The streaming hub app Plex has long been popular with a certain type of media consumer – one who would prefer to rip and stream their own purchased content from a home computer rather than relying on subscriptions. While Plex has been experimenting with new features and media options for the past decade, this week the service is attempting to use interactive media for the first time. Like in games.
Plex Arcade is now available as a paid add-on service and promises that you can stream your existing classic game library from a home PC to a variety of Plex-compatible devices. That means you can put your favorite classic game ROMs next to your music, TV and movie libraries and transfer them to compatible devices, either at home or remotely. For some users, this is a dream scenario: centralize your classic games on one device, then access them anywhere instead of having to manually set up every phone and set-top box with emulators and ROMs.
The first day of Plex Arcade is bumpy, however, and even if the service fixes the issues, it's a clear reminder of why streaming classic games from a hub computer is nowhere near as convenient as streaming other media.
It seems that you are looking for the sub-FAQ
So many Atari 7800 ROMs that can now be streamed from my home PC to some (but not all) compatible Plex devices. This involves a mix of the ROMs that come with the Plex Arcade service and my personal library.
Information landing page for a specific game. Although this game is officially licensed as part of Plex Arcade, its informational role comes from a public source.
Included Plex Arcade Games, page 1 of 3. Arcade tariff here.
Included Plex Arcade Games, page 2 of 3. Atari 7800 Plan here.
Plex Arcade Games Included, Page 3 of 3. Atari 2600 Plan Here.
As soon as you subscribe to Plex Arcade, a new tab will open in your libraries, although you won't get a notification within the app that the feature is still unlocked.
This is sometimes confusing because the Atari games you subscribe to cannot be made available until you create your own library for them.
Failed to start the first time when downloading a 400MB file.
More bugs as the Plex app itself doesn't make it clear that users need to download RetroArch cores separately in order to take advantage of the advertised features of Plex Arcade.
We should start with the service's biggest red flag: a $ 4.99 monthly fee, or $ 2.99 / month if you're already paying for the Plex Pass (which comes in monthly, yearly, and "lifetime" payment tiers). While we understand that there are fees for the add-on service if you are on the Plex Free tier, the additional fee for existing Plex Pass subscribers is looping. One way Plex explains this fee is that the service includes 27 games published by Atari for arcades and consoles with the usual Atari hits (Asteroids, Missile Command, Centipede) and some 7800 oddities (basketbrawl), Fatal Run , Motor Psycho).
However, the Plex Arcade monthly fee does not contain any references to a growing library of licensed arcade classics (the slowly growing library from a la Nintendo Switch Online). At this point, the cost to these users is becoming a hope that Plex Arcade will provide the flawless drop and play experience you can expect after ripping the DVDs of a TV series and then using an automatically sorted Plex Interface accessed on a number of Plex-supported platforms (Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Android TV, iOS, Android). But Plex Arcade doesn't quite work that way.
The service's sales pitch goes like this: "Browse old school favorites from the Atari library or add your own game ROMs and let the game begin!" The last part sounds appealing: our own ROMs (which are easier to rip yourself these days or to buy as part of licensed ROM collections). Why wait for a Rights Handler to move my favorite classic SNES or Game Boy titles to a modern platform when Plex can help me move my own ROMs from my computer to other devices? This sales pitch suggests an instant process and you will be led to believe that if you point your Plex Media Server app to a directory of your own game ROMs (after installing Parsec as a prerequisite) . When I did this, I waited for the scan to complete and then found that my Plex mobile app had gotten some nifty new tabs: "Arcade", "Game Boy", "Nintendo Entertainment System", "Sega Genesis", "Super Nintendo Entertainment System" and "Nintendo 64". (ROMs from my GameCube, Wii, Xbox, and PlayStation 1 folders were not picked up.)
I excitedly tried booting games from each of these platforms onto my smartphone, only to get an endless looping "loading animation" on a black screen. Confused, I went to the Windows interface to see if I could boot the games from there. At this point an error message was displayed: "The kernel mapping file is missing a kernel for (console name)." Good thing I did this on my Windows rig as it at least pointed me to the problem; The lack of detailed warnings in the Plex smartphone app seems like a blatant omission at this early stage in the service's lifespan.
I looked through the service's FAQ and was confused. So, I reached out to Plex salespeople who referred me to a sub-FAQ on emulators. It turns out that while Plex Arcade is smart enough to recognize ROMs and immediately store them in appropriate "platform" tabs, it otherwise forces users to source their own emulation kernels – especially those developed for the RetroArch interface were. Plex even suggests that users download RetroArch right away and use the core automatic update system and then drag and drop those core dll files into the Plex UI (and that includes showing the AppData folder, hides Windows by default). which Plex doesn't clarify for brand new users). Then you'll have to manually edit an XML file and use precise metadata tags to tell Plex Arcade that you actually downloaded those cores. (A single typo can destroy the entire file.)
