Monday, August 16, 2010

Getting previously recorded TV into Media Center Part 3: TV Library

I've been trying a new plugin for organizing TV Shows lately.  It's TV Library by Jack Luminous.  It's still in a beta state and there's active development going on, but it's looking very good at this point. It organizes shows based on the meta data rather than physical location.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Getting previously recorded TV into Media Center Part 2 : Media Browser take 2

Now that I have metadata for my shows, Media Browser is much more attractive:

I tried adding folders where I have shows on different drives, and I don't think Media Browser is handling that as gracefully as I'd like.  As you can see from the screen shot, the CSI shows are showing duplicate entries.  That's a shame, really.  Media Browser looks really good, is very polished, and really works well with the metadata from Media Center Master.

Getting Metadata With Media Center Master

Now that I had files with names and a directory structure that other programs will recognize, I set out to find a good metadata gathering tool.  I believe Media Browser has the capability to look up metadata for files, but it didn't seem to work for me.  I also looked at YAMM to get metadata, but it seems to be geared more toward movies than TV shows (the web site says that TV show support is still "in the works") so I decided it is probably not the tool I'm looking for.

I looked around and found Media Center Master.  It's available at and can be installed via their add-on which adds yet another level of simplicity to this tool that's already very simple to set up and use (at least to get started with.)   There's also a good article on called Master Metadata with Media Center Master that gives a decent overview.

Using the program was as simple as installing it, pointing it to the folder where I had put the renamed files, and turning on auto-scan.   It went through and downloaded meta data for everything it could find.   It got almost everything right.    There were a couple of series that it had trouble identifying correctly, which is why I like the feature to set TV series detection overrides:

You need to go look up the show manually on and find their ID, then you can tell Media Center Master to use that ID for the series and it will download the right metadata for it. 

Friday, July 2, 2010

Renaming Beyond TV Files For Media Center

It's probably not surprising that there have been a few different projects to rename files created by Beyond TV so other media managers can make use of them and find their metadata.   I looked over the ones with the most recent activity in the Snapstream forums and decided to give a program called btv_to_xbmc a try.  It uses a configuration file to make it more flexible than most and allows setting of specific TVDB Ids for resolving duplicates.  It also has options to create folders by series and season and move the files to the proper directories. 

It's also written in PHP which is a little unusual for a program like this, but that actually worked to my advantage.  "Out of the box" so to speak, the script replaces spaces in episode names with periods, and puts a period between the season and episode numbers as well.  I had a hard time finding a metadata manager that supported that format, and even when I found one, I was still seeing episode names like "CSI.Crime.Scene.Investigation" which I wasn't crazy about.  I was able to modify the character substitutions in the configuration file to no longer replace spaces with periods in the series and episode titles.  I was still seeing the season folders with a format of "Season.1" which was also how they were displayed in Media Browser, so I wanted to change that.  It turns out that I needed to modify the scripts directly since the season folder naming format was hard-coded.   I'm not much of a PHP programmer, but I was able to locate the relevant code easily enough.  It was a bit unsettling looking through the code since the author is in the habit of putting his/her initials in the code and it turns out we have the same initials.

I've run this script on a fairly large chunk of my collection now and it works very well.  It does a good job of finding the metadata it needs and organizes the file by series and season.  One thing I hadn't thought of before, though, was that it doesn't know where to find the commercial identification files ShowAnalyzer creates for Media Center, so I've got a bunch of orphan files I need to clean up.   I'll need to modify the btv_to_xbmc script to find and rename those files before I run it on the more recent files.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Getting previously recorded TV into Media Center Part 2 : Media Browser take 1

Media Browser is a very popular free add-on for managing media libraries.  A lot of people seem to like it a lot, so it might be just what I'm looking for.  I must say, however that initially I wasn't terribly impressed.  When I first set it up, what I saw of course was the same old directory and file structure that I've been trying to avoid.

It would be nice if all media applications used the same metadata format, but unfortunately, that's not the case.  And it turns out that Beyond TV's naming convention isn't terribly helpful in that regard since all of the other media applications I've looked at expects to see season and episode numbers in the file names.  Beyond TV doesn't even put that information in their metadata.

It looks like if I want to get serious about this I need to bend to the demands of the software and rename and reorganize my files.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Getting previously recorded TV into Media Center Part 1 : Native Media Center Functionality

If I'm going to sell Media Center to the family, they need to be able to play back all the shows recorded with Beyond TV as easily as they can now.   In Beyond TV, we usually have the shows sorted by series even though they are stored in different drives and directories, the user can't tell.  The other sort orders that get used frequently are by date recorded and original air date.

