Join Date: Dec 2009
Location: San Francisco Bay Area
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Plex is partly open source. The stuff like the PMS isn't though.
It's been a good year since I've used XBMC; I stopped using it when Boxee left the PC arena to concentrate on the Boxee Box. Thus, I'm a bit out of date on some aspects on it. Towards media playback, you're getting the basic package. They have a library with nice pictures and metadata features and media playback. There are few differences such as HD audio (which Plex may have recently added, but that only be through XBMCPlex) and ISO.
After that, there can be some key differences. For those guys who love customizing such as theming and skins, XBMC blows the doors off Plex. Not that it can't be done, but I think it may be easier and the community just for that is significantly larger. There is the live tv and dvr/pvr of XBMC. Plex has no dvr/pvr and one guy did a plug in for live with the HDHomerun. I haven't tried it in a while, but was will still early, odd navigation, and only worked on the desktop (possibly 8.5 or earlier). XBMC has significantly more plugins/addons and scripts. I personally didn't like how you actually installed them, so I never bothered.
Plex distinguishes itself from XBMC with it's structure. As mentioned, the back end server and front end client. One spot to setup your libraries and maintain them. If XBMC has that capablities, I never found it. Plex disintegrates the doors off XBMC. Although, XBMC is working on adding it and has working beta. I think Plex may be easier to add other devices such as various set top boxes such as Roku, AppleTV.. But since XBMC ir more open source, they can get more possible devices such as Rasberry Pi.
I don't really think one is better than the other. They just meet different goals. When Plex got streaming out of my LAN to an Android device, that was it for me. When someone did a Roku channel for Plex, it was added a nail to the coffin for XBMC for me; I had two Roku boxes at the time; it's increased to three. The webplayer, just some nice icing on the cake. I probably do my plex media viewing seventy percent away from home. The DNLA capabilities are nice feature too.