21st Century Television (Part Two)

As promised, here’s a bit more information on the geeky details of how I’ve set up our cable-free TV system.

First off, credit where credit is due: I got a lot of pointers in setting all of this up from this post at Nyquil.org, along with a couple of follow-up email messages with Jer. Thanks!

  1. Set up a GigaNews Usenet account. While Usenet, in the pre-web days, was one of the premier methods of communicating across the ‘net and thus included free with most Internet packages, those days are long gone. Now, Usenet is the best and fastest way to grab those TV episodes we’re looking for, but it costs a few dollars a month to get access (far less than your average cable bill, however). There are other Usenet providers available, but Giganews was recommended to me, is working fine for me, and is reasonably priced, so I’m passing on the recommendation to you.

  2. Set up a (free) NZBs(dot)ORG account. .nzb files are the Usenet equivalent of Bittorrent’s .torrent files: pointers to all the various pieces of each media file. NZBs(dot)ORG lists NZBs in a number of categories; the TV > XVID category is non-HD if you still have an old non-HDTV; people with HDTVs may want to use the x264 category for 720p/1080p content.

  3. Install SABnzbd+. This is a free, open-source program that handles all the pain-in-the butt steps of using .nzb files. Without SABnzbd+…well, I’ll let Jer explain:

    …you…find yourself manually extracting RAR files, applying PAR2 files to regenerate missing chunks, and then disposing of all the compressed/encoded files after extracting your media file. Not to mention seeking out and downloading every episode of everything you want to download. It’s not for the faint of heart.

    With SABnzbd+, you simply toss it the .nzb file, and it takes care of all of that for you. Even better, it supports a “drop folder” system, so you can simply put a downloaded .nzb file into a folder, and moments later it automagically gets slurped into SABnzbd+ and the files start downloading. Even better than that, though, is its support for RSS feeds…and since NZBs(dot)ORG lets you save RSS feeds of particular searches, it’s relatively trivial to automate the downloading process.

    For my setup, I created an “nzb” folder inside my usual “Downloads” folder. Inside that, I have three folders: “new” (my SABnzbd+ drop folder, for adding manually downloaded .nzb files), “incomplete” (where SABnzbd+ stores the in-progress downloads), and “complete” (where SABnzbd+ stores the finished downloads after post-processing). I also have an alias to the media folder that the Roksbox software accesses; this is for my own convenience and not necessary in all setups.

    SABnzbd+ folder structure

  4. Set up and save searches on NZBs(dot)ORG for the shows you want to track. (NOTE: NZBs(dot)ORG has redesigned since this post was written, so these instructions aren’t quite correct anymore. They should be close enough to point you in the right direction, though.) Click on the “My Searches” link towards the top right of the NZBs(dot)ORG page, then click on “[Add]” next to “Saved Searches” towards the left of the “Add Search” page. Because NZBs(dot)ORG doesn’t allow for a preview of a search, I’ve found it easiest to keep the NZBs(dot)ORG front page open in a separate tab so that I can do a test search for my primary search terms, then look for which terms I want to exclude.

    For example, we want to watch CSI, but aren’t interested in the New York or Miami spinoffs. So, my saved search uses the search term “csi” in the “TV-XviD” category, but filters out anything with “dvdrip” (as I’m not interested in older episodes ripped from DVDs), “ny,” “york,” “miami,” or “geographic” (apparently there’s a National Geographic show that uses the initials CSI in its title).


    Eventually, you’ll build up a list of shows that will automatically populate whenever a new show that matches any of your saved searches appears on Usenet. Here’s a look at how my searches are set up — no snarks on our taste in TV, please, we’re quite aware of our guilty pleasures. ;)


    Now, see that little “RSS” link after each search? Those are going to come in very handy, as we flip back over to SABnzbd+….

  5. Add your saved searches to SABnzbd+. Under the “Config” link in the left hand sidebar of SABnzbd+, click on “RSS”. Copy the RSS feed link for one of your NZBs(dot)ORG saved searches, paste it into the “RSS Configuration” > “New Feed URL” field in SABnzbd+, name the feed something other than “Feed1”, and hit the “Add” button. That’s it!

    (While SABnzbd+ does offer various filtering options for RSS feeds, because you’re taking care of the filtering ahead of time in your NZBs(dot)ORG searches, you shouldn’t need to worry about these fields. If you’re using a different .nzb search site that doesn’t allow customization of RSS feeds, you should be able to use these filters to remove items you’re not interested in.)


