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Remember video stores? They were annoying because you had to leave your house and potentially talk to a human, but they had a big advantage over the streaming services of today: everything was in one place. You didn’t need to know which video stores had the rights to which movies; you could just hear about a movie, go to the store, and grab it off the shelf. 

Streaming, of course, isn’t like this. You, the would-be viewer, need to become an expert on which shows are on which service. It’s tedious. 

We’ve talked about how to find where your favorite movies and shows are streaming, but even that advice turns into a list. And depending on which device you happen to be using, you’ll need to use a different interface to find the movies and shows you want. This is where Plex’s new “Discover” feature can help. 

You can install Plex on basically any device—whether it’s a smart TV, a computer, a tablet, or a phone—and use it to track down which services are offering which TV shows and movies. Even better, because Plex lets anyone set up their own streaming service, you can also search your personal media collection while you’re at it, as well as the collections of any friends who happen to share theirs with you. This simplifies finding specific shows or movies to the point where it’s trivial. 

How to find any show or movie on Plex

The Plex Discover interface, showing different options for watching The Office streaming online.
When you click any search result, you’ll see exactly where it’s streaming. Justin Pot

A little background: until recently, Plex was, primarily, a service for watching your own media collection—a way to turn a computer or NAS device in your house into your own personal Netflix. You could rip your DVD collection, record live TV, and then stream everything from anywhere. You could even share that collection with friends (I won’t discuss how legal this may or may not be). 

Within the past couple of years, Plex has started offering a few free movies and TV shows on top of this service, which have started showing up in its search results. Now the company has added Discover, which extends this search to include results from basically every streaming service on the market. To get started, sign up for Plex if you haven’t already. Part of the setup will ask you which streaming services you prefer.

[Related: 7 tools to make streaming simpler, smarter, and more fun]

With that done, search for whatever show or movie you want to to watch and scroll down to the More Ways to Watch section.

Click the result, and you’ll see all the streaming services currently offering that show. 

You can click any of the listed icons to open the show or movie in that streaming service—including any Plex servers you might have access to (yours or any of your friends’). Plex servers will be listed first, followed by any streaming services you’ve indicated you have access to. Or, if you’d rather purchase, you’ll find out where you can buy the entire show. 

The Plex interface, showing you where you can buy or rent a movie online.
We’re not sure what’s going on with Microsoft here. Justin Pot

It’s also a great place to do some comparison shopping, if a little buggy (Microsoft isn’t offering the entire run of The Office for $12.)

You can do the same thing for movies, and the results can surprise you. I, for example, just discovered a film I wanted to see is available for free on Kanopy, a service my local library offers. 

That’s really nice to know! You can add such movies to your watchlist, allowing you to create a list of movies you want to see across all your streaming services that you can access on all your devices. You could, for example, add a bunch of movies to your watchlist from your computer and then pull that list up on your TV when you’re ready to settle in. 

We’re not getting the video store back anytime soon, sadly, but with a service like this it’s at least easier to figure out what’s streaming where—and keep track of the things you want to watch, regardless of which service they live in.

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