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Guide to building a Home Theater PC – Part III

On the previous article we’ve set up the basic settings for the OS and set up MediaPortal as media frontend solution for our HTPC. This time around I’ll cover all the tools required for the perfect movie and tv show download automation.

The downloader: SabNZBd

SABnzbd is an Open Source Binary Newsreader, incredibly easy to use, and works practically everywhere. It makes Usenet as simple and streamlined as possible by automating everything. All you have to do is add an .nzb. SABnzbd takes over from there, where it will be automatically downloaded, verified, repaired, extracted and filed away with zero human interaction. This will be our downloader. All other services will end up feeding SABnzbd with their nzb files for it to download.

You can download SabNZBd here. Make sure to check run at start-up and register nzb files, if this will be your main tool. Oh, in case you don’t know, you should have a Usenet service provider account in order to be able to access the Usenet servers. Otherwise you won’t be able to download any content.

Setup is quick and simple. You basically need to set your Usenet service account and general access info. If you are a member of Newzbin or Nzbmatrix, you may enter your username and password so it can fetch their nzb’s. Another important aspect is specifying categories and specific folders for them. These will be used by CouchPotato and SickBeard when sending new nzb files SabNZBd, and you also get to keep your folder hierarchy cleaner.

Another important info that you’ll be needing later on is the API key. This key is basically an identifier that you’ll provide to other services so that they can interact with sabNZBd, or in this case, send nzb files for download.

When sabNZBd finds a nzb file in the target folder (specified in Settings), it downloads it immediately, placing it temporarily in the incomplete downloads folder. When finished, it moves the files to the Complete folder and executes any post processing you specify in the Settings pages.

You get to see all the info you need during download, and after. All the steps are shown as they are happening: download, repair and extract. Disk size, available space, network speed and download quota, it’s all conveniently there.

Movie Automation: CouchPotato

CouchPotato is an automatic NZB and torrent downloader. You can keep a “want to watch”-list and it will search for NZBs/torrents of these items every X hours. Once a correct release is found, matching the correct quality, it will send it to SABnzbd (the web based download client we’ll be using) or download the .nzb or .torrent to a specified directory.

You can download CouchPotato here. During install, make sure you set it to run at start-up  This will enable the software to start searching your media as soon as your HTPC is on. After install, you can run CouchPotato by clicking on the recently added shortcut on your Start menu. Your browser will open the web based administration interface and initiate the setup wizard.

You will go through several options. Just fill in the fields the way you want. On the providers section, however, my advice is for you to register for one of the services. This will drastically increase your search hit rate, as well as speed.

Another important area is the folders section. You should again specify where your movies are to be downloaded in order for CouchPotato to fetch them when they are finished. This folder is the same as specified previously in sabNZBd. After download, CouchPotato moves the files them to their final destination. Typically, your media folder, where MediaPortal is based. You can leave to CouchPotato folder and file renaming. It will ease the process of import in MediaPortal scanners and scrapers.

Take some time to get acquainted with the settings and the procedure. You’ll find it to be quite simple. I won’t get into much detail otherwise this would become more suitable for a publication. What matters for now is the backbone of the entire workflow.

So once you get things configured, adding a movie is as simple as typing its name in the search box. You’ll see a suggestion box as you press the enter key. Clicking the desired movie and quality will add it to the Wanted list. This means CouchPotato will be searching for that title from now on, on the providers you specified. You can change the desired quality at all times. Extra options become visible on mouse over.

This is a clean and effective UI. Definitely looks and behaves like a polished software. I’ve been using it for a year now and it keeps getting better.

TV Series: SickBeard

Sick Beard is a PVR for newsgroup users (with limited torrent support). It watches for new episodes of your favorite shows and when they are posted it downloads them, sorts and renames them, and optionally generates metadata for them. It currently supports NZBs.org, NZBMatrix, NZBs’R'Us, Newzbin, Womble’s Index, NZB.su, TVTorrents and EZRSS and retrieves show information from theTVDB.com and TVRage.com. You can download it here.

There is no installer simply extract the files to the folder where you want Sick Beard to be or if you’re using svn just check out the trunk. Then you should make sure to run sickbeard.exe or sickbeard-console.exe (this one has a console to help with debugging) in admin mode. You can just double-click on it or run it from a command prompt:

  1. Start -> Run,
  2. cmd,
  3. cd c:\sickbeard\folder\,
  4. sickbeard-console.exe

The first time you start Sick Beard it will open its home page in your browser. Bookmark this page so you can return to it later. Note: closing your browser window does not close Sick Beard!! Just because you’re not looking at it doesn’t mean it’s not running. In order for it to run every time you power on your HTPC (for it to do its thing right?) you should add a shortcut to the Startup folder.

Enter your settings in the configuration page. Add your provider (probably the same one you added in CouchPotato for movies), and the folder where sabNZBd will place your series – it would be the folder of the “series” category we specified earlier. You will also need to specify how Sickbeard will handle nzb’s it finds. In this case you should configure for sabNZBd by adding its URL and API key. You can get it in sabNZBd’s general settings page. Once you have filled out your settings, restart your Sick Beard.

All there is to do is start adding some shows. To add a show start by specifying the show’s directory. You’ll need to specify the show name and choose it from a list. When you add the show it will download all the info from theTVDB.com and scan the folder for existing episodes – this could take several minutes.

You can also mass-add shows by specifying a root folder and having Sick Beard add every show within that folder using the “Add Shows From Root Dir”.

If an episode doesn’t get processed for whatever reason you can manually start the post processing by going to the “Process Episode” page and entering the folder containing the episode (it must contain ONLY ONE episode). Once you get a TV Show added, you can select it to see all the accounted seasons and episodes up to date. Its up to you to define those you wish to download, from the already aired ones.

Don’t forget to check for the desired quality, as this option tends to be missed often. You can change it after adding a TV Show on the Edit menu (pictured above). You can switch between Standard Definition, High Definition (typically 720p) or Any.

Conclusion

So all there is to do now is sit back and relax. In their due time your favorite TV Shows and movies will knock at your MediaPortal doorstep. It’s indeed a great setup and I’m still wondering which manufacturer will be the first to launch an integrated solution such as this. Probably no one, given the content protection constraints and licencing.

Here is a complete list of all the articles on building the perfect HTPC:

Part I – Hardware

Part 2 – OS and Front-end

Part 3 – Software and Automation

Let me know if you have any questions, or even how it went in your case. I’m always searching for more and better ways of improving the overall Home Theater PC experience. Enjoy!

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