Add-In Review: Recorded TV Manager Part 2

Recently, I took a look at the Recorded TV Manager 3 client application.  This is a free application that is installed on a Windows Media Center PC.  You can use this application to move recorded programs from your workstation to a networked PC (your WHS!) and, in my opinion, provide a better database view of recorded material.

Prior to reading Part 2, it would be in your best interest to take a peak at Part 1.  And since I have already discussed much of the preliminary who, what and where’s in Part 1, it is time to simply get right into the installation and use of the remaining portions of Recorded TV Manager.

Software Installation 

There are 3 separate components of Recorded TV Manager one must install to see how the complete package works.

Copy the file RecordedTVManagerWHSAddin.msi to the D:\shares\Software\Add-Ins folder on your Windows Home Server.

From the WHS console, open the Settings dialog, and install the software from the Add-ins tab, as shown below.

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As part of the install process, a Set Service Login dialog box will open.  Enter the username “.\Administrator” and your Windows Home Server Administrator password in the appropriate fields.

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Note that the leading dot backslash (.\) in the username is required. 

The AutoCopy Windows Service Application will be logged in under this account and requires administrative privileges.

Click OK.

Click OK on the Installation Succeeded dialog box.

At that point, the WHS Console closes.  Reopen the Console and locate the Recorded TV Manager tab.

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  • Recorded TV Manger needs to have access to the folder that TV shows are recorded to.  In Windows 7, the following picture illustrates the settings required for TV Manager to be able to “see” the appropriate Windows 7 folder.  In my case, the only actual change that I was required to do was to change turn off Password protected sharing.

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  • Add at least two folders to the Folder List, a “Media Center” folder (which is the folder on your Media Center machine where recordings are saved) and also the Recorded TV Share on your WHS (which is NOT a Media Center folder).  You can add as many folders as you want, but you need at least two to define Collections and other AutoCopy rules.  Note that folder paths must be selected in UNC format.

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First, add the folder located on your Media Center PC.  Click on the Browse button.

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And locate the Recorded TV folder on your Media Center PC.  Click on the OK button

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I kept the default name here.

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Make sure you check Media Center Folder for this folder.

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The result:

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Next, add the folder located on your Windows Home Server:

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I changed the default name here to say WHS Recorded TV.

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Make sure you check Read Only for this folder.

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The result:

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  • On the Settings tab, turn the AutoCopy service ON.

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  • You can then define Collections and AutoMove rules using the built in wizards, or use the AutoCopy rule editor (Advanced button on the Settings tab).

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  • Click on the Activity option tab to see what’s going on with AutoCopy.  If there are any errors or access problems, you can see them by expanding that list to All.

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  • Install the Recorded TV Manager 3 client application.  The installation, configuration and use of the client application is detailed in Part 1 of this review.
  • Install the Media Center add-in on any Vista or Windows 7 Media Center machines as desired.  If you use MC Extenders, then there are some manual setup issues which may be required. Using Media Center Extenders (UAC issues again) 

For the MC add-in:

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Please note that the WHS add-in is required to install the MC add-in.

Finally!  All done and time to actually do some TV recording and make use of this software.

Using Recorded TV Manager

  • Recorded TV Manager WHS Add-in

Once you gone through the initial setup, there is really not much else required for the WHS add-in.  Set it up and forget it.  Which is the way it should be.

There are a few items of interest in the setup tab, however, that one should be aware of.

Before I go over the items in the setup tab, there is one feature that I quickly became quite impressed with.  Recorded TV Manager has an in-context Online Help system.  When originally configuring the program or making changes, clicking on the Help button (or on an Online Help option), brings up a browser window which outlines each item pertinent to the screen you are in.  This is quite impressive for a program of this type, and it also made my job a lot easier when explaining various sections of the program.

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And regarding those items in the setup tab, Rick’s Online Help system explains it better than I:

AutoCopy Service

The Recorded TV Manager AutoCopy service is a Windows Service Application which was installed on the Windows Home Server when the add-in was installed.  The service is configured to start automatically when Windows Home Server starts and login under the default Administrator account using the password supplied during installation of the Add-in.

The AutoCopy service monitors each of the Media Center folders in the folder list for new recordings (create events) and deleted recordings (delete events).  When a create or delete event occurs, the AutoCopy service looks for an AutoCopy rule which applies.  An AutoCopy rule consists of a condition (“new recording of Law & Order”) and an action (“move it to the server”).  The Collections and AutoMove wizards are implemented using AutoCopy rules.

Turn the AutoCopy service On or Off

Click the On or Off radio button and then click Apply or OK to set the new state of the AutoCopy service.  If you click Cancel without first clicking Apply, the current state of the AutoCopy service will not change.  The service must be On to process AutoCopy rules.

Advanced

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Click the Advanced button on the Recorded TV Manager Settings page to access the AutoCopy rule editor.  The AutoCopy rule editor allows you to create new rules, modify existing rules and remove rules permanently.  For more information about AutoCopy and the rule editor, see the Recorded TV Manager Version 2 Help page and select AutoCopy.

