Why Do I Need a Media Manager?Perhaps you’ve never heard of a media manager or if you have you’ve written it off as something for those obsessive types to tinker with. Media managers are invaluable for ensuring that what your media center displays is accurate, custom tuned, and ultimately shows off how awesome your media collection is.
So what is a media manager? A media manager is simply an application that catalogs your media and writes images and metadata to the directory the media is stored in so that media center applications can access that data in order to display the correct information for the movie (ratings, reviews, cast listings, etc.) and media for the movie (box art, movie posters, fan art, etc.).
Why would you want one if your media center already has built in media scraping? Most media centers do have some sort of scraper built in—a scraper is a small script that combs through online databases like the Internet Movie Database to look for media matches. Unfortunately media scrapers range from decent to downright crappy and correcting their mistakes using your HTPC remote or a media center keyboard is tedious. Further more nearly every media center stores the data it scrapes locally. You know what that means? If you turf your media center and have to reinstall, all that data has to be rescraped. Install another media center elsewhere in the house? Time to rescrape again or gamble at exporting and importing the data if your media center software even supports it. Scraping can take hours on a large media collection. On top of waiting for the media collection to scrape you then have to go through and correct the errors all over again. It’s tedious and there’s no reason you should do it.
When you use a media manager all that information is stored with the movies and television shows. If you add a new media center to your home network all that media center needs to do is read the data from your media shares and load it instead of grinding away for hours rescraping your media.
For the following guide we’ll be using Ember Media Manager, a popular and open-source media management tool. Ember Media Manager was originally created for XBMC media centers but you can modify your settings to scrape data for other popular media center applications. For this tutorial, however, we’ll be using it to configure media for XBMC.
Installing and Configuring Ember Media Manager
The first thing you want to do is skip the installation assistant tool found on the main Ember Media Manager web site. It’s a small 216kb installer that checks your computer OS version and then downloads the most current version for you. It’s been broken for some time (as official development on Ember Media Manager has been suspended). Instead visit the Ember Media Manager download directory at SourceForge and grab the appropriate version from the current release (1.2 as of this writing).
Once you have the appropriate file just extract the contents wherever you want to store Ember Media Manager, open the directory, and run it for the first time. No true installation necessary—you could call it portable, but since it is so intimately tied to your media collection unless you cart it around on your media drive it’s portable in principle only.
NOTE: We highly, strongly, passionately recommend you copy a few of your movie directories as a test. We selected a few movies from our collection and put them specifically in a folder labeled /EMM Test/. This way you can get familiar with EMM without risking making sweeping and hard to repair changes to your entire media collection. Once you feel confident with EMM then you can switch the source back to your main media folder. Once you’ve set up a test folder for your movies do the same for your TV shows.
After you set up the movie folder you will repeat the process for TV shows. Skip this if you have no TV shows. If you do, heed our earlier warning! Make a test folder! You’ll select the source in the same fashion and check the following options in the settings menu:
If you’re curious about the structure of the XBMC thumbnail system you can check out the full guide to the thumbnail system in the XBMC wiki here.
Scraping Your Media Collection with Ember Media Manager
Let’s start off by using The Nightmare Before Christmas as an example. It’s sitting in EMM but it has absolutely no data; it’s just a raw movie file. That’s not very interesting and it gives our media center absolutely nothing interesting to load up. Let’s do a single scrape of that individual movie to show you how the process works. You won’t have to individually scrape every movie, mind you! Ember Media Manager does a great job bulk scraping. If you’re new to this business of media organization and scraping, however, we want you to see the process in step-by-step action. Pick a movie and right click on it, we’ll be using The Nightmare Before Christmas, and select (Re)Scrape Movie.
There is one downside to mass scraping. EMM just picks the most popular movie covers and fan art for you. If you’re a customization fanatic you’ll want to manually scrape each movie. We like to strike a compromise; we let EMM do the bulk scrape, then we look through the listings and see if there are any covers or movie posters that we’d like to change. For the most part the default picks are OK with us and allowing EMM to do the heavy lifting saves quite a bit of time.
When you’re done with movies, it’s time to do your TV shows. TV shows are done almost exactly the same way with a few minor differences—the process is so similar we’re going to skip with the step-by-step screenshots and just give you a run down of the differences.
Scraping for a big show with multiple seasons and hundreds of episodes can take a few minutes—Buffy the Vampire Slayer took a good 10 minutes worth of scraping, for example. Unlike movies where EMM needs to scrape only a few images, TV show scraping involves grabbing multiple seasons worth of cover and fan art, episode summaries, episode screen grabs, and additional information. Thankfully because you’re scraping the data and storing it with your media, you only have to do it once! Just like with the movies if you scrap a TV show and you’re really happy with the results don’t forget to right click and Lock the entry so that it doesn’t accidently get rescraped in the future.
If your test of Ember Media Manager’s movie and TV show scraping abilities went well, go ahead and copy over all the folders from your test directory back into their respective media directories. Then go into the menu bar and click Edit –> Settings and in the Files and Sources section under both Movies and TV Shows, change the source location from your test directory to your main directory. It’s an extra step or two we know, but it’s far better to learn the ropes with a powerful tool like EMM in a test directory than it is to make a mess of your entire media directory. Once you’ve changed the source directories you can scan the rest of your media collection to bring everything up to speed and enjoy your gloriously organized collection!
Viewing Updated Media in XBMC
In the above screenshot we see the listing for The Nightmare Before Christmas as seen in XBMC’s default skin (Confluence) under the Media Info view. All the information we saw in Ember Media Manager and the great fan art is present. If you click the menu button you can view the additional information such as the cast listing.
Hopefully this will answer all your questions,if not, drop me a note on my facebook page.Also check out XBMCs forums for help as well. This has a bit of a learning cureve but well worth the results and the knowledge gained to be more involved with your media center !! PEACE !!!! :-)