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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Ultimate PVR

Since Openelec (currently at RC1) and my Shuttle are working so wonderfully well together I have been looking for further challenges.

(Side note - open issues do remain but they are minor:
- Mono files play without sound
- some AAC files seem to be missing the center channel
- Suspend/resume works but the remote can be lost on wake up after long periods of sleep (I leave my Shuttle on all the time anyway)
- Some apple trailers lose the sound and at 30fps seem a bit oddly timed
- other minor glitches with some YouTube content
- apparently there is a simple fix for some of this I have just found - set the audio output to optical and even though you're still listening via HDMI, the problem goes away - will try this tonight!).

All of these are really pretty insignificant for my needs in any case.

What I really love about XBMC is the library side of it - other than that, a popcorn hour or whatever plays video just as well. It's the library and the beautiful GUI that really make XBMC extra special for me.

Now, we currently have about 100 separate TV shows on our 'watching' list. Not all at once, obviously, but all in all we pull roughly this many in (and watch an average of 3 episodes of whatever a day). This is quite a task to keep track of, and to keep neat. We pretty much never re-watch stuff, but a lot of my friends/rellos pinch content from us by bringing over big hard drives. So I like the library to be neat and very readily traversable and accessible.

In addition, our movie library is currently at about 600, with 200 unwatched. We're a bit behind with that, but it's nice to have that sort of choice available when we do want to watch a flick. I've been using Ember Media Manager to keep on top of that, which works well enough, although it's kind of abandonware at this point and I haven't had much luck with the new 'revisited' version so far.

So - computers are good at automating stuff, so it was really high time to offload some (most) of this labour to the server so I could spend more time watching and less time fiddling and cleaning up. Enter Sickbeard and Couch Potato.

These are two auto downloading apps - you tell it what you want, e.g. movie title or tv series title, and by and large it does ALL the rest. Searches for & finds stuff, at quality levels you can specify, and then brings it down and automatically cleans up names, files things in the right places, creates XBMC .nfo files and pokes XBMC to update the library. Both of these basically find nzbs (CP does torrents too) and send them to SABnzbd for the actual downloading (or uTorrent).

It's seriously cool. Watching these proggies neatly fill up your library with ad free, hi-def goodness it pretty amazing.

does TV and is pretty much only friendly with NZBs (I use nzbmatrix as my source). Setup was a doddle - just pointed it at my various TV storage folders and away it went. It appears to work almost perfectly so far, although occasionally it marks something as skipped when it should download it, due as far as I can tell to date issues. But we're talking only one or two things from a vast library of 300 odd tv shows (with 100 'active' - i.e. ongoing now or in the future). It's even capable of going back and replacing old files with better quality ones as they appear. So you can watch in HDTV rip but later add the bluray rips - all without ever searching for anything manually, or browsing any new release lists.

Couch Potato is the same sort of thing, for movies. It is a little rougher so far - the odd crash etc, but it's working quite well in all and is good at the finding and download things part, but is a bit basic at the post processing. It renames OK but the .nfo it generates it just the IMDB URL and I want a bit more in it than that to speed up library creation/indexing etc - so Ember is still in regular use. But eliminating TV shows from all the processing has made a big difference. CP is even clever enough to progressively download better and better versions of things and improve your library as/when things become available. CP should take a leaf in this respect from SBs book and look at your existing library as part of its initial setup, as for now it only tracks things you put in it post install.

All in all this is very very close to the ultimate PVR. A fair bit of work to set this all up, from building a home server, wiring the house, building the XBMC heads, neatening up all the thousands of files in the library, etc etc. But at the end of it there really is the video equivalent of the pot of gold.

1 comment:

  1. Great post on sickbeard Sabnzbd+ integration. You simply can't beat it. There isnt a streaming site out there that provides the same quality and reliability. All that and ssl to boot.

    Great article and v cool blog. I feel a link coming on


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