Movies Reviews Technology

Emby Server Review: Why Emby Misses The Mark

Ant Pruitt
Written by Ant Pruitt

Emby Server is an attempt at beautiful, easy home streaming. But it’s public beta release is missing some key features. Here’s Ant Pruitt’s Emby Server review.

aNewDomain — There’s nothing like sitting in my favorite recliner, leaning back and consuming multimedia. Gimme some YouTube, Netflix or Hulu, a big screen and a cold beer and I’m happy. When there’s nothing to watch on those platforms, I just browse my own extensive library of content with some good media server software.

I’m always searching for the perfect streaming setup so I decided to review a new media server option called Emby Server. Would it make my lean-back experience more efficient and enjoyable? Turned out it didn’t. The core functionality just isn’t there.

Here’s my Emby Server review.

What is Emby Server?

Emby Server is a client-server software package that lets consumers host their legal personal copies of multimedia — music, video and picture files. The main computer or “server” will store all of the multimedia data, and the Emby Server software will serve it up to any clients looking for the data. That’s the general idea.

The Emby client software is an app you need to install on mobile devices and certain settop boxes for televisions, like Android TV.  I currently use Plex as my media server, so this all made sense to me. I know what to expect when it comes to getting access to my personal library effortlessly.

But though Emby has great intentions,the execution just isn’t there.

The UI
emby website user interface issue

Before I get into the features available with this software, I want to point out a user interface issue on the Emby website. The website isn’t bad looking, but the navigation is wonky. As an example of this, check out Emby’s “About” page. See the section labeled Cloud Sync?

When you click on that, or any section for that matter, the page just scrolls back up to the banner. Why? And what kind of website functionality is this? From the start this made me wonder what sort of situation I’m getting myself into. I mean, if the website is clunky, what will the app be like?

Core Features

There are three core features in Emby Server. They are:

  • Mobile Sync of your content. This let you keep copies of your files on both the server and mobile devices with the Emby Server app installed.
  • DLNA sends your content from your server to other DLNA-compliant devices on your internal network.
  • Chromecast support lets you send the content of your server to a television connected to a Chromecast.

The three features above really should be in any media server package. Emby has other features, certainly, but the three core features above need to be well executed if Emby is going to work well for me.

As you’ll see it missed the mark.

A Closer Look

Emby does offer some bells and whistles. Cloud Sync is nice, and its Cinema Mode shows movie trailers before my own movie plays.

Yes, the user interface of the server part of the software is clean and intuitive. It does what it is supposed to do, namely: serve up the data.

featuresThe client software, while not amazing, looks okay. Signing into the app with your Emby Server account is simple enough, and you’re presented with a layout of your content. Not bad. And then there’s playback. The load times for playback on my Nexus 6 and Sony Xperia Z2 tablet were standard, if a little slow. Once loaded, the playback was smooth on both devices. Emby Server offered a few onscreen options, such as subtitle selection and stream quality. These are pretty standard features for streaming video players. But two fundamental aspects of the software failed me.

The first glaring problem with Emby occurs during media playback. Ideally, when you consume a multimedia file of any kind, you’re presented with standard Stop, Play, Fast Forward and Rewind buttons.

If Fast Forward and Rewind aren’t present, you’re offered other buttons that let you scrub through the media by a value of roughly 10 seconds. That’s how it typically works.

But this isn’t the case with Emby. Nothing showed up other than the Pause button, which makes navigating the content once it starts almost impossible. You can pause to pee, but that’s about it.

Any decent media player, streaming or otherwise, has options for controlling your playback.

This is simple, and a big miss for Emby.

castAfter streaming shows on my mobile devices, I decided to test Emby on my television. The second problem arises immediately — I can’t get it to work with my television.

Emby touts Chromecast support in the features section, which is critical for any media server software these days.

I fired up my Chromecast and tapped the iconic Chromecast button found in most compatible Android apps. I was presented with a weird menu that displayed an option to connect My Device and my DLNA set top box.

The set top box is on the same network as my Chromecast. Why didn’t the Chromecast show up as a device? What the heck is My Device, anyway?

