Ok, I'm back to this subject again, after having spent the last few weeks cleaning up all my file names, removing duplicates, etc. I'll give a quick rundown of my immediate impressions of the various apps I'm trying. Keep in mind these are very far from "reviews", I have fairly specific criteria, and I can't spend a lot of time with each app so I may be missing something that does what I want. I'll apologize in advance, this is going to be a looong one, but hopefully someone finds it useful.
As always, I'd love feedback on other people's favorites, experiences with these apps, solutions to problems I ran into, etc.
To start, here's an outline of my situation and needs:
- I have a media machine hooked up to my TV and stereo for movie, TV and music playback; it's a normal PC with HDMI output and about 20TB of data storage available
- First and foremost I want a media organizer; playback is a bonus - when you're dealing with 100s or 1000s of media files, you stop wanting to browse by title alone and start to want genre, summary, rating, and other info at your finger tips
- I have TV, movies, and music to organize, but I'd settle for separate programs for each
- Organizing movies is top priority, TV shows 2nd, music a distant 3rd (I find a simple folder organization sufficient for now)
- I have access to live TV through a tuner card, but I very seldom use it and don't really care if the app has PVR capability
- I have existing software players that I like for all my formats but would be willing to use a fully integrated organizer and player system *if* it has a nice full-screen UI and meets other requirements (and provided it plays all my media of course)
- The system needs a UI that works well on a 50% screen from 8-10 feet away (this potentially eliminates or lessens the value of many of the straight cataloging apps)
- I need the organizer to automatically pull as much info as possible from online databases (e.g. IMDB) and ideally it would allow choice of which DB to pull from (on a per-file basis even better), or allow for merging multiple sources intelligently
- I need it to have reasonably smart name parsing, or at least allow me to choose what online data source title I want to associate my local file to, and it needs to give me enough info to make a smart choice (i.e. not just give me a list of matching titles, for which there may be 10 of the same name, but different years, actors, etc.)
- It should be fairly intelligent with ignoring or flagging files for later review if it can't reasonably figure out online associations for them, in other words if its level of certainty of the file name association to the online title is not high, it should not fill out the info
- If the auto-tagging functionality associates a file with the wrong info, it should be easily correctable or removable
- It should allow manual editing and filling out of the same data that would be pulled from an online DB, and manual updates to data already pulled from online
- If it's just an organizer, it *needs* to allow direct linking to my files for playback and support playing by the player of my choice
- If it's a full organizer and media playback system, it needs to play all my formats with full features, including subtitles, multiple audio streams, and chapter markers
- It needs to support sorting by genre, and preferably ratings as well
- It should have a good search system
- It should be fairly customizable
- It should have good support for things that are half-way between a movie and TV show, like a mini-series such as Children of Dune (3 parts)
- It should support multi-part video files, such as "CD1, CD2" of a movie rip
- Support of additional services such as Netflix is a bonus
- Something that supported Win7 Libraries would be especially nice
And this is what I've tried and my thoughts on each:
First there are the full-screen Windows Media Center type apps (HTPC apps), most notably XBMC
, but also including MeediOS
and several others, and of course Windows Media Center itself.Windows Media Center
I'll just get this one out of the way. Windows Media Center (WMC) is ok. The UI works at a distance, and the presentation is not bad. But it doesn't have very good real organization and cataloging functionality by itself. There are plugins that make this much better, but I haven't really messed with them as I'm not a big fan of WMC itself. I also prefer a player interface with more control and functionality (getting subtitle support for example requires additional work). So I didn't really see it worthwhile to keep trying to bolt on stuff to WMC.XBMC
The grandaddy of many of the other apps out there that are apparently forks of XBMC. It has continued to evolve fairly nicely, and at first glance (and first use) it is one of the nicest and most applicable to my needs. It supports movies, music, photos, and more. It can fetch info automatically from various databases (only one at a time). It scanned all my (large) movie folders and assigned data to them from online matches reasonably quickly, with no errors or crashes. It also appeared to be able to play pretty much every video I had. The problems started to appear when I wanted to edit and correct any of th automatically scraped info. I couldn't find a way to do it. There may well be a plugin that does this, but so far it has stumped me.