    The first time SABnzbd+ scans the RSS feed, it will not download anything — this is intentional, as you probably don’t want to suddenly be downloading all of the items listed in the RSS feed. If there are any recent episodes that you’d like to download, you can click on the “Preview” button next to your newly-entered feed to choose which items you’d like to download.

    Go through and add the rest of the RSS feeds for your saved searches, and you’re all set. From here on out, as long as SABnzbd+ is running, it will keep an eye on your saved searches. Whenever a new episode that matches one of your searches appears, SABnzbd+ will see it in the RSS feed, grab the .nzb file, download everything it needs, assemble and decompress it, and store the finished download in the “completed” folder.

Now, if all you’re interested in is getting ahold of TV episodes and having them on your computer to watch, you’re set! I copy the downloaded files to a network drive and use the Plex software to pipe the shows over to the Roku player attached to our TV. Good to go!

NOTE: The following information is the original ending to this post, but is deprecated, as the situation is now simpler. However, I’m keeping it here for the sake of completeness.

However, in our case, I also need to convert the downloaded video from .avi to H.264-encoded .mov or .mp4 files, as that’s the only format that the Roku player will accept, and then move the files into their proper place within my computer’s webserver for Roksbox to access. While I haven’t been able to automate all of this, I have managed to use Automator, AppleScript, and the HandBrake video conversion software’s command line interface to automate the .avi to .mp4 conversion.

Now, I’m no Automator or AppleScript guru — this is actually one of my first experiments with either technology — so this may not be the best or most efficient way to handle this particular option. I’m certainly open to suggestions for improvement! However, it’s working for me…so far.

If you’d like, you can download my Automator action (121k .zip file). To install it, decompress the .zip file and add it to your ~LibraryWorkflowsApplicationsFolder Actions folder. Create a folder named “TV” inside the ~Downloadsnzbcomplete folder (it will be added automatically by SABnzb+ the first time it downloads a TV episode, but it needs to exist for this to work). Additionally, the HandBrake CLI must be installed in your main Applications directory.

To activate the HandBrake action, right-click on the “TV” folder and choose “Folder Actions Setup…” from the pop-up menu. In the Folder Actions Setup dialog, choose “Handbrake.workflow” and click the “Attach” button. Once that’s done, whenever SABnzbd+ finishes post-processing a download and moves the folder containing all of the files to the “TV” folder, this Automator workflow will automatically be triggered. Here’s what it does:

  1. Get Folder Contents and repeat for each subfolder found. This scans the TV folder and the folder that’s just been added to it to find all the contents.

  2. Filter Finder Items for files with the .avi extension that are larger than 20 MB (this avoids running into a conflict with the small quality sample .avi files that are sometimes included).

  3. Run AppleScript

    on run {input, parameters}
      set input to POSIX path of input
      set ConvertMovieCmd to "nice /Applications/HandBrakeCLI -i " & input & " -o " & input & ".mp4 --preset="Normal" ;"
      do shell script ConvertMovieCmd
      return input & ".mp4"
    end run

    This simple AppleScript: grabs the file passed to it by step two; converts the file path to use POSIX slashes rather than HFS+ colons as delimiters; creates a terminal command for the HandBrake CLI using the .avi file as input, the “Normal” preset, and simply appending .mp4 to the existing file name on output; and passes the newly created file to the next step in the action.

  4. Move Finder Items moves the new .mp4 file to the “complete” folder, one level up from the “TV” folder.

  5. Show Growl Notification pops up a sticky Growl alert to let me know that a new episode has finished transcoding. Obviously, this step will only work if you have Growl installed.

Eventually, I’d like to figure out how to get the action to move the folder containing the just-processed .avi file to the trash, but I haven’t quite figured out how to do that without possibly also moving any other folders at the same level to the trash (which might interfere with other downloads not yet transcoded), so for now, I’m sticking with manually cleaning up the extra files after the transcoding is finished.

From there, all that really needs to be done is moving the file from the “completed” folder to its proper place in the Roksbox file structure, and it’s ready to watch on our TV. I do a few other steps manually to “pretty up” the experience — adding “poster art” and XML-based episode descriptions for the Roksbox interface — but those are entirely optional, and many people won’t see the need to bother with those steps.

