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Digital Media App Plex Gets DVR Feature for Broadcast TV

Cord cutters just got a new favorite toy: Digital media center specialist Plex added DVR functionality to its web app Thursday, allowing users to record over-the-air broadcast TV and stream it to a wide variety of devices. The move not only gives consumers in search for an alternative to their cable DVR another solution to try, it’s also a big step forward for Plex as it looks to move beyond a niche of early adopters.

Plex’s new DVR feature requires the use of a networked TV tuner to tap into over-the-air broadcast TV signals. The company has partnered with TV tuner maker SiliconDust to support three of the company’s devices at launch. Consumers who own such a device and have it connected to a broadcast TV antenna or an unencrypted basic cable feed can now schedule recordings right within Plex, which then automatically adds recorded movies and TV shows to their Plex library.

Thursday’s release is being labeled a beta; scheduling of shows is initially just available through Plex’s web interface, but recorded content can be watched with any of Plex’s apps on TV-connected and mobile devices. And since Plex has always been able to do out-of-home streaming, accessing recordings on the go is supported out of the box.

Plex allows for some basic recording management, including the ability to choose only HD versions of a show, and a simple way to resolve recording conflicts. The app also taps into an existing library to suggest new content for recording as part of its discover feature. Already have an episode of a TV show in your library? Then why not get a season pass and record the rest?

Plex’s DVR is very much focused on building and accessing a library of recorded shows and movies. The app replaces the traditional grid guide that’s been used by cable DVRs for years with a gallery of box covers that can be browsed by genre or channel. In addition, it includes broadcast data into its universal search, making it possible to find movies and shows by title, actors, directors and more.

At launch, the DVR feature doesn’t offer any way to tap into live broadcasts, but Plex’s director of product and growth Jason Williams told Variety this week that the company may add live TV viewing over time. Plex also plans to add support for additional TV tuners, and eventually even open up the recording APIs to third-party developers.

Plex has long been a favorite among digital media early adopters who use the app to stream their digital media collections to a wide variety of devices. Plex apps are now available for Android, iOS, Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast as well as game consoles and many smart TVs. Basically, if something has a Netflix app, chances are high that the device will also be able to run Plex.

The media center app is loved among its user base for its sleek design, and the ability to stream content both in and out of the home. However, the app has also been held back by a key problem: Plex largely relies on DRM-free content, which means that some of its users have resorted to either ripping their own DVDs or downloading media from more questionable parts of the internet.

The startup has in recent years aimed to solve this issue by adding additional premium content sources to its app, and for example struck a deal with Vevo to add music videos. But with the DVR feature, Plex also opens the doors for a lot more content, including TV shows from major broadcast networks, which can be legally recorded for personal use.

At the same time, adding this new source of content should help more clearly define Plex’s value proposition. The app itself is free, but Plex offers a premium tier dubbed Plex Pass for about $5 a month, or $40 per year. In the past, this premium service was largely a way for early adopters to support the company and get their hands on the latest versions of its software before everyone else.

With the new DVR feature, which will be an exclusive to Plex Pass subscribers, it’s clearer what Plex is asking consumers to pay for — especially when one considers that competitors like TiVo charge up to $15 per month for DVR service.

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