I also found some quirks using the UI that I wasn't that happy about, but they may be just to do with me using a keyboard and mouse rather than a remote as I think it's designed for. But certainly I think there are issues with intuitiveness, for example if you right-click a file/entry you get a menu and on this menu one option is "settings". Now this isn't settings for this file, it's settings for the folder. In fact, several of the other options on the right-click menu are for the folder, maybe even half or more, and you can't actually get settings for the folder any other way but visiting the System Settings area which requires a lot more mouse clicks.
I've also found the ability to edit titles to be inconsistent between views, and the settings are not necessarily self explanatory. There is some documentation, but it's hardly comprehensive. All this being said I haven't dived into the forums and asked about anything yet, and XBMC seems promising so I'm putting it on a list to follow-up with a bit later, assuming I don't find anything else that works better first.MeediOS
I should preface these comments by saying this is app is considered "alpha" status now, so it's not fair to expect too much from it. Nonetheless it's considered to be a good option by many, especially if you want configurability, and it has some nice features that sound pretty useful (e.g. the "Jukebox module"). I think it's a result of it being alpha that it is at present rather complicated to setup and configure, but it seems to be getting better.
First impressions are that MeediOS (MOS) is a bit complicated. It has a separate settings app that you have to run to configure it, which is rather annoying. Many of the settings are thereafter available in the UI, but not as clearly presented or easily navigable as in the separate config app. lThe settings themselves are extremely extensive, which is nice from a theoretical control standpoint, but the actual layout is a bit confusing. Fortunately the layouts are at least somewhat standardized, so even though there's a largely extraneous (for my needs) "permissions" tab on virtually every setting panel, I know I can ignore it. There are a few other points I got hung up in the config, particularly figuring out how to add media to my library, but eventually I figured it out. I also ran into an "unspecified error" upon scanning some of my media, which appeared related to fetching actor info, but that wasn't too big a deal. It is alpha software after all.
In actual use, it looks quite nice. Most of the subset of movie folders I scanned had seemingly correct info, though the auto-scraper had problems with e.g. series of movies (Beverly Hills Cop 1-3 for example). There were also occasional issues with seemingly playing the wrong movie, though I think this may have been due to a bug allowing viewing of the properties of 2 movies at the same time. Overall the UI is good, but I didn't have time to get used to the default controls, nor customize them to my needs. The default setup is not well oriented toward a mouse-based approach as far as I saw, though that's not surprising. My HTPC control setup isn't necessarily typical.
The biggest problem with MOS right now (aside from complexity) may be that the built-in player functionality does not work that well. Fortunately it supports external players through a plugin, so this is not necessarily a show stopper. But it does mean that basically it just gives you a nice full-screen UI to *browse* media, and then you need to drop out of it to play anything. Not quite ideal. Still, I found it better than MediaPortal (below) surprisingly enough (MP is supposed to be more mature than MOS). It's not quite a complete solution yet but it has a lot of promise, so I'm mostly including it because of its future potential. Unfortunately it seems people have been waiting a long time for improvements and they come slowly...MediaPortal
Well, like MeediOS, this one is complicated. One thing that put me off a bit right away was the need to install MySQL5. It's great they have a robust, standards-compliant DB structure, but at the same time I don't really care to run an SQL server on my media machine. You can use another SQL server I believe, but I don't have one setup, so I had to go with a local service version.
Also like MeediOS, MediaPortal (MP) uses separate config apps, but in this case few - if any - of the settings are available in-app, so the config app is more of a necessity. This is not fundamentally a bad thing, but it does make for more "find setting that needs changing in app, exist and configure, re-start app" workflow, which I find annoying. MOS at least let you change a good portion of the settings in the app, even if they weren't always presented in the best way. Most apps let you just go to a settings area, change something, and see the effect. MP also has a lot of config settings, like MOS, though perhaps a tad less confusingly presented (no seemingly extraneous tabs for example). On the plus side, unlike (seemingly) XBMC, they all appear to be in one place, but there's a lot to digest, and you won't know what many things do until you understand how MP works, what the UI looks like in-app, etc.