And that’s it! 80% of the process is now completely automated, and that last 20% that I do manually is entirely optional and basically just feeds my anal-retentive need to present things as slickly as possible whenever I can.

Hopefully all this has been interesting and informative to at least a few people out there. Questions, comments, ideas for improvement? Let me know!

[From Usenet: 12.19.00 0228]

[Note: This was originally a post to the alt.culture.alaska Usenet newsgroup. I’m including it here for completeness. Originally archived here.]

Hey all –

Just a quick note that I’m working on starting a new website tracking local Anchorage musicians, who’s playing where, things like that. Features on the site include a calendar of events, downloadable .mp3 files of some performances, and a BBS. I’m mainly focusing on underground/alternative stuff, from punk to rave to urban, but tend to wander all over the place depending on what information I get to post.

Feel free to stop by and take a look sometime…


Thanks! :)

[From Usenet: 1.19.99 0000]

[Note: This was originally a post to the rec.music.industrial Usenet newsgroup. I’m including it here for completeness. Originally archived here.]

In article <77v6ki$eo...@nnrp1.dejanews.com>, diakon_rad...@newempire.com wrote:

She is the Mariah Carey of the Jihad! :-)

If you go to any gothic clubs you have probably heard her voice on back up on the remix / latest version of Sisters Of Mercy track “Temple Of Love”.

She is one of few artists who managed to cross the barriers between Hebrew and Arabic listeners in the Middle East.

Incidentally, she just provided the voice for one of the supporting characters (unfortunately, I can’t remember which one) in the animated film ‘Prince of Egypt’ – I figured it was her when I heard her sing, then checked the credits to be sure.

[From Usenet: 12.26.98 0000]

[Note: This was originally a post to the rec.arts.startrek.fandom Usenet newsgroup. I’m including it here for completeness. Originally archived here.]

Need help from someone out there – found somthing in my family’s house, trying to figure out if it’s worth anything.

Star Trek Book and Record set from Peter Pan Industries/Power Records (catalog #BR513), featuring the stories A Mirror for Futility and The Time Stealer, copyright 1976, still in it’s original shrinkwrap, unopened. One small (less than 1cm square) notch taken out of top right hand corner, otherwise undamaged.

Any ideas? Please e-mail me at djwo…@geocities.com, as I don’t frequent this newsgroup.

[From Usenet: 8.22.98 2300]

[Note: This was originally a post to the alt.music.nin Usenet newsgroup. I’m including it here for completeness. Originally archived here.]

In article <6rl9d0$fv...@news.doit.wisc.edu>, Mother’s Little Helper <val...@stoned.com> wrote:

RaumKatze2 <raumkat...@aol.com> wrote:

> You can play any music with any movie or tv show, and there are bound to be syncronicities with lyrics, dynamics, rhythm, and other stuff.

One of the scariest exqamples of this was one day in 1995 when we noticed that Sesame Street was perfectly synched with the Sir Mix-a-Lot album we were listening to…it was scary.

One of the funniest I’ve seen was watching Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” in fast forward while listening to nin’s broken album. Fit way too well…funny as shit, too.

[From Usenet: 7.20.98 2300]

[Note: This was originally a post to the alt.music.techno Usenet newsgroup. I’m including it here for completeness. Originally archived here.]

In article <6p2df9$k3...@nnrp1.dejanews.com>, mats...@statcan.ca wrote:

So does anyone know the song I am talking about? :) I have a small mp3 that is a minute long of this Antiloop Megamix.. “Dr. Jones” If anyone has the full song in mp3 format, or knows if its obtainable on CD , please let me know…

Much as spending money on Aqua hurt, I know the track…I found it on a japanese import CD called Aquamania: The Remixes Vol. I – picked it up at a local Camelot, of all things. Truthfully, the disc surprised me…a lot of the remixes are pretty good. Those songs can acutually get decent when you strip out the vocals and tweak the remixes enough… “

[From Usenet: 7.19.98 2300]

[Note: This was originally a post to the alt.music.nin Usenet newsgroup. I’m including it here for completeness. Originally archived here.]


Curious…are there any amninnies (did I get that right…?) other than me up here in Alaska? I’ve been lurking around this newsgroup for probably about five years now, and am more and more curious about whether or not any of the names I see here either live or visit this frozen wasteland. So far the closest I’ve known of is finding out that Robin’s got family up here, but as I’ve yet to spot the only other heater t-shirt I know of it the state, I haven’t found her yet. Gets kind of boring up here…the general population of Anchorage is pretty uninteresting.

