Reverse Engineering Plex: Casting High Bitrate Video to Chromecast

I am a big fan of Plex Media Server— it has a great set of software, both server and client side, and is much easier to setup and use than alternatives such as XBMC. Attached to my ReadyNAS, my Plex server has access to 6 TB of storage.

I also have several Chromecast devices– they’re great little media streamer sticks that simply plug into your HDMI port on your TV. Using your phone as a remote, you can “cast” media from an app (such as Netflix, HBO, or Plex) and onto your TV. Chromecast also has a browser API, so Plex’s website also allows you to cast media to your local TVs.

There’s one major issue, however, in terms of compatibility between Plex and the Chromecast– and it’s not actually the Chromecast’s fault. Plex, for whatever reason, has decided to limit the maximum bitrate of a video file to 12 mbps when casting to a Chromecast device. If you have a powerful PC running as your Plex server, this is fine– the server software will transcode the higher bitrate videos on the fly to 12 mbps. But, I am using an old laptop that can barely transcode to 4 mbps, 720p video files, so the video playback stutters.

Plex claims this forced transcoding is due to “performance issues” with media over 12 mbps, but this is not true1. Not only have users casted media higher than 12 mbps from other apps, but I have successfully gotten around this hard coded limitation and streamed 20+ mbps video without a problem.

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How to Remove the 12 mbps Limitation from Plex to Chromecast

Update: As of October 15th, 2015 (about 10 months after I originally wrote these instructions), Plex has finally removed the hard coded maximum bitrate. This guide will remain for historical reasons, but you should now not be required to follow these steps to stream high bitrate video to your Chromecast.

I am an enthusiastic user of Plex, but recently I discovered that they were making the poor choice of hard-coding a bitrate limitation in their Chromecast application. Essentially, this enforced a 12,000 kbps (~12 mbps) limitation on media, meaning that anything that has a higher bitrate would be transcoded. This isn’t a problem when you have a decent server running Plex, but I am running it on an old laptop that can barely keep up with 4 mbps transcodes.

I was able to get around the hard coded limitation (the technical how-I-did-it is also available), and you can do it to:

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