Anyway it seemed promising, but ultimately it just wouldn't play the majority of my files, at least not out of the box (many are MKV). I fiddled with a few settings and found some threads indicating you had to install various codec systems (e.g. FFDShow), but I've already got codecs installed and working for the rest of my media players and I wasn't about to fiddle with things just for testing. Then it crashed trying to scan one (just one of 9) of my video folders. It also listed files by drive/folder rather than all together, which kind of defeats the purpose of having it catalog them all. This along with a few other rough edges has put me off it for now. There are of course many plugins to do various things, and no doubt ways to get it to play MKV, but the bottom line is I'm not going to take the time to mess around with all that unless I really have to (i.e. there's no other better option). So far XBMC seems a good deal better than this...
Now on to the "cataloging" apps, akin to Media Monkey, Amarok, etc. for music. Examples include J. River Media Center (although it has some Media Center functionality), Personal Video Database (PVD), and others.J. River Media Center
I don't really understand what the big deal about this is one is. Everyone seems to speak of it like it's the Cadillac of media center/organizers, but it doesn't even support good remote data checking out of the box. There are plugins that do it, but some are not well supported or abandoned, and the simple fact that there are multiple plugins to check and test put me off it. This functionality should come out of the box.
Other than that issue it does seem to be a reasonably nice app, and includes functionality for video, audio, pictures, and more (e.g. notes). There is a good amount of customizability and the UI is decent, but it just really didn't stand out to me over free options. It's not something I would pay for (though I'm happy to pay for something that fulfills more of my needs if it does it well).Mbase 2
This one is free and others have recommended it before here on DC. Mbase 2 is your basic cataloging application. It's a decent little app with good basic functionality and a reasonable UI (I don't like the way it switches "modes" for adding movies, but once you figure out how the menus work it's fine). Though it has a built-in player, it's very basic, and it does not have a full-screen UI or other Media Center type functionality. Fortunately it also allows you to "open" the file with the default OS file type association, which opens my normal media player. Lookups for movie info were fairly fast and easy. The show stopper for me was that I couldn't find a way add more than 1 movie at a time. When you have hundreds of movies to add, it becomes a daunting task, and with many other options out there that do have mass-import and lookup functionality, it meant there wasn't much point in me continuing to test it.Collectorz.com Movie Collector
This is a commercial app, so it better be good if I'm going to stick with it (i.e. better than the freeware PVD below). I was limited in the trial version to 50 movies, but I think it was enough to know that this app doesn't fit enough of my needs. It has a nice UI and works pretty smoothly overall, including mass-import of movies and fetching of data. It also links to my default player, which is a major requirement. The UI is a bit small (text size) for working on a TV, but it's do-able, especially if I don't have to mess with it as much once everything is cataloged. I did increase the font size in the settings, which helped, but it still wasn't ideal - the actual layout of the app is not designed for this use necessarily.
Anyway the biggest issue I ran into, which others have mentioned, is the need to use the proprietary Collectorz.com movie database, rather than IMDB, Amazon, themoviedb.org, etc. Of course I understand why they don't use IMDB or Amazon (licensing costs for the data), but themoviedb.org is free to use and used by, I think, many more than just the collectorz.com customers, and therefore a more useful database. I found the collectorz.com database needlessly confusing and cluttered, just as others have. I don't need to see 50 different versions of a single movie just because some people had slight variations or entered the data a little differently. It seems to me there are many alternate sources of data they could be supporting, but they're not. I don't begrudge them use of their own DB of course, the data is sometimes rather specialized, but at least having the *option* to access other databases would be nice. They could simply limit it to free ones, for example.
