Add-In: Recorded TV Manager

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I have finally set out to do what I’ve said I would do since I started this Podcast.  Yes, I’m finally going to try a Media Center/Windows Home Server Add-In.  I love my Media Center and I love my Windows Home Server.  The problem is they don’t love each other.  Enter Rick Drasch’s Recorded TV Manager.  Recorded TV Manager is designed specifically for home networks that include one or more Windows Media Center machines which record television programming for later viewing ("time shifting").   Read the entire review after the the click.

I have my folder full of Add-In goodies.  There are three files.

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Here is my test environment.  I have a Vista Media Center PC which is my work PC.  I have an EX470(2Gig Ram) with 2TB of storage and a XBox360 acting as an extender.  All devices are on a wired network.  There are other PC’s and laptops but we won’t get into them.

My test lab consists of a dual boot Vista Home and Windows 7 Beta PC, a Ghost PC running on XP Home and another EX470(512mb RAM).

I tell you all of this because I don’t have a Vista Media Center PC on the test network.  What I’ll be doing is removing my PC from my WHS and joining the test WHS.  I don’t foresee any problems with this but I’m documenting it none the less!

The installation process starts with the Windows Home Server Add-In.  I was thinking that the install process would start with the Media Center PC but Rick has a nice install instruction set for you to follow.  http://www.fjdrasch.com/WHS/Help/Installation.htm

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The console will now close and you will need to open it again to see the new Add-In.  That’s the standard operating procedure with Add-Ins.

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I always wondered why reviewers didn’t clear the WHS errors and warnings before doing screen captures.  One of the PC’s connected to the lab server needs a connector upgrade and I’m too deep into this install to go do it!

We can now get to the fun part.  Configuring and using the Add-In.  When you click the Recorded TV Manager Tab in your console it brings you to it’s screen which is mostly blank.  We need to add a folder

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Clicking Add will start the Add Folder Wizard.

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This is the point where you tell the WHS where the recorded programs are in your network.  It is not where you want the recorded programs to be stored but rather where Media Center puts your recorded shows.  Typically it’s a the public account in your Media Center PC.  I had some rights issues but they were easy to iron out.  I do wonder if your average user will be successful in ironing out rights issues.  \\Dave\Users\Public\Recorded TV

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Here is the end product of the wizard.  I chose to change the name to reflect the PC where the recordings are.  This will make more sense when there are several Media Center PC’s in the network.

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You then finalize the wizard by designating it as a Media Center folder and if you want to make the folder read only.  The read only designation may help alleviate accidental deletes in the future.  The Media Center designation means that the folder will be monitored for content.

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All done and here is our first monitored folder.  Continue this process and add a target folder on your Windows Home Server.  You add target folders anywhere on your network as long as you can get to the folder with UNC slashes.  \\computername\sharename

This is where my instructions stopped. 

There is a lot of power in this one area so the Add-In’s author has some example scenarios on his website.  Collection Scenarios 

I see three buttons that I need to explore, Automove, Collections, and Settings. Lets see what is in the Settings tab.

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The Settings button of the Add-In opens your WHS Console Settings and the Recorded TV Manager Tab.  It’s here where you you can turn on Autocopy and Add rules to govern it.  There is also a log button called activity.  The rules for Autocopy look very similar to an Inbox rule you would use for Microsoft Outlook. 

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Here is the process which mimics Outlook rules and finally the finished rule. 

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Now that the Autocopy is on you will start to see messages in the Activity log.

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The settings tab has more options that deal with duplicate recordings.  I’m not going to touch these right now.

 

I’m real interested in the Automove button.  I know that I have several recordings on my Media Center and they have not been moved yet so lets dig a little deeper.

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I’m first greeted with the dialogue to “Automatically move new recordings.”  The target that is pre-filled in the drop-down box is the target I specified with my Autocopy rule.  My choice is next or cancel. After clicking next I am told that the Automove has been enabled.

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Automove and Autocopy are the heart of the Add-In.  Understand the next two paragraphs and you will understand the Add-In.

