Musings of a PC

Thoughts about Windows, TV and technology in general

Building a Media Centre Movie Library

When I bought a PC last year specifically for running Windows Media Centre, one of the uses was to act as the repository for the DVDs and Blu-Rays that we own. My aim was to transfer the contents onto hard drives connected to the PC so that we could browse the library and pick a movie to watch, without needing to delve into drawers and rummage through the cases.

My original concept for the storage configuration was to use an external storage system containing 5 x 2TB drives, arranged as a RAID 5 array. Unfortunately, the system turned out not to support RAID 5 so I then picked striping to maximise the storage usage. A subsequent problem with the array configuration led me to ultimately rethink the strategy and I’ve now set the drives up as individual drives. In other words, Just a Bunch Of Discs (JBOD):

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I’ve been gradually transferring my movie collection from optical discs onto the hard drives which is why the H: drive (Movies) is showing red – I’ve pretty much filled it up.

The drive usage is as follows:

  • C: – the Windows OS and installed applications
  • D: – storage for TV recordings, photos and music
  • F: – a backup drive for D:
  • G: – films recorded off TV and also TV series
  • H: – DVD movies, Blu-Ray movies
  • I: – more DVD movies and home movies
  • K: – a spare drive!

The reason for the somewhat haphazard arrangement of drive letters is a consequence of starting out with one use of the drives (i.e. striped) and then changing to a different layout.

The PC has four internal drives, connected to Intel hardware to create a RAID 5 configuration. I’ve discovered – the hard way – that the RAID array can get a bit “upset” occasionally, particularly if the optical drive overheats, and the system then spends several days rebuilding/repairing the array. As a consequence, I’ve started configuring Microsoft’s Sync Toy to perform regularly backups of crucial data (photos, music, documents) from the D drive to the F drive.

To access the collections, I use Media Browser:

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This is an extremely powerful, flexible and highly configurable plugin for Media Center. It is, in fact, one of the reasons why I love Media Center so much. There are a variety of themes you can use to change the appearance of MB and I’ve opted for the Diamond theme.

As I transfer the movies over to the storage, I then use Media Center Master to fetch the metadata for the new content from sources such as IMDB and TheTVDB.

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The metadata is used by Media Browser to enhance the visual experience of the library and also to provide additional functionality.

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For example, if I select The Incredible Hulk, I am taken to options and more information about that film:

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As you can see, I can then select the actor information for the film. From there, I can select an actor (e.g. William Hurt) and see if I have any other movies in my library with that actor:

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Further value from the metadata is realised when you use the Media Browser’s ability to group by genre:

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This makes it a real pleasure to look for something to watch based on the type of film you are after, e.g. comedy, thriller, etc.

For TV programmes, my wife & I have some firm favourites that we like to watch every now and then. Here, I combine the ability of Media Centre to record new programmes as the titles match (e.g. “Poirot”) with Media Browser’s enhanced metadata to store the episodes in their respective season:

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Media Browser tracks which recordings you’ve watched and marks them with a tick.

For programmes that I want to watch and then delete, such as FlashForward, I keep those recordings in the normal “Recorded TV” location and access them through the normal Media Centre interface.

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