The DB issue is not necessarily a showstopper, but ultimately I just didn't find anything in this app that was a significant enough improvement over free options (notably PVD) to want to actually buy it. The attitude of the devs on the forums also didn't encourage me that much - not mean per-se, just a little... snippy, I guess. Certainly it's an app with lots of functionality, and might be particularly of use to those who have more of an interest in cataloging physical as opposed to digital media (which is more its originally designed purpose). For my needs it just wasn't a close enough fit.Personal Video Database (PVD)
PVD is the app I earlier mentioned that I had been using but had set aside due to some quirks. Having now revisited it, after some cleanup of my video file names and some further updates to the software, I think it's the best option at this point. It seems to have most of the important functionality of Collectorz and Mbase 2, it can import data from a variety of sources and has lots of optional plugins to expand this capability, and its name matching works well enough. More importantly, you can edit all the data if something is matched up incorrectly.
That being said, it doesn't seem to be able to auto-select movie info as often as I'd like. It will do so when there is only one option I believe, as in the case of an entirely unique title, but this is often not the case. When more than 1 option is found it presents you with a list of possibilities, and only after you select an association will it auto-download the data. This is a lot more likely to be accurate each time and forces you to verify each decision so you know when there are problems, but it is a bit more work and can be frustrating when getting started. Still, I figure if I can just get over the hump of properly associating all the data, I'll be home free and adding an occasional new movie won't be a big deal.
As far as the original issues I ran into, I've decided just to try addressing those by changing file names, or removing and re-adding items with different search criteria. No solution seems perfect just yet, but I think I can make PVD work. That being said it was after a week or two of cataloging and tweaking in PVD that I gave up last time, so I may still run into something that makes me set it aside again. If the aforementioned problems become more serious and widespread, it may be necessary just to abandon this project for now. But I'll at least try to put my feedback in to the PVD dev in the hopes he can improve it for my needs and those who have similar usage to mine.
*Phew*! After all that I guess I should have called this a mini-roundup, heh. But honestly I don't feel like I gave every app an equal testing, and what tests I did do are very specific to my particular needs. I also didn't test every app out there, or even every app mentioned in this thread (and others on DC). Having come back around to my original choice from many months ago, I must admit I'm a little disappointed to not discover a "miracle solution". But I see many promising apps, ever-evolving, and am hopeful in particular that one day something like MeediOS will be mature and stable enough to do all I need.
As an aside, I feel like a partial solution to the difficulty of auto-associating movie data should not be that difficult to come up with. The few apps I saw that allowed you to customize this functionality relied mostly on regex or wildcard customization to help translate file names into searches for the DBs. I actually spent lots of time renaming files so I wouldn't have to rely on this, but even still I run into a few name-related mess-ups. More importantly however is that even once the title is interpreted correctly from the file name, there still may be multiple matches, or no exact match. Here's where I think things could be handled much better, and where no app seemed to really have much intelligence.
First, provide controls that allow a user to specify criteria for the DB matches that will increase or decrease "confidence" or "weight" of a match, similar to how SpamAssassin and other tools categorize spam. A good example is that most of the movies I have in my collection are fairly mainstream and are generally rated well, or at least by a lot of people. So this gives me several possible controls to control confidence weighting by, for example: Titles with high user ratings are higher weighted, Titles with more user reviews are weighted higher, Titles with more complete information are weighted higher, Titles with posters/images are weighted higher. These are fairly simple criteria and easy to check, and from my experiences with all these apps they would solve at least 50% of the identification issues. Or here's a no brainer: No titles that are in the future! I saw at least 20 multi-title issues due to titles that *haven't come out yet* (often remakes of older ones, of course). These could easily be filtered out.
Combine these kinds of controls with a "confidence" threshold under which titles would perhaps have the most likely data pulled but also be flagged for later review, and you have a big improvement. Embed the actual confidence rating in each title's data and let people sort and search on it later, and long-term progressive refinement of people's collections becomes a lot more powerful.
Also, being able to simply specify an IMDB, free DB, or other URL or ID makes a lot of sense, but I don't think I saw *any* apps that supported this. Or at the very least none supported it in their auto-scanning mode when an unclear identification was found. In PVD for example if it doesn't know for sure what a title is, it will give me a list of possibilities. I can select one and click a link to view it in IMDB, which is an improvement over many other apps' approach. But there is no option to specify my own link/ID, and it's kind of surprising that this doesn't already exist as it seems so obvious.
I suppose I should suggest these things to the PVD dev...