And no, it did not play on my wonky TV DLNA device.

really

I’m at a loss when it comes to Emby Server. This has the potential to grow into a nice piece of software someday, but it sure isn’t there yet. I liked that the server installation and configuration was simple. And true, the paid version of the account offers a few more bells and whistles.

But why risk paying for those so-called features if the basics aren’t working?

For now, I’ll continue to use Plex or dabble with Kodi. What media server software are you using to view your multimedia library? Leave me a comment below with your thoughts, or contact me via Twitter or Google+.

For aNewDomain, I’m Ant Pruitt.

All images and screenshots: Ant Pruitt

About the author

Ant Pruitt

Ant Pruitt

Based in Charlotte, NC, Anthony Pruitt is an IT pro and senior contributor at aNewDomain.net. Follow him at @ant_pruitt or as +Ant Pruitt on Google +. Email him at Ant@aNewDomain.net

  • Max Brown

    The fast forward and rewind actions do not need buttons on the Android app. This is achieved by swiping on the screen in the required direction; the longer the swipe, the bigger the jump. It’s very intuitive and much nicer than button clicking.

    I haven’t tried Emby with a Chromecast yet, but DLNA has worked fine for me; I’m using a Sony Bravia TV and obtained a nice augmented experience (thumbnails, actors etc.) as compared to my present DLNA server, a WD MyCloud. Even more important, the server transcodes files that were otherwise incompatible with my TV, which has limited file format support.

    So far I’m quite happy with Emby, which I’ve only been using for the past couple of weeks. I chose it principally because it has an app for the Sky Now TV box (it’s a stripped down, rebranded Roku LT available in the UK). That app’s interface looks very nice and works well. My kids love it. There are no on-screen control buttons either, but I can fast forward and rewind using the buttons on the remote control. Subtitle support is a very handy thing to have (English is not my mother tongue). I’ve tried Plex in the past but found it more complicated to use and heavier on resources.

    I say give it another shot, perhaps in a couple of months when the software has matured.

    • Enthous

      What profile are you using for your Bravia TV? I have a Bravia TV (KDL50W700B) and I find the DLNA interface atrocious. It’s just one big flat dump of all my media into tiny poster icons: no grouping, genres, actors, etc). I’m using the Sony 2014 profile (I can’t remember where I found it — it’s not provided by Emby) augmented to accept my TV’s identifier. I’m thinking of getting a Chromecast just so I can have a better view.

  • Jason

    I have used Emby for the past 2 years off and on testing between it and Plex. I was doing this until up to two months ago. For the past 6 months Emby has met all of my needs and it has been able to do it really well. I have an HTPC computer in the Living Room with the server software on it and a Flirc usb dongle for using my remote control. I use Kodi on the HTPC with the plugin for Emby and it runs seamlessly.

    I also have an Nvidia Shield in the Living Room for testing and occasional use.

    Upstairs I am running a Nexus Player and it streams my media from Emby perfectly. It even streams my Live TV with their core Emby TV solution if you have an HDHomerun. I haven’t had any issues.

    I also travel on occasion and run the Emby app on my Samsung Tab 4 with no issues.

    I prefer Emby because they are more geared toward listening to their users and getting features in very fast. I require something that will integrate my Live TV since I use an HDHomerun Prime with a cable card and Plex just does not seem interested in having anything to do with Live TV usage.

    When Emby releases their Emby Home Theater updated software I will hopefully be able to ditch Kodi as well.

    • serials.killer

      What system are you running Emby on ?

  • Dragon

    I don’t know – I’m using Emby just fine. Granted, I have a Roku 3 (mostly because I got sick and tired of the Chromecast stick and its limitations and I like my Netflix!)

    I personally think the user interface is just fine. The slider on the web-client works, forward/backward/skip/pause works like a charm on the Roku… TBH, I don’t see much difference between it and Plex.

    And quite frankly, “Smart” Televisions aren’t. They simply are not smart at all. They’ve come some way, but by goodness, to get anything to show on a “Smart TV” is a major PITA, so yeah, get a Roku for that, get a sleek interface, and save the money you wasted on the “Smart” TV.

