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.
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?
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.
The 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.
After 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.
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
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.