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How To Use Ember Media Manager to Organize Your Media Collection

2011-05-03_145619

A media center isn’t nearly as fun if all your media is mislabeled poorly organized. Read on to learn how to use Ember Media Manager to whip your media into shape and make your collection sparkle.

Why Do I Need a Media Manager?

Perhaps you’ve never heard of a media manager or if you have you’ve written it off as something for those obsessive types to tinker with. Media managers are invaluable for ensuring that what your media center displays is accurate, custom tuned, and ultimately shows off how awesome your media collection is.

So what is a media manager? A media manager is simply an application that catalogs your media and writes images and metadata to the directory the media is stored in so that media center applications can access that data in order to display the correct information for the movie (ratings, reviews, cast listings, etc.) and media for the movie (box art, movie posters, fan art, etc.).

Why would you want one if your media center already has built in media scraping? Most media centers do have some sort of scraper built in—a scraper is a small script that combs through online databases like the Internet Movie Database to look for media matches. Unfortunately media scrapers range from decent to downright crappy and correcting their mistakes using your HTPC remote or a media center keyboard is tedious. Further more nearly every media center stores the data it scrapes locally. You know what that means? If you turf your media center and have to reinstall, all that data has to be rescraped. Install another media center elsewhere in the house? Time to rescrape again or gamble at exporting and importing the data if your media center software even supports it. Scraping can take hours on a large media collection. On top of waiting for the media collection to scrape you then have to go through and correct the errors all over again. It’s tedious and there’s no reason you should do it.

When you use a media manager all that information is stored with the movies and television shows. If you add a new media center to your home network all that media center needs to do is read the data from your media shares and load it instead of grinding away for hours rescraping your media.

For the following guide we’ll be using Ember Media Manager, a popular and open-source media management tool. Ember Media Manager was originally created for XBMC media centers but you can modify your settings to scrape data for other popular media center applications. For this tutorial, however, we’ll be using it to configure media for XBMC.

Installing and Configuring Ember Media Manager

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Installing and configuring Ember Media Manager (EMM) is a breeze if you know the right settings to key in. In the following screenshots we’ll walk you through configuring EMM for an optimum media center experience. Remember, we’re setting things up for XBMC, you’ll need to tweak the settings to fit how your media center accesses movie information, thumbnails, and fan art.

The first thing you want to do is skip the installation assistant tool found on the main Ember Media Manager web site. It’s a small 216kb installer that checks your computer OS version and then downloads the most current version for you. It’s been broken for some time (as official development on Ember Media Manager has been suspended). Instead visit  the Ember Media Manager download directory at SourceForge and grab the appropriate version from the current release (1.2 as of this writing).

Once you have the appropriate file just extract the contents wherever you want to store Ember Media Manager, open the directory, and run it for the first time. No true installation necessary—you could call it portable, but since it is so intimately tied to your media collection unless you cart it around on your media drive it’s portable in principle only.

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Language selection aside, the first real prompt you’ll come across is a request for the location of your movie files. Click on Add button, name your source, enter the source path, and set your source options. Scan Recursively instructs EMM to dig down through folder directories and look for movies in sub-folders. Since we keep all our movies in a simple one-movie-per-folder configuration, we left this unchecked. Only Detect One One Movie From Each Folder is critically important for most of the thumbnail and artwork functionality in XBMC. If you currently have all your movies jumbled in a big folder and not sorted into individual sub-folders we recommend doing a quick cleanup before proceeding. Finally Use Folder Name for Initial Listing should be checked so EMM will use the folder names to pull the movie names before the initial scraping.

NOTE: We highly, strongly, passionately recommend you copy a few of your movie directories as a test. We selected a few movies from our collection and put them specifically in a folder labeled /EMM Test/. This way you can get familiar with EMM without risking making sweeping and hard to repair changes to your entire media collection. Once you feel confident with EMM then you can switch the source back to your main media folder. Once you’ve set up a test folder for your movies do the same for your TV shows.

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Once you’ve set your movie source EMM will prompt you to pick how it should save posters, fan art, and NFO files. If you’re setting things up for XBMC you’ll want to check folder.jpg, movie.tbn, poster.jpg, fanart.jpg, <movie>-fanart.jpg, and <movie>.nfo. Some of these, such as folder.jpg and <movie>.tbn are semi-redundant but they serve a purpose. Folder.jpg will put in a thumbnail that both XBMC’s file browser and other file browsers like Windows Explorer will recognize and <movie>.tbn is the default format for movie cover thumbnails within XBMC. Putting them both in makes browsing on multiple systems easier and decreases load times in XBMC. NFO files are simple text files that store media metadata. Ember Media Manager will create a file in each movie folder that has all the scraped movie data. This way, in the future, XBMC will never go looking for it. It will pull your custom data right from the movie directory. Magic!

