Roku gets a new Plex app that looks nothing like the old one

Good news for Roku users: everyone’s favorite media center app maker Plex just launched a new Roku channel that makes you forget you’re using a Roku: Gone are the endless rows of square cover art and the complicated, nested information architecture that’s present in so many Roku channels, and also dominated the look of the old Plex app.

Instead, the new Roku app is using big imagery, wallpapers and a great-looking full-screen music player, and offers access to Plex’s new content discovery features as well as trailers and enhanced multi-user support. It’s visually very close to the Plex apps on Sony’s Playstation, Microsoft’s Xbox or Vizio’s smart TVs.

This is how an album looks like with the new Roku app...

This is how an album looks like with the new Roku app…

The app is currently only available to paying Plex Pass subscribers, but will eventually make its way to regular Plex users as well. And right now, it only supports movies, TV shows and music, but support for photos, playlists and channels will be added soon, according to a post on the Plex blog.

... and this is how it used to look like.

… and this is how it used to look like.

Plex is also currently working on integrating music videos from Vevo into its apps. The company first showed off this feature at CES, and executives told me at the time that the goal was to eventually make iTunes obsolete.

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Plex showed off a bunch of new music features at CES in las Vegas this week, where Plex Chief Product Officer Scott Olechowski told me that these new music features represented a big step forward for the company. “People expect their stuff to look like Netflix,” he said, adding that Plex has done a good job in the past to deliver on this expectation in the video space. For example, last year, the company added online movie trailers and recommendations to its app, allowing users to browse and explore local movie and TV show files just like they would when browsing an online video service.

In the coming weeks, Plex is now going to bring a similar experience to the music space. The company has teamed up with Gracenote to add recognition and tagging of files and help people organize their music library. Plex also uses Gracenote’s data to automatically recommend music from a user’s personal library, and even generate playlists that kind of work like Pandora stations.

Plex 3

And to add some eye-candy for everyone who is using Plex on the big screen, it also shows related music videos from Vevo, which can be watched completely without ads. “This will get music to the place where people don’t need iTunes anymore,” Olechowski said. He added that Plex is even considering to eventually add paid music downloads, or team up with a music subscription service, to give users a chance to grow their music library.

Plex is getting Vevo’s videos through a partnership with the music video service, which costs the company some real money. That’s why the videos will only be available to paying Plex Pass subscribers. Plex first introduced this paid tier two years ago, initially just providing paying users with early access to new features. But with music videos and trailers, Plex is looking to turn Plex Pass more into a true premium experience, and get even more people to convert. Olechowski told me that the company already gets about 80 percent of its revenue from Plex Pass subscribers.

Plex 1

Plex currently employs 42 people all around the world, and most of them have been working to bring Plex to a large number of devices, including most recently the launch on the PS3 and PS4. This year, the company also wants to improve the channel experience for integrating third-party online content in Plex, and give users better tools for their personal photos and videos.

User-generated content is “a deceptively hard problem,” said Olechowski, adding that most people are likely to have a mix of cloud-based and local media that is hard to manage. Plex wants to solve that problem by integrating more cloud storage systems over time, and help users to explore and rediscover their personal videos.

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