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Syncing Media Libraries – What a Pain!

April 24, 2007

Our family has a relatively large media library kept on our home server.

What makes things complicated is that this media library is accessed from a bunch of different devices: our PCs at home, my PC at work, Roku Soundbridges, Xbox 360s and a Pocket PC.

The media itself can be played on all of the devices without much of a problem, although this is not without its frustrations too.

Right now my largest frustration with this approach is that I have to keep multiple indices of the media in order to access it on different devices.

Adding New Media to J River Media Center

The heavy lifting here is currently being done by J River’s Media Center, of which I have previously sung the praises. This software allows me to access media from my work PC and any PC at home, as well as serving as the UPnP server for our Roku Soundbridges. Unfortunately, this runs on our server which is in the basement. This application also acts as a Podcatcher, automatically downloading new podcasts hourly. There is no good way to rip new music or add other media to its index (called a "library") from a client PC while the central server application is running. So I am forced into other less elegant solutions, the least kludgy of which is to add new media to the appropriate location on the server and wait for Media Center’s auto import function to notice it. The problem with this approach is that it takes hours for the new media to be noticed and added to the index.

I could have the server run in read only mode and allow the clients to modify the index, but I have found two problems with this approach: (i) duplicates of podcasts get downloaded by the server and the client, and (ii) the server keeps using an old copy of the index that it has in memory even after the index files on the server have been updated from another PC.

Syncing Podcasts to My Pocket PC

Similarly, I like to keep a current crop of Podcasts on the 2GB miniSD card in my Pocket PC. I used to use Mob Sync in combination with Feed Demon’s pocatching application to download podcasts that I would manually prune and sync to my Pocket PC memory card. Unfortunately Mobsync stopped being reliable about 10 days ago, so I’ve searched for a new alternative.

I tried Windows Media Player 11, but its limited smartlist capabilities made it difficult for it to identify the the ost recent podcasts. For example, WMP it can’t sort by the date of a file, only by other date related tags that aren’t present in all podcasts.

So I am now trying J River Media Center’s ability to sync to a mobile device using a smartlist (If there is one thing JRMC does well, it is smartlists!). Unfortunately, the initial loading of 1.5GB onto the card is taking about two hours. Nevertheless, this appears to be the best approach so far.

Vista Media Center

Vista Media Center does handle large libraries better that MCE 2005. At least my library of about 30000 audio, video and photo files is handled with reasonable speed with Vista Media Center, while it was impossibly slow with MCE 2005.

The problem is that I access Media Center though extenders, and the libaries are not easily updated to include new media. Each extender is a different user on the Media Center PC, which means that each extender has its own library which needs to be kept up to date. This is less than ideal, but understandable. What is not understandable is that there is no documented way to update the libraries associated with the Media Center extenders. There have been reports that one has to let the extender sit in the Media Library section for 5-10 minutes while Media Center looks for new media. I tried this for 15 minutes and media I had added never appeared. Even if it does work if I tried this for a longer period of time, this is no way to handle updates to the index. Why not have Media Center automatically looking for new content for the index from the watched folders, no matter what it is doing. This it does NOT do, as the only media accessible from the extenders is media that was added when the extenders were first connected to the Media Center PC at the beginning of April.

If I come across any solutions or better approaches I’ll write about them.


One Comment
  1. Unknown permalink

    I am glad someone else loves J River’s media software as well.  I use netremote in conjunction with it for my "jukebox" in the living room.   This might change with sideshow remotes.  One other thing that would be nice is if Vista would tell you when files were last indexed.  Kevin

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