Important: After using the rule editor to modify the AutoCopy rules, click OK to return to the Recorded TV Manager Settings page.  You MUST click Apply or OK to make those changes permanent.  Clicking Cancel will discard any changes.

Note: Rules which are created by the Collections or AutoMove wizards will display “<auto-generated>” in the Rule Description.  Click Modify to expand and see the rule description.

Activity

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Click Activity on the Recorded TV Manager Settings page to view AutoCopy activity.  The AutoCopy service writes information to the Recorded TV Manager event log on the Windows Home Server and you can view the event log through the Activity dialog.

You can change the level of filtering of the event log by selecting  the level from the drop down list.  The default is Basic Activity.  Select a lower level of filtering for diagnostic purposes.

Click Refresh to force an immediate refresh of the AutoCopy service.  This will reset all the network connections and update the data files.  This could become necessary if there is an error caused by some kind of network outage or system crash.

AutoDelete

To enable AutoDelete check one or both of the AutoDelete options on the Recorded TV manager Settings page, then click Apply or OK.

Automatically delete duplicates – When this option is enabled, duplicate recordings of a series episode will be automatically deleted after they are recorded.  A “duplicate episode” is one that has the same episode title and original air date as an existing recording.

Warning: If recordings do not include a unique episode title and/or original air date, then AutoDelete cannot differentiate between recordings and will treat all such recordings as “duplicate” recordings and delete them.  Turn off AutoDelete to stop deleting unmarked “duplicates.”

Automatically delete checked episodes – When this option is enabled, checked episodes will be automatically deleted after they are recorded.  A “checked episode” has a checkmark next to it in the episode list in the Series Info database.  Episodes are checked automatically when watching a collection using the Collections wizard, or they can be checked (or unchecked) manually using the Recorded TV Manager WHS Client application.

Note: The Series Info database keeps track of all series episodes, both current recordings and also recordings that have been deleted.  For example, if you watch an episode, check it and then delete it, that information will be stored in the Series Info database.  If Media Center subsequently records that episode again, it will be deleted immediately if the Automatically delete checked episodes option is enabled.

Notifications

Notifications are the little yellow popup messages which are generated by the Home Server Console tray icon.  The AutoCopy service will issue a notification for any file operation.

Check Turn OFF AutoCopy notifications to stop notifications, then click Apply or OK.

 

  • Recorded TV Manager 3 client application

Once again, please refer to Part 1 of this review.

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  • Recorded TV Manager MC Add-in 

Here is where all that hard work that has been done above and in Part 1 starts to pay off.

– Open up WMC.  Go to Extras.

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– Go to Recorded TV Manager.

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– Click on Browse.

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And browse and watch to your hearts content.

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And the built-in Recorded TV section in Window 7 MC.

– By original air date.

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– By title

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Conclusions

Once you have installed and configured the various Recorded TV Manager components, the face value associated with the use of this program can be determined by perusing through the previous set of MC screens.  From my perspective, I could see minimal advantage of the interface of Recorded TV Manager over the built-in features included with Windows 7 Media Center and Windows Home Server with PP3.

With the exception of free client application that I discussed in Part 1.  Why?  When I am recording a series (such as NCIS), I am interested in viewing these programs by the original airdate.  The client application allows me to view by series\original airdate.  This is the only place that I could list shows in this manner.  Perhaps it is just me, but this is my preferred view of a series.

Perhaps I am missing something in all this.  Perhaps earlier versions of Windows and pre-PP3 WHS computers did not provide the functions that are in the current Microsoft versions.  Perhaps my needs are too simple for the more advanced capabilities of this Recorded TV Manager.  Which is where I feel that the strengths of Recorded TV Manager lie.  It is a database and while Rick promotes this to a degree, I feel he needs to focus more on this strength.  He needs to make the install process simpler and integrate the various components.  One program, one install.  Perhaps the best way to discuss the database aspect of all this is by repeating the beginning of Part 1 here:

Recorded TV Manager is a collection of Microsoft Windows® applications and services designed specifically for home networks that include one or more Windows Media Center machines which record television programming for later viewing (”time shifting“).

  • Easily collect series episodes and watch them in original broadcast order.
  • Simplify management and viewing of large collections.
  • Automatically move recordings to a Home Server, NAS or any other location.
  • Automatically delete duplicate recordings and previously watched episodes.
  • Keep track of what you’ve watched, even after it’s deleted.

When discussing a WHS oriented program that deals with television programming, especially in light of recent enhancements that Microsoft has incorporated in their Power Packs, one must ask “What can this program do for me over the Microsoft enhancements?”