With AutoMove enabled for a Media Center folder, all new recordings on that Media Center machine will be automatically moved to a different location immediately after recording.  The AutoMove column in the folder list will display the destination folder name.  Enabling AutoMove on a Media Center folder does not move existing recordings, only new recordings.  Use the client application to move existing recordings.  Also, only folders with the Media Center attribute can be enabled for AutoMove because they represent the only source of new recordings.

Series Collections take precedence over AutoMove.  If a new recording of a series which is being collected is created in an AutoMove-enabled folder, it will be moved to the Collections destination folder, not the AutoMove destination folder.  AutoMove is implemented using AutoCopy rules.

Since we just mentioned Collections, lets take a look at that feature.  A series collection is when Recorded TV Manager "watches" the Media Center folders in your folder list looking for new recordings of a specified series.  New recordings of the series are automatically moved to another location in the folder list, in other words, they are collected for later viewing.  You can then watch the series in the Media Center interface in the correct order based on original air date.

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Clicking Collections brings up the wizard.  The known series list only includes the names of series recordings since the add-in was installed, so this list may be empty.  To populate the list with all current recordings, install and run the Recorded TV Manager WHS Client application on one of your home computers.  The client application will add the series names of all current recordings in the folder list to the SeriesInfo database,  They will be in the known series list the next time you start the Collections wizard.

The Collections Wizard has two features.  Watch for a collection and move it to a folder.  Collections rules come before AutoMove rules so if you want to move a specific collection to a specific folder this is where you do it.  The second feature of collections is the Watch feature.

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When the last recording of this series is deleted from the specified Media Center folder, then the next episode by original airdate, will be moved from the collection folder to the Media Center folder.  At this point, the first episode of the series is in the "Recorded TV" list in Media Center on the Media Center machine which was selected for watching this series.  Watch the recording as with any other recording in the Media Center interface.  When you are done watching this episode, delete it.  The Recorded TV Manager AutoCopy Service, which is running on the Home Server will see that you have deleted the program in Media Center and make the assumption that you have "watched" it.  The AutoCopy service will then "check" the episode to indicate that it has been watched and also mark it as the "last watched episode" of the series, which is kept in the SeriesInfo database.  (You can access the SeriesInfo database using the Recorded TV Manager WHS Client application.)  The AutoCopy service will then move the next episode, by original airdate, to the Media Center folder, and it will appear in "Recorded TV" in the Media Center interface.

 

As you can see there is a lot to this Windows Home Server Add-In.  There are many features and many hooks into other programs for even more features.  Serious TV watchers as well as those who record a series or who are interested in collecting a series will enjoy this Add-In.  Media Center/Windows Home Server users that want to move recorded content around your network will also find this Add-In handy.

The cost of this Add-In is $24.95.  Although it’s not free, it’s also not going to break the bank.  You are also entitled to the WHS Client application if you purchase this Add-In.  The Vista application is in Beta right now and does not have costs involved at this time.

 

Recorded TV Manager WHS Client

In order to organize shows and move already recorded shows from your VMC PC you need to install a client.  This client works on PC’s that have the WHS client installed as well.  If you have PC’s that are not on your WHS there is a separate client but why would you want to go and do that?

 

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Install was easy.  A couple of clicks and you have a Recorded TV Manager icon on your desktop.

 

When you start the client you will see the folders that you setup in your WHS earlier.

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This is a very simple program that doesn’t have a lot of wow to it but it has a hidden jewel inside it.  It is used mainly to supplement Recorded TV Manager.  With it you can copy and delete recorded TV episodes using drag-n-drop or context menus, ,and print listings of series collections. Oh and the jewel to the client?  You can play recordings directly off the server via this client.  You can even play your recordings on a non media center pc.  It also provides access to the Series Info database which keeps track of what episodes you’ve recorded and when you watched them.

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I like the way it lists information about the episode.  If you are connected to the network it makes it easy to watch programs without jumping through hoops.

 

Vista Media Center Add-In Beta 2

The install for this Add-In is easy as well.  The installer will register the application with Media Center and add a Recorded TV Manager menu strip to the Start menu and a Play Next entry point on the TV + Movies menu strip.  It will also add an entry point on the More Programs page which provides access to the add-in.  You can edit the Start menu in Vista Media Center by selecting Tasks >> Settings >> General >> Program Library Options.