Why can't you do all of this, Plex?
Adjustment issues, latency
Let's take a look at the mobile interface. This beautifully designed splash screen implies drag-and-drop playback for each console listed, but as the article explains, the app doesn't work that well.
Asteroids in a vertical orientation.
Asteroids in a horizontal orientation. When you connect a compatible gamepad, this screen disappears.
Super Breakout is more difficult to play in the vertical orientation because the screen display obscures the bottom of the screen – and there is no way to adjust it.
How do you feel about these standard graphics settings? You cannot select custom screen ratios or resolutions.
Blurry but doable.
Ninja Golf, at least, doesn't need the best latency to have fun.
I thought it was a par 4.
In better news, Plex Arcade does a good job of capturing metadata about the ROMs you load into the user interface, including welcome images and sortable information (year of publication, publisher, genre), though the information gathered is a hit-or-miss – and apparently sourced from igdb.com which has a fair amount of typos depending on the game you're looking for. And the app plays well with the usual bandwidth of Bluetooth gamepads, as well as options for direct-connect controllers like the Razer Kishi.
Once you're in a game, the problems keep increasing. Most serious, Plex Arcade doesn't offer any useful emulation options. Do you want to remap controls (especially for N64 games that are not mapped to Xinput)? Change rendering resolution? Select screen ratio? Add or change visual filters? Create midgame "save states" that you can then transfer from one Plex device to another? The answer to all of these questions is "no". (Up to the "Memory State" point: Plex Arcade seems to support Midgame "freezing" and coming back later, but I've seen this crash inconsistently and there is no way to manually trigger a reliable memory state.) It's about size too The screen cannot be adjusted depending on whether you are using an attached gamepad or controls on the screen. In some games, like the included Super Breakout Arcade version, the on-screen control grid obscures the gameplay when you play in a vertical orientation.
Perhaps worst of all, at the time of going to press, the on-screen control system is mapping its "D-Pad" to RetroArch's D-Pad functionality … which means none of the included Atari games will work. Whether they are Atari's consoles or arcade versions, these 27 games require joystick mapping rather than D-pad mapping within the RetroArch ecosystem. We hope you enjoy just shooting guns and going straight forward in Asteroids because steering is out of the question until we hear something else.
Streaming from a Plex server to a phone makes the most sense if you want to play high-end games that a phone may not necessarily be able to emulate. However, Plex Arcade is inherently limited to the simplest classic game consoles – likely because newer consoles often require ripping a BIOS file (or encoding your own) in order to work, and this crosses a legal limit. The emulation platforms supported by Plex Arcade don't have to go that far. The most "advanced" supported system, N64, already has a number of solid emulators designed for mobile SoCs.
Aside from the lack of configuration options, the Plex Arcade sales pitch is pretty ridiculous from a gameplay standpoint. The smartest thing about nervous, classic gaming on the go is installing emulators and ROMs directly. The platforms Plex Arcade supports are (for the most part) simple enough to jailbreak or page-load emulation content. RetroArch has long been optimized for Snapdragons and other mobile-friendly SoCs in the world.
Due to problems loading the RetroArch cores, I was only able to test the included package of Atari games on the first failed day of service. As in, the simplest tariff imaginable. However, these games all suffered noticeably from input lag when trying to use the Plex app on an Android phone connected to my router's 5 GHz band. All of this for an Atari game library that does not exceed 1.2MB of hard drive space. (Strangely, Plex Arcade doesn't bother to encrypt its Atari library of 27 games, so you may be able to sign up for the service's seven-day free trial, copy and paste the 1.2MB files elsewhere, and then cancel .)
Not a good sign of a paid service
Plex Arcade could potentially fix the above issues in future updates, especially as each RetroArch core's options are made available. And anyone who's already a Plex user can understand the allure: transferring classic ROMs to supported Plex devices, trading in some latency for convenience.
The fact is, however, that Plex Arcade started with the Bonkers requirement that users search hidden directories, manually edit an XML file, and get their own RetroArch cores in case they want to go beyond the service's 27 built-in games. And these users have to pay a monthly fee for this privilege. That public, paid launch plan doesn't make me confident that Plex has an easier, plug-and-play plan up its sleeve, at least not in the near future.
Until Plex convinces us, we will continue to alert interested retro gamers to RetroArch installs on their preferred mobile devices or set-top boxes. And even if you're interested, maybe wait until you can take advantage of the one-time, seven-day free trial of the service until Plex Arcade gets more of its features.