Mac Mini Mediacenter: NZB (usenet) and torrent downloads
This article is part of larger collection on various subjects about the installation of my Mac Mini as a mediacenter to replace my PopcornHour C200 and Plex server PC. You can find the index here
One thing I loved about my previous networked media tank was its ability to function as an allround hassle free downloader. Upload your NZB’s or torrents and forget all about it. Few hours later, it’s done. Downloaded, PAR checked, unrarred and already residing on the main media hard drive. I had to at least match this with my new setup.
I prefer usenet downloading over all other forms. It’s fast and private. My old PopcornHour C200 used NZBGet as its out-of-the-box usenet client. NZBGet is a lightweight package with a pretty complete feature set. Multiple servers, watch folder, par check and unrar. Despite of the Popcorn’s limited processor and memory, it always maxed out my ISP’s download speed. But it looks like crap! Now having the advantage of a full fledged PC, I could pick whatever I want, but it was a no-brainer: SABnzbd. Free, fast, skinnable, open source and very feature rich. It also allows access to its API’s in order to communicate with other programs like Sickbeard, Couch Potato and the likes.
I’d like to highlight one very simple but much used feature, the watch folder. When working with multiple NZB files, it can be a pain to upload them all separately to SABnzbd. SABnzbd can monitor a given folder every few seconds for new NZB files and once detected, they are added to the cue. Very effective. As with all folders, the watch folder can be shared over the network for added functionality. I configured my MacBook and Windows PC to mount the shared watch folder on startup. I can now use the same watch folder on any system I like, while the Mac Mini is the one doing all the work.
As I stated above, I like downloading via usenet. I’m not that big a fan of BitTorrent. Anti piracy foundations got their eye on it, it’s less private compared to usenet and bad quality modem-routers tend to crash with large torrent streams. But every now and then, certain files are not offered on usenet. The BitTorrent community is just better suited for the more obscure and hard to find files and media. So I installed a torrent client anyway.
The PopcornHour C200 came with Transmission and ANSI front end. I like transmission on OS X, but it crashed constantly on the C200. Transmission is also not available for Windows, my mediacenter OS, so I had to look elsewhere. I found μTorrent. It’s an effective and free torrent client with a very small footprint. It can run in the background, waiting for torrent files and magnetic links, without using any significant amount of memory or other resources. All settings are there, folder setup, bandwidth management, up/download restriction, you name it. Perfect for instant once-in-a-while usage
My Mac Mini’s only display is a TV set, which is also used for… watching TV. And although I’m able to manage everything through Teamviewer, it’s not ideal. So for the frequently used tasks like usenet- and torrent downloading, I like to have an alternative. Both programs come with a web interface option. Once enabled, they can be reached by connecting to the system’s IP address (setting a static IP address is advised) and pre set port number (http://192.168.1.111:8886 for example). The port number can be set to anything you like, as long as it doesn’t interfere with other programs or standardized functions like 25 & 110 for mail, 119 for NNTP, 449 for https, et cetera. This way, you can manage your downloads by just using an internet browser instead of Teamviewer or other remote desktop solution. Another advantage is the ability to connect to the download clients from outside the house. You just have to know your WAN IP address, provided by your ISP, and configure port forwarding in your router. Port forwarding detects requests at pre set port numbers and passes the ones allowed to the coupled LAN IP address. DON’T forget to set a username/password in every program reachable from the internet, or anybody could potentially connect to you computer or worse.
Sickbeard, Couch Potato and HeadPhones
Respectivly automated TV series, movies and music download. One misconception is that these programs actually download the content. That’s not the case. They just keep track of a personalized watchlist and automatically download the corresponding NZB file when a new item is posted on Usenet. They integrate very well with e.g. SABnzbd which in turn does the actual downloading.
I wanted to mention these kind of programs to get a full picture, but I’m not going to use them. I’ve played around with Sickbeard for a while. I do appreciate the functionality but like to manage my downloads manually. Here’s why. I like to download older series too. Something that can be quite tricky with Sickbeard. First of all, most of the essential index sites don’t backtrack, which means no history. So only newly posted episodes are available. Second, when backtracking, Sickbeard tends to pick the newest post if several exist. In practice however, newer post are usually password protected for some reason, or come with hardcoded subs. The older original postings are clean of tampering by other parties, but are ignored
Another reason is the fact I’ve got other sites to keep track of new episodes and movies. I’ve used them for a long time now and they give me suggestions based on the series I follow in return. Downloading manually also has the advantage of keeping track what’s new in your library, instead of stumbling upon a new item. So I’ll keep using the hands-on approach… for now.