Lets have a look at some screens.  Disclaimer:  Prepared to see some funky content in my recordings list.  In my defense, I have all my content moved over to my WHS.  I just clicked record on some stuff in order to test the add-in on my lab WHS. 

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Here is the strip that has been added to Vista Media Center.  When you click browse it takes you to your recordings that you have copied all over your network.

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The history tab will show you all the episodes of the particular series and where they are located.  Notice that my Curious George episode is on the TestServer.

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You also get a Program Library icon.

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This screen capture shows you the real value of Recorded TV Manager.  Notice in my recorded TV tab there are NO shows available.  Yet, in my Recorded TV Manager I see all the shows stored neatly away on my Windows Home Server.

 

Lets recap the features of Recorded TV Manager.

Recorded TV Manager addresses some of the original (and still) shortcomings in Media Center;

AutoCopy – Since you can’t directly record to a network share such as WHS, the next best thing is to automatically move new recordings wherever you want them.   Recorded TV Manager uses a rule-based architecture to implement “OnCreate” rules to determine what to do with a new recording.  For example, you can define a rule to move all new recordings to the WHS.  However, you can also define a rule to move a particular series to a different network location.

AutoDelete – If you are collecting series recordings and moving them to alternate locations, there will be a lot of duplicate episode recordings.  Recorded TV Manager will automatically delete duplicate recordings.

OnDelete – Media Center does not support network shares such as WHS, so you cannot “see” recordings in Media Center which have been moved to the WHS or other network location.  Using “OnDelete” rules, you can watch a series collection in original order from the WHS or any other network location.

Two Foot Interface – The Media Center user-interface using the remote control is not very good for navigating large collections of recordings (400-500 or more).  Recorded TV Manager provides a series-centric view of all your recordings in the 2 foot interface to assist in “managing” your TV recordings.  You can drag and drop recordings in a File manager-like interface.  Also, Media Center only orders your recordings by date recorded which doesn’t work most of the time, Recorded TV Manager orders things by “Original Air Date”.

 

Conclusion

In the author’s own words to me, “I think you have to be a bit of an enthusiast for collecting and watching television series on Media Center (“time shifting”) in order to use Recorded TV Manager effectively.”  I don’t think I could have stated it any better and I agree with him.  This is certainly an enthusiast product due to all the features and choices available to you.  However, if you are not an enthusiast I wouldn’t let that statement deter you from using this Add-In.  It’s core function is to move recorded content to your WHS and allow you to watch that content from your Media Center and Extenders and it does this very well.  It just happens to have a whole lot of other features!

I also thought the documentation and the website were a bit overwhelming.  There are several installs associated with the entire product and the links and instructions on the website can be a bit daunting.  The author has plans to update the website in conjunction with future software updates.

Pro’s

  • Watch recorded TV that is stored on WHS
  • Watch recorded TV on PC’s that are not Media Center PC’s
  • Moves recorded TV anywhere on your network.

Con’s

  • Multiple Install files for complete solution
  • Many instructions and many links to find them
  • Can you have too many options?

 

If you don’t mind, I’m now going to finish watching my Curious George episode.

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Recorded TV Manager – Find it here.

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7 Responses

  1. Clivens says:

    Dave are you going to use this ad-in on your every day home server and not just your test server?

  2. diehard says:

    I just wanted to remind listener that the Recorded TV Manager addin only supports dvr-ms format. So if you have upgraded your Vista machine to TV Pack (which now create the .wtv format) or use Windows 7, you will not see your recordings.

  3. Homeserver says:

    To Clivens:

    That's hard to say right now since I have not tested the other add-ins. I plan on using "something" to move my recorded shows over the WHS. I would also like some sort of management of the shows as well. I like the way this add-in handled a series and it gives you tons of options.

    If there were no other options I would be using it right now but I would like to be fair and test the other one.

    The last thing is that I trust that the developer will be there for you when you need it and that Windows 7 support will be there. Trust is a huge issue to me on my WHS and Media Center.

    Have you ever botched an episode of American Idol and had to answer to the spouse??? Not a pretty picture!

    Thanks for the follow up Diehard. Rick(author of Recorded TV Manager) is working on Win7/TVPack. Don't let that deter you in considering a purchase of this add-in.