    • jp

      what about the roku tvs

  • Shane

    There are some bugs but I don’t find it lacking in features. it is the ONLY media server that can replace the now defunct Windows Media Center. In fact, it has one huge benefit in that you can view live tv outside of your network. Windows Media could not. I use Plex, Kodi, HDHomeRun and WMC but Emby is my go to for all access media.

  • serials.killer

    Is Emby still the same piece of Junk ? I’m sick of trying it every six month to see if they finally fixed it.
    I’ve been trying to use it on a Mac OS X system (never on Windows) I hear that Windows user have a better luck than I do.
    Anyway, it does have big potential.

  • serials.killer

    Anyone tried it on a OS X machine ?

  • Lee D

    Nice write up. I do agree about the rewind button, it would be nice to go back10 seonds when you miss some dialogue. You can scroll back on Emby theater but it’s imprecise. Hopefully soon that will be added.

    I can’t agree with the review as a whole though. I like Emby a lot. I have the server and Emby theater on my HTPC in the basement and client apps on my living room Roku, Surface Rt, Android phones and it is all working well on my home wireless network and remotely also. I did find I can’t use a VPN on the server machine, no client apps connect at all & there may be a way around that but I haven’t hassled with it yet. Don’t strictly need a VPN on that machine. Plex “just works” so you have to give it the edge in ease of set up and reliability.

    However, I just like Emby’s UI better, it’s just better looking and it has better plugins like Rotten Tomatoes review integration, Box Sets that group movie series automatically which is awesome, Genre clean up, etc. Plex’s new Media Player for PC doesn’t even have search, an unbelievably head-scratching omission. I also get the impression the Plex devs are going to do it the way they want, their way or the highway, like it or not. Emby’s devs are far more responsive to suggestions made by users.

    I had to hassle with Emby at first to get it working but now it works great and I’m sticking with it.

  • SeattleCobra

    I use Emby server mostly because I still use WMC7. The problem for me is that I use OTA signals through HDHomerun and WMC still is the best PVR. I just purchased an Intel NUC skylake i5 that I’m thinking about downgrading to Win7, but I wish I had more alternatives for PVR. Windows 10 is a no-go due to MS spying. Not that I have anything to hide, but the idea of it just pisses me the hell off. I’d really like to use Ubuntu or Openelec, but the damned PVR setup is lacking.

  • VonMagnum

    This is just a plain sad SAD review (but it’s what I’ve come to expect in the Internet age). Did you even try the program other than your weak-arse attempt to use it with Chrome Cast??? You call yourself a reviewer? You’d be FIRED if you worked for me with this lame article about nothing.

    You don’t talk about the interface (“it’s ok” is NOT a review; it’s a rating and you better damn well learn the difference). Did you try the web interface? Did you try an App interface on something like FireTV or AppleTV4? Did you try the Kodi plugin that takes over Kodi database management and syncs playback to multiple devices (i.e. Vanilla Kodi on multiple devices all maintain their own separate databases so without adding a plugin, you can’t start playback in one room and continue in another. Emby + Kodi Plugin lets you do that (you can even continue to use Kodi’s codecs and playback controls and just let Emby handle the database management and image/meta data. How well does it handle DTS or does it handle DTS-HD MA? How well does it transcode compared to something like Plex? Are server side updates to add new media handled at a reasonable pace? How does it compare to something like stand-alone Kodi? Your review tells me hardly anything at all. It wouldn’t work with your television or Chromecast and you don’t know what “my device” is so you just quit and decided to write an article about NOTHING anyway? Did you make even the slightest attempt to find out? I remember when real reporters had to research, ask questions and do some reading before writing about something rather than plonk on the couch, scratch your arse and peck away at your smart phone.

    Thus, just telling me “It misses the mark” when you only scratched the surface strikes me as a half-arse experiment between moments of stuffing twinkies in your mouth and gulping a cheap macro beer.

    Note to self: Never visit this lame arse site again (where the ads take up 2-3x the space of the “articles.”

  • ucjb

    I use Plex and Emby. Plex is my main media server but it has live TV limitations that’s where Emby comes in. Emby has live tv FF pause and back natively unlike Plex which require add-ons and they suck. With this combo I get the best of both worlds.