The Building of a HTPC – Part 3 – Configuration

In the physical world, as opposed to the virtual one, I have lots of "things". Boxes of comic books litter the corner of the spare room and shelves upon shelves adorning every room of my home is filled with DVD’s, games and various music formats.

Over the last few years much of this has found its way to two hard drives that contain scanned documents and mp3’s of the hundreds of soundtracks I’ve obtained over the years.

This is a preferred method for quite a few reasons: it preserves rare vinyl and old comics, but it also allows for easy access and cataloguing. It also allows for creation of both audio and video playlists so I can, with one click, watch ever Godzilla movie ever made in chronological order without running the risk of damaging some of the extremely rare releases.

My virtual world, therefore, is almost as cluttered as my real one.

So with the HTPC built and running the next chose was to build the required databases. For this I would use three specific programs: KODI (for both music and movies), iTunes (for music and mainly to transfer files to my iPod) and finally ComicRack (for the masses of comics).

All three programs have a fairly simple system of adding files to their databases, as long as the files themselves contain the proper formatting, and it was this that would take the most times in creating a working HTPC system.

Both KODI and iTunes rely on properly formatted MP3 tags. These are called "ID3" tags and a multitude of tags can be used. Only a handful need concern the average user, and these would be: Album, Year, Artist and Genre. I would also include Composer and whether the album is a compilation of artists (as many soundtracks are) in my creation of tags but most need not concern themselves with these.

The amount of free software to edit MP3 tags would fill a website on their own, so I won’t go into that. Which you use is entirely up to your own tastes and I used several, sometimes in combination, to work my way through the thousands (probably tens of thousands) of files.

As the files were saved into folders for each artists and album it was relatively easy to take all the soundtrack LP’s and add the Genre tag, then specify more and more adding more tags as I went. The program I was using allowed me to sort the list by file location, putting all the files in a folder together, and this allowed me easily to tag by Artist, Album and Year.

The process was a long one, it took me over a week to add the tags, but I knew that diligence here would pay off and when I eventually allowed KODI and iTunes to scan the resulting folder of MP3’s easily 98% of the files found their way into the correct places in the resulting databases.

Another few hours of work on the offending files that were not properly catalogued and I ended up with two databases that would allow for easy access, playlist creation and convenient transfer to other devices (such as my iPod or iPad).

The comics’ database was created in much the same way, but this was easier as ComicRack is more intuitive and uses online database to intelligently consider the comic files presented to it. When it scans folders it will ask, when it is unsure, for a search term; and I found simply putting in a title and the publication year of its first issue would usually suffice, even with the most obscure titles.

Finally KODI would be used to catalogue my films and this, because of my labelling habits of always providing a plain English title and year, went almost without a hitch. Even extremely obscure titles, including unreleased TV series from Asia, were found with relatively little difficulty.

With the databases done and the system usable I began to watch the films the shows, and listen to the music and read the comics…

And stopped dead in my tracks.

Two problems presented themselves that would need immediate attention.

The Blu-ray player would play US discs but the change counter would tick down from 5 changes before the system would lock itself, and some videos displayed full screen while others were presented with varying degrees of black border around them.

I realised that this would take a little more thought.

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