When I asked the author the above question, his answer was:

I find it difficult to explain sometimes, but the best explanation I can give my friends who ask, is that Recorded TV Manager is TiVo on Steroids.  It’s basically about “time shifting” which is to collect a series and then watch it when I want to, in original broadcast order.  There are hundreds of cable channels broadcasting stuff 24/7.  Myself, I have three Media Center machines recording all kinds of stuff and I use Recorded TV Manager to collect to numerous locations on the network.  When I’m ready I use the PlayNext functionality in Recorded TV Manager to watch the collections in original broadcast order.  While I’m collecting a series, it does not show up in Recorded TV in Media Center.

That PlayNext feature is nice.  I also like the additional visual feel that the Client Application gives me.  And finally, if I have missed a feature that makes this a “must-have” for you, I welcome any comments that point out these features.

Wish List

  • An all-in-one install that would install/configure the add-in, check the home network, and install/configure the client software on the machines you choose.  There is simply a significant amount of work that must currently be done to install and configure Recorded TV Manager.
  • Add a commercials remover/killer.  That would make this a killer application and worthy of my cash!

In the end, is this the program for you?  It all depends on your needs and the value-added features that you can glean from Recorded TV Manager.

Author: Rick Drasch
Version Reviewed: WHS add-in: v3.7.6
                                    Client Application:  Build 4.3.1 – July 24, 2009
                                    MC Add-in: Beta 3
Cost: WHS add-in: $24.95
           Other components: Free

9 comments

  1. A lot of hard work and time in this article, thank you for the information and hard work, most appreciated.

    1. Yes, this review probably took longer than any previous HW or SW review I have done. I hope I have done justice to the program in the limited time I have been using TV Manager.

      That said, I feel that this is the kind of program where the benifits become more apparent the longer one uses it and as one adds more data (recorded shows). I could not imagine using WMC to sift thru 100's of recorded programs without the enhanced database capabilities of TV Manager.

  2. I just received this email from Rick and got his permission to add his email comments here. If you like what you see, and want new features added, now is the time to try out this software for yourself and support Rick.

    Thanks again for your hard work and for taking the time to actually try the software. I appreciate your comments. As I have said previously, if all one wants to do is automatically copy recordings to the WHS and watch them through the MC interface, then, with PP3 and Win7 you can now do that “out of the box”. Recorded TV Manager has offered that functionality for the last four years and the basic (local) AutoMove functionality is now part of the client application, which is free. Myself, I’m very dependent on the client app because I have a large and changing collection of recordings (600-700).

    continued…

    1. I think that the piece that you missed is collecting, which I define as collecting a series until you have all the episodes, or at least the first few seasons. That way, you can watch the series from the beginning which is usually very important to understanding the show/characters/premise, etc. (Original air date is another thing that Recorded TV Manager has provided that Microsoft has finally added.) And, I’m not really talking about current programming where you are consuming shortly after recording, sometimes getting behind a few episodes, but not really collecting.

  3. As a member of the “baby boom” generation, cable TV offers me a plethora of programming from my younger days and a lot of programming from recent years that I never was able to watch. So I collect stuff I’m interested in seeing to a pair of 300GB disks on an XP machine on the network. I have another XP Media Center machine which records 24/7 all of the shows that I’m collecting, whenever they are broadcast, and Recorded TV Manager automatically moves them to the collection disk. The collection disk is not in my “watched” folder list in MC, so they don’t show up in Recorded TV in MC, but you can access them through “Browse” in my MC add-in. Currently, in addition to current programming, I’m watching The Sopranos, Hogan’s Heroes, The Twilight Zone, and The X-Files. I’m also collecting, but not watching, Invasion, Jeremiah, Jericho, Leverage, ReGenesis, and The Cleaner, all of which I’ll watch when I get the complete sets. Plus, I collect NCIS and Bones for my wife. Granted, not trivial to set up, but not that hard and then it just works without any intervention.

  4. The key to making that work is AutoDelete, which you didn’t discuss. Media Center is set to record every episode of all the series I’m collecting and Recorded TV Manager AutoCopy will move them to the collection disk. The cable broadcasts will run in broadcast order and then restart from the beginning, so it may take a while to collect a series. While you are collecting, trying to fill in missing episodes, Media Center will record a lot of “duplicate” episodes, i.e. the same episode recorded on a different date. Recorded TV Manager AutoDelete will automatically delete the duplicate episodes immediately, “under the radar”, so to speak, and you never see them. Probably one of the more important and useful functions in Recorded TV Manager.

  5. Re: Wish List

    •All-in-one install. Me too, but it’s not easy and beyond my current resources.
    •Commercial remover. I have a plan for that going forward. AutoCopy is implemented as rule-based system so that I can add new rule types. I’m planning a new rule type which acts as a front end to Power Shell. “Copy to this folder, then run my commercial removal program, then copy the result to my WHS”. That would be a Power Shell script invoked from an AutoCopy rule, with different rules for different skip programs or other things.

  6. I think that is worth buying.. it's just 25$ and you can record it in a good quality. Thanks for the great review ! Have a nice day to you.

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