I'm not very familiar with how Media Center organizes recorded TV, but I have had poor results trying to get other software to present shows recorded in Beyond TV sorted by anything other than physical location and filename. I have a fairly small number of folders, each with hundreds of files in them, so that doesn't really work well with my current setup.  I'm hoping I can find a solution in Media Center that can integrate TV shows recorded in Beyond TV with those recorded in Media Center as seamlessly as possible.

My first inclination was just to add the Beyond TV recording directories to the Recorded TV library in Media Center.  Unfortunately, Media Center doesn't recognize the Beyond TV recordings.

Next I tried adding the Beyond TV directories to Media Center's Video Library.  The first thing that jumped out at me is how incredibly slow Media Center's video library is when trying to display a large number of files.  The second thing I noticed is that once again, the files are organized by directory.

So, I started investigating third party options.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The joys of connecting a PC to a TV

About a year ago I decided to build a small PC to run Beyond TV Link for the TV in the living room.  That's  a secondary TV for us as the main TV with the HTPC connected to it is in the family room.  I had previously had the old HTPC connected there when I upgraded it a couple of years ago, but the motherboard died and I was just getting around to replacing it.  Of course, after I built the new PC it didn't get connected to the TV right away, instead serving as a test PC for Windows 7 and a few Linux distros and it even served as a kitchen PC for a while before making it to its new home a few months ago.

The old PC was connected to the TV via the VGA port since it used an older video card (a Radeon 9800 SE) that only had VGA output.  That worked fine while it lasted so I didn't expect any issues with the new PC.  The TV, by the way is an Insignia 26" 720p LCD that's about two and a half years old now.

The new PC or "Link Box" as its referred to in the Beyond TV community used a Zotac GF9300-D-E mini-ITX motherboard that has integrated NVidia 9300 graphics and includes HDMI output.  When I originally connected it to the TV I used HDMI.  I was rather disappointed to find out that the TV didn't have a mode that eliminates overscan from the picture.  I used NVidia's correction tool to create a custom resolution that fit within the viewable area of the screen and called it good.  I wasn't terribly happy about it, but it worked and the BTV Link picture was acceptable.  The bigger issue with is is that I needed to always remember to turn the TV on and set the input before turning on the PC.  Otherwise, the output would never show up on the TV.

This was all good enough until my daughter wanted to watch a Blu-Ray movie in the living room last night and I realized I hadn't reinstalled Power DVD with the last OS refresh.  So, I went ahead and installed Power DVD and that's when the fun started.  Power DVD wouldn't run because it requires a minimum screen resolution of 1024x768 and the custom resolution I was using to make the picture fit was less than that.  I may have been able to bump that up, but then the overscan would have put the task bar completely off the screen and that wouldn't have been very user-friendly.

As an aside, why 1024x768?  The standard 720p resolution is 1280x720 and apparently that's the highest progressive resolution my TV would accept over HDMI, so is Power DVD not meant to be used with TVs instead of computer monitors?

Be that as it may, I know the TV's native resolution is 1360x768, and that resolution satisfies Power DVD's requirements.  So, I dug out the old VGA and audio cables and connected the computer to the VGA input on the TV.  At least I wouldn't need to deal with the overscan issue that way.  I was certain this would work, after all, it worked fine with the old computer.  But it didn't.

When I rebooted the computer now with VGA instead of HDMI everything looked good initially.  I saw the boot splash screen, then the Windows startup animation just fine.  When it was time for the Windows desktop to show up, though, the screen went blank.  Then the TV's "Missing Input" indicator came up.  I tried again.  Same result.

I connected a second monitor to the PC to check the resolution and settings.  Lo and behold, with the other monitor connected, the TV works fine.  It doesn't even matter if the TV or the monitor is the primary display.  Weird.  Apparently there's some sort of handshake that's not happening between the PC and the TV.  I've heard of issues like that with HDMI, but never VGA.

So, I decided to try connecting both the VGA and HDMI inputs to the TV.  At first that didn't help.  Then I set the option to clone the picture to both monitors in Windows.  Now I can use the VGA input on the TV with no overscan and it works just fine.  It doesn't even matter which order I turn on the TV and PC any more.

Of course, the downside is that  now I need to run 3 cables from the PC to the TV and waste an HDMI port, but I wasn't using it for anything anyway.