500GB and Still Cranking — Jen Needs an Internet PVR Now!

Yep, I have 500+ GB of entertainment and pictures scattered across 3 computers on 5 hard drives.    Last weekend I spent ~6-hour shuffling files and burning files off onto DVDs to make room for more stuff.  It’s insanity managing this stuff manually and my husband can’t really navigate the network to find stuff because the non-sense file structure I made up is all in my head.  Sigh … try searching through 500+GB of stuff to find the one file you want!!!  Oh and then cleaning up the temp file mess created after I’ve moved Gigs of data from one location to another.  There’s got to be a better way and if anyone knows a way that’s doesn’t require any special technical knowledge, please tell me.

So here’s how my entertainment life goes.  I have two ways of getting entertainment from the Internet.  I either do a direct file download or I use a bittorrent program.  Each method downloads to different hard drives.  The bittorrent program downloads to a “working” directory and then automatically moves the files to an “inbox” directory when the downloads are completed.  From there it’s up to me to move the files into the appropriate directories with the rest of the episodes of that particular show or manga.  I used to keep things separated by whether it was a current series or a series which we had captured and watched all the episodes, but given that we have run out of HD space several times, which initiates the purchase of either another hard drive or a furious reschuffling of files onto hard drives with extra space accompanied by burning off onto DVD, things sorta got outta hand.  There are files everywhere with episodes of a series sometimes fragmented across two or more hard drives :(.   All hell breaks loose at home when we have a hard drive failure, as you can imagine. (Oh!  lesson learned:  never place an external hard drive on a sub woofer.  When you think about it, it seems obvious — big magnetic field —  but when you have limited shelf space a subwoofer seems like a good shelf — Doh!)  We have 3 computers that handle this horrible system.  One laptop (HP 6000 series) we use to do the downloading (it has 2 external hard drives attached), one  that is connected to the TV so we can watch the content (HP 7000 series Pavillion Media laptop), and another that has a high capacity hard drive to store more stuff (a Jen-built gaming rig for her lucky husband).  All are connected by wires running through the walls of house because a wireless network could not support the bandwidth we use. 

Sigh … so what would make my life easy?  Well, I’ve had my eye on one of those Media Servers, but it looks like I still have a little bit of wait and I don’t want to upgrade to Vista yet.  Plus, I don’t know whether it will make my life any easier.  If there’s someone out there who knows more about the Media Server, hear my call and set me straight on its capabilities and how I might integrate this into my computer mess.

The thing that would help me the most is a better way to manage my downloads as they come in.  As of now I am using the lousy filter that comes with the bittorrent software I use.  The filter is a simple name filter so it downloads everything with a certain string pattern from the RSS feeds I get regardless of its source, file format, the series episode number, or language.  Consequently, I end up either downloading or having my download cue littered with many versions of the same series that I have to go through and sort out manually.  After it’s downloaded it would be nice if it automatically went into a folder with the other episodes of the shows.  Then I would love to have an interface for when I actually want to view the content that would show me what new episodes have been downloaded that I haven’t watched yet, and from that interface I can view the content rather than having to root around on  the network to find my content.  I guess that sounds like a PVR, but for the internet and that’s what I want.

Oh, and another thing.  With respect to the Media Center storage capacity — whatever is thought of as reasonable, double it.  In the past few months, more of the shows I have downloaded are huge HD files at upto 1280 x 720 (widescreen) resolution (I’m sure 1920 by 1080 is coming soon) with 5.1 sound.  These files are roughly 2x the size of files I was downloading a year ago.  They are also using encoding that require more processing power so RAM has now become very important when playing these big files.  Take note :).

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