What good is a streaming media server if it doesn’t stream media? No good, that’s what.
Some time after installing the Plex Media Center plugin on my FreeNAS file server, I tweaked some settings. One of those was “Transcoder temporary directory”, which I set to be some folder I created inside my Plex chroot jail. A few days later, after forgetting all this, I attempted to play some movie through the PlexWeb player, and the player just sat and spun forever. So I opened XBMC and attempted to play; that worked just fine. On a Windows machine, the Plex standalone player worked just fine, also — until I changed the streaming settings to disable Direct Play and Direct Stream and have Plex standalone request a lower bitrate (to go over my cable modem). Playback ceased to function. So, what gives?
Turns out, the transcoder was failing silently, so it wasn’t feeding any lower bitrates to either the Plex standalone or the PlexWeb player. So among the list of settings I was jabbing at I cleared the Transcoder Temporary Directory setting and boom the playback started working again. Huh? It took several minutes of digging into the jail chroot to figure out that the problem all along was a Unix file permissions issue — the folder that I had created through FreeNAS to store the temporary transcode files was owned by a user that wasn’t the Plex software’s user and by a group that the Plex software was not a member of, and the “other” permissions were read-only. Huh! So I chmodded the folder o+w and tried again. Success.
This simple fix was a slap to the forehead after monkeying around with settings for weeks, trying to find logfiles, restarting the jail, even reinstalling the Plex plugin in FreeNAS. It seems the obvious fixes are not so obvious to the oblivious.