Hm. I know…as soon as I win the lottery (y’know, Ed McMahon knocking on my door and all that shit), I’ll see about taking over a local hotel and hosting a nincon up here just for shits and giggles…unleash all of you on the local population. It’s a fun thought…hell, it’d be funny as hell to sic a bunch of ninnies on the club I dj at — most of the kids there think that nin started with closer and marilyn manson are the height of being gothic. Ah, well, so it goes…I’ll escape from this place eventually.

Anyway, enough late night (early morning?) babble for now.


[From Usenet: 7.11.98 2300]

[Note: This was originally a post to the alt.music.techno Usenet newsgroup. I’m including it here for completeness. Originally archived here.]

In article <6o3jrq$v4...@nnrp1.dejanews.com>, joey...@hotmail.com wrote:

There is this old but good song back in 1992 I believe. It is a techno song or techno rave song with a woman singing….

“its a fine day people are ……” It has a suzanne vega beat and hard techno hits…The only words I remember is “ITS A FINE DAY…” PEOPLE ARE STILL SOMETHING?????

My guess would be either Orbital’s Halcyon (or Halcyon & On & On, same music, just a voxless dub), or from what I understand they took the vocal sample from a song by Opus3. Never caught the name of the Opus3 track, however.

It’s a fine day, people open windows, they leave their houses, just for a short while….it’s going to be a fine night tonight, it’s going to be a fine day tomorrow…etc.

[From Usenet: 6.4.98 2300]

[Note: This was originally a post to the alt.music.makers.dj Usenet newsgroup. I’m including it here for completeness. Originally archived here.]

This may easily be a blatant newbie question, but…well, having just found this newsgroup, I guess I’m a newbie. So, bear with me, or possibly point me to a FAQ (should such exist).


I’ve been dj’ing up here in Anchorage, Alaska at various clubs for about five years now. Unfortunately, Alaska tends to run about (at least) two years behind the times in just about everything, especially music. Bleah.

So…I’m wondering if anyone has any pointers or tips as far as getting on any label promotional mailing lists (pre-release promo singles, etc.). It’s hard enough weeding through what new music we get up here to find the stuff worth spending the money on…freebies could be a major benefit. Plus, it’d be cool…

The current club I work at (Gig’s Music Theatre – http://www.alaska.net/~woody/gigs/ ) encompasses a fairly wide range of music (just about anything except country, rap, top-40, and hip-hop), but has lately been leaning much more towards the dance/progressive/house scene (no complaints here!), if that makes a difference.

Any info would be greatly appreciated…feel free to reply here, or use my email address at the bottom of this post. Thanks in advance!

Oh…and just to butt in on another thread…I learned beatmatching on the Pioneer CDJ’s (500’s, I believe), have used a couple Denon models, and currently use (at the club) a Numark (Denon ripoff). Having learned on the Pioneers, I prefer those (even though I’ve never tried dj’ing from vinyl), but have also found the Denon mixers quite useable. Even the Numark isn’t too bad, once you get used to having to constantly compensate for the lack of instant start (argh!). My feelings on the whole thread…try and get the opportunity to use both styles, you’ll get a feel for what you like. And if you can’t afford what you like…hell, if it works, get it! More money will come later, if things go well….

[From Usenet: 2.6.97 0000]

[Note: This was originally a post to the alt.music.nin Usenet newsgroup. I’m including it here for completeness. Originally archived here.]

In article <01bc13dc$785fac00$4b2774cf@mgross>, “SB” <sbarr...@worldnet.att.net> wrote:

> > I know a place that supposedly has the The Perfect Drug promo CD for $15. Is it worth buying? Does it have any tracks that won’t be on the Lost Highway soundtrack coming out in 2 weeks?
> do you want it? then it’s worth buying.

What if it cost a hundred bucks. What if it cost a thousand. One may want it, but that doesn’t mean it’s worth buying.

Discarding the philosophical ramblings being touched on here, I’d say…no. If it’s the same promo CD i’ve got (friend at a music store gave it to me), it’s only got two tracks. TPD, and a shorter version for radio stations that don’t like songs over 5 minutes. I wouldn’t pay the $15 for that…