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Ask HTG: How Do You Set Your XBMC Library to Automatically Update?

One of the strongest selling points of the XBMC media center software is the way it beautifully displays your television shows and movies. If your library isn’t up to date, however, you won’t see your entire media collection in one glorious spread. Read on as we show you how to automate the library update process so your media is always current and ready to watch.

Dear How-To Geek,

Let me tell you, reading articles on How-To Geek has touched off a whirlwind of changes to my home media setup. For years I was running a full blown computers as my media center computers (they were discards from a workplace upgrade, and I figured I’d put them to good use). After reading your guide to measuring home energy use I bought a Kill-a-Watt meter. Not only was it freaking fun to play with, but it showed me that my media center computers were way more inefficient than I thought and that I was spending way too much on powering them each month. Between the fan noise and the expense it was time to replace them.

I followed the guide you guys have to installing Raspbmc on Raspberry Pi, and I’m super happy with the new setup. Just like you guys promised these things barely use any power (the Kill-a-Watt says my monthly power use per unit is only like 30 cents). There is one single thing I’m unhappy with though, and I can’t figure out a good solution. On my old system I had the XBMC library set to update itself every time the system started (it was just a simple toggle you could turn on in the settings menu). That setting is still there but the only problem is that I don’t reboot the media center anymore as there’s really no point in shutting it down when I’m not using it (given that it uses like a penny a day in electricity).

Jumping into the menu every time I sit down to use one of the media centers and instructing it to update the library is more friction than I want. Is there a way to set up the updates to be automatic?

Sincerely,

Out-of-Date Library Blues

We followed your exact upgrade path, moving from using large and loud full-blow computers to the tiny and silent Raspberry Pi, and we ran into (and solved) the exact problem you’re facing. Yes, you can set Raspbmc to update the library on reboot, but as you note there’s little need to reboot it. Short of accidentally unplugging the the wrong power strip or doing a major system update we never reboot our units.

Fortunately for the both of us there are a bunch of clever and talented XBMC enthusiasts out there who have coded excellent add-ons for us to snatch up. Let’s look at the two best solutions for your always-on Raspbmc unit, and you can select the one that best fits your needs.

XBMC Library Auto Update

The XBMC Library Auto Update add-on is a simple program add-on that allows you to set a timer-based library update system. By default the add-on update the library every hour (and can be adjusted in simple X hour increments) but you can use cron syntax to create advanced update timers. These times can be as simple or sophisticated as the cron syntax allows (you could, for example, just change the update time to every five hours instead of every hour or set it up to update an hour before you get home from work on the weekdays and every hour on the weekends).

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XBMC Library Auto Update is unaware of any changes in your actual library content and simply, like a lamp timer, turns itself on and off to check for new material at the interval you specify. As such it’s the more stable of the two options we’re highlighting here today as well as the least resource intensive. The library update function will not, regardless of the timer settings, run while you are watching content from your media library.

To install the add-on go to your XBMC unit and navigate to Settings -> Add-ons -> Get Add-ons -> XBMC.org Add-ons -> Program Add-ons -> XBMC Library Auto-Update. Select install and then, should you desire to change any settings on XBMC Library Auto Update, navigate to Programs -> XBMC Library Auto Update, select the context-menu button for your system to pull up the context menu, and select “Add-on settings.” There you’ll find a wide variety of settings that allow you to customize the updater including toggles that allow it to run while you’re watching content and to automatically clean up the library.

 XBMC Watchdog

If you’d prefer a more instantaneous update, Watchdog is for you. Unlike XBMC Library Auto Update, Watchdog continuously monitors your media library and within seconds of a new television show, movie, or album/song appearing in their respective source directories the files are scraped for metadata and added to the library.

The upside of this system is that your library is as up-to-date as possible every minute of the day without any interaction on  your behalf. The downside to the system is that some users report the add-on is unstable on lower-end systems and on Raspbmc. That said, we’ve happily been using Watchdog without any issues and enjoy the dead simple install, forget, and enjoy up-to-the-minute library updates that it provides.

To install Watchdog go to your XBMC installation and navigate to Settings -> Add-ons -> Get Add-ons -> XBMC.org Add-ons -> Services -> Watchdog. If you want to change any of Watchdog’s settings (of which there are few, compared to XBMC Auto Library Update), navigate to  Programs -> Watchdog, select the context-menu button for your system to pull up the context menu, and select “Add-on settings.”


If you value customization options and a schedule, go with XBMC Library Auto Update. If you want a fire-and-forget setup that nearly instantaneously updates your library, go with Watchdog. Finally, if you want all the libraries on all your XBMC installations to be in sync all the time definitely check out our guide to whole-house XBMC syncrhonization.

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 09/4/14