it’s still a nice addition.

Home Sharing on other devices

Apple’s Home Sharing obviously only works on Apple devices. You can share to an Apple TV, share music to iTunes running on another Mac or Windows PC, you can also use Home Sharing on iOS devices. But you are not promoted to load video with large file size on iOS devices.

Plex will be a lot more flexible. The Plex app have whole range support for various media streaming devices including Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Xbox, PlayStation, Roku, and many smart TVs -you can also use it on portable devices, such as an iPhone, iPad, or Android devices (the Plex app requires a Plex Pass or an in-app purchase). Loading a library is quick and you can play videos or music from the computer or NAS running Plex server on several devices around your home. If you start watching a movie on the Apple TV, for example, and want to watch the rest on an iPad in bed, Plex remembers your position, so you can pick up where you left off.

Plex goes even further, reaching beyond your home network. Suppose you are in a hotel in a different country and eager to watch a movie that’s on your Mac? Never mind, with with a Plex Pass or in-app purchase. Your iPad will be able to pull down the video from your Mac, no matter where you are. This feature alone makes using Plex worthwhile for many people who travel a lot. You can also download content to your device either before you leave home or when you’re on the road if you don’t have much bandwidth or are worried about data caps.


Both iTunes Home Sharing and Plex have their own advantages when streaming content. When streaming music or those movies or TV shows purchased from iTunes store, it would be more convenient for you to use iTunes home sharing.

While for other videos, just move them to your Plex media server and create different folders for your videos: one for movies, one for TV shows, another for my
TV episodes, etc which can be easily organized and played with Plex Media Server.

Further Reading:
Play Netflix Movies and TV Shows on Apple TV 4/3/2/1
Tips and Guide for HD Video Streaming with Apple TV
Keep My iTunes Rentals Forever on Apple TV
Stream Music, Video and Movies from iTunes library to Apple TV 4
Choose between the New Apple TV and Google’s New

How to Set up 2015 4th Generation Apple TV?
Fix Apple TV Wi-Fi, AirPlay, Remote, Video, Audio Playback Issues
Set Up Apple TV Using an iPhone, iPad, or Bluetooth Keyboard