Plex’s latest beta features are a modern solution to a modern problem: having to search through HBO Max, Netflix, Disney Plus, and three other services to find something to watch. The company announced a new “Discover” feature, which collects and recommends content from various streaming services, and a universal watchlist that collects everything you want to watch all in one place.
The Discover screen works like the home pages of most streaming services, giving you recommendations on what to watch next, but with the ability to display content from many different catalogs. However, it shouldn’t overwhelm you with selections that you don’t have access to. There is a setting that allows you to choose only the services you have. Plex has been working for several years to slide into position as a legitimate streaming one-stop shop — and an ad-supported free TV business model — that the new menu may finally be able to deliver.
There’s also a new ‘watch from these locations’ feature, which helps if you know what you want to watch, but not where to find it. It adds a section to the movie and TV show info page that shows which streaming services offer that content. On some versions of the app (which is available on devices like the Apple TV, Fire Stick, Roku, PlayStation, smart TVs, etc.), Plex can even send you directly to the streaming service from the page.
The list of streaming services that Plex supports with these features is immense to say the least. It features all the big names, such as Hulu, Disney Plus, Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO Max, and Peacock, along with — no kidding — nearly 150 others (many of which, like Martha Stewart TV, I’d never heard of). Basically, if you can legally stream what you’re watching somewhere on the web, Plex can probably tell you about it, with a few exceptions. And, of course, you can also have it search your Plex libraries of self-hosted videos or other media.
Plex’s support page states that “not all platforms allow the user to be sent to the associated streaming app.” Reports on Reddit show that Roku is a large platform that cannot link. When I tested it on my Apple TV, it seemed to work fine, but it was clearly in beta. I was able to open links to Netflix, Hulu, and Apple TV Plus, but got an error when opening links for HBO Max and YouTube. Plex said the apps weren’t installed even though they were. On the web version of Plex, it worked for every platform I could think of to try (although when opening things up on YouTube I just went to the search results page for the title rather than the actual page for the movie itself).
Personally, this might eventually lead me to use Plex. I recently experienced what the company brutally calls “the streaming battle” where my wife and I spent an hour figuring out what to watch. Most of the features Plex adds here aren’t unique – the Apple TV has built-in universal search and lets you create some sort of watchlist (although these features have very limited support for content on Netflix). Google is good at telling you which services a show or movie is available on, and other smart TV platforms also have universal search features. But it sure would be nice to have everything in one place and in a relatively neat interface that works on many different devices.
These features should be available for free on most platforms, as long as you’re using the most up-to-date version of the Plex app. I didn’t have to sign up for a beta program to access it, but you may have to follow Plex’s instructions to find them depending on your settings.