Why is so difficult to find a good, feature rich way to catalog movies? It seems like there are two camps applications focus on — either ownership or viewership, but few applications do both well. On one side there are applications like Delicious Library that allow you to scan in barcodes with a webcam (very nifty feature) but lack some of the usefulness for movie application. On the other side things like FrontRow are glorified directory browsers. What else is out there? There are some applications that come strikingly close to this actually. If you’re on Windows, and you have an Xbox360, you might be amazed by how feature rich My Movies is. It’s an app that ties in with Windows Vista Media center and adds a new menu to media center extenders (like the Xbox 360). From this menu you can browse movies you’ve added by title, director, actor, category, rating- – basically anyway you’d want. Through the setup you can also link a movie to a folder. If the movie is played it’ll play all video files in that folder. Simple enough setup, but enables you to have an in depth movie management system. This sounded great to me for a while, and it was! I had a few hundred movies of mine cataloged, I was able to browse them to see what to watch, but at that point I’d have to slip in the DVD. Not the clearest line of thought. So I tried the next logical step, ripping some DVDs and associating them for playback on the Xbox 360. The problem is, my 360 and my computer doing the streaming are both hooked up wirelessly. If you’ve ever tried streaming HD content in this way you’re familiar with my problem. Unfortunately it’s not just HD content. Even compressed divx movies aren’t able to handle this setup although my network bandwith is only slightly below the “acceptable for HD content” bar in the diagnostics. Honestly though, the 360 has a few issues with streaming content – as does any console or the Apple TV. You’re limited by what you can stream to it, and when it comes to files with subtitles (like mkv files) you’re probably out of luck regardless. Unless you setup an entire media PC. So, a media PC. I’m not talking about a PC that acts like a DVR so that all TV you watch go through your computer, but a computer whose sole responsibility is storing and playing media in a way that makes it easy to find what you need. It also would have to be down by the TV in my case, unless I opt to run some wires through my walls (which sill wouldn’t fix the issue with a 360 and invalid media formats). But what to use? Since I’ve been gravitating towards macs recently I’d probably opt for that as my media center machine. Mac Mini’s are capable of outputting in 1080p (unless I’m mistaken) and with very respectable sound output as well. For a living room PC it’s hard to get much better than that. It would cost quite a bit more than an AppleTV unfortunately, but the flexibility might just be worth it. As for software there’s either FrontRow, CenterStage (once it’s complete), or XBox Media Center for Mac OS X (XBMC OSX). FrontRow is pretty slick and responsive. It also works well with the mac remote which is a plus. Xbox Media Center is currently blowing everything else out of the water though. If you’ve never checked it out it’s worth a look. Although I don’t find the interface to have that mac touch, you can update the look and with with different skins. I’m no expert in XBMC just yet, but I’m impressed by just how many features are available, as well as the essentials I’ve been looking for. Subtitles aren’t on the sidelines with XBMC, they have plenty of settings and options for this. You can even configure the color, font and position of them to your preference. With FrontRow you’re unable to change the subtitle during runtime, but with XBMC this isn’t a problem. XBMC also has a few tricks up it’s sleeve before version 1, such as MAME integration. Where are all these files going to live? Ideally I’d have a local network attached storage device somewhere in my house (probably next to my router) that all machines in the house could access. But since it’s the HD over wireless that got me into this mess, it make sense for whatever HDs I have to sit by my media pc in my entertainment center. For this I’ve been looking into external hard drive cases that hold multiple drives. For this the idea so far has been Drobo , a surprisingly feature rich not-quite-raid device that holds 4 sata hard drives. I say not-quite-raid, because it has it’s own raid like system. It’s better to watch the videos on the Drobo site than listen to an in depth explanation, but this satisfies my cautious side by not having a single point of failure for the entire library. At $499 for a Drobo and another $199 for a network device though, Drobo isn’t cheap. The downside is that it’s limited to USB at the moment, so speeds are somewhat slow compared to esata. If you’re wanting to read some reviews (both good and bad) about Drobo, check out Neweggs Drobo Product Page . The nice part of having Drobo with a network adapter though is that it could always be on, and on the network, but my media PC could be shut down when not in use. The Drobo drive could always be shared through the media PC, but having that computer always on doesn’t seem like an ideal solution. At the moment I don’t have a mac mini, a media center pc and or a Drobo. This is just the ideal media center setup that my research has led me to. I’m curious if anyone has any suggestions for improvement on this, or sees any gaping holes in my setup? I might just start piecing this together bit by bit over the next year. As hard drive capacity increases it’s becoming increasingly possible to throw an entire collection of DVDs/Blu-Rays on a single server. It’s fun to dream.
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