After you set up the movie folder you will repeat the process for TV shows. Skip this if you have no TV shows. If you do, heed our earlier warning! Make a test folder! You’ll select the source in the same fashion and check the following options in the settings menu:

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For this round you’ll check folder.jgp, fanart.jpg, season-all.tbn, <ep>.tbn, and then in the seasons section seasonXX.tbn, folder.jpg, and fanart.jpg.

If you’re curious about the structure of the XBMC thumbnail system you can check out the full guide to the thumbnail system in the XBMC wiki here.

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When you’re finished selecting your sources, click Next to finish and launch Ember Media Manager. You’ll see the full interface (which, for a moment will be empty). Down in the lower left corner you’ll see movie and TV show titles whirling by as EMM scans your folders. The initial scan is not a scrape. It’s just EMM getting the file names and pulling up any clues it finds in the folder. We had 17 movies, for example, in our test folder and based on what was stored in the folders along with the movie file itself EMM pulled up information ranging from nothing more than the title to fan art, ratings and more. This is entirely dependent on whether or not you’ve scraped the files before with another media manager or if the files you downloaded already had the extras attached.

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Don’t be surprised if there is no media information what so ever. For a virgin collection or a collection you hand-ripped that’s most likely how you’ll find it. Don’t worry though! By the end of this tutorial you’ll have completely updated and sparkling media collection.

Scraping Your Media Collection with Ember Media Manager

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At this point you have the application set up, you’ve done an initial scan, and now you need to start filling in the additional information about your media files.

Let’s start off by using The Nightmare Before Christmas as an example. It’s sitting in EMM but it has absolutely no data; it’s just a raw movie file. That’s not very interesting and it gives our media center absolutely nothing interesting to load up. Let’s do a single scrape of that individual movie to show you how the process works. You won’t have to individually scrape every movie, mind you! Ember Media Manager does a great job bulk scraping. If you’re new to this business of media organization and scraping, however, we want you to see the process in step-by-step action. Pick a movie and right click on it, we’ll be using The Nightmare Before Christmas, and select (Re)Scrape Movie.

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For nearly every movie, save for an odd foreign film or barely-known indie film, EMM should almost instantly kick back a response. It found The Nightmare Before Christmas in a matter of seconds.

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Select the match and click OK. EMM will scrape for another moment and then show you a display of movie posters. Some movies only have one poster, some have dozens. Pull down the largest image you can, you never know how high-resolution the media centers and HDTVs of tomorrow will be—it’s a tiny bit of future-proofing.

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After the movie poster selection comes the fan art. “Fan art” as it were, can range in everything from movie stills from popular scenes, promotional wallpaper released by the studio, custom images made by fans, and even completely original fan-generated artwork. Most movies have quite a few images to choose from. If you can’t make up your mind EMM has a caching feature built in. If you check off more than one fan art only the one you select in blue will be the primary fan art, all the others will be locally cached with the movie in the /extrathumbs/ category for easy future access.

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When you’re done picking out movie posters and fan art, Ember Movie Manager will kick you over to the Edit Movie dashboard for the movie you’re working on. There you can review all the changes it has made including things like the cast list, plot summary, rating, genre tagging, and the poster/fan art/extra thumbs you’ve acquired.

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If everything looks good click OK in the corner. What was an empty gray box that simply said “No Information is Available for This Movie” is now a colorful movie summary with a movie poster, fan art, ratings (both critical ratings and parental warning ratings) as well as icons indicating the resolution and sound quality of the movie. Like what you see? Take a moment to right click on the movie you just scraped and select Lock. This is a new feature in Ember Media Manager that allows you to lock an entry you’re happy with so that future scraping won’t accidently replace your hand picked artwork. Entries for locked items have a light blue background.

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The initial movie scrape went so well, let’s scrape everything! Ember Media Manager makes it super easy to scrape your entire collection. Click on the Scrape Media icon located on the menu bar to the right of the Movies tab. A pull down menu will appear. Here in the menu you can select what media you want to scrape. Since we have a new collection with (save for the movie we just scraped!) no movie data, we’re going to scrape all the movies, require EMM to prompt us if it’s confused on a movie match, and to download all items. For the most part EMM does a great job figuring out which movie is which, but it occasionally has a question like whether or not the Transformers movie in question is the 1984 version or the 2007 version.

There is one downside to mass scraping. EMM just picks the most popular movie covers and fan art for you. If you’re a customization fanatic you’ll want to manually scrape each movie. We like to strike a compromise; we let EMM do the bulk scrape, then we look through the listings and see if there are any covers or movie posters that we’d like to change. For the most part the default picks are OK with us and allowing EMM to do the heavy lifting saves quite a bit of time.

When you’re done with movies, it’s time to do your TV shows. TV shows are done almost exactly the same way with a few minor differences—the process is so similar we’re going to skip with the step-by-step screenshots and just give you a run down of the differences.

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The TV Shows tab is located right next to the Movies tab in the main interface. You just click on it and browse your TV show listings. The big difference between the Movies and TV Shows interface is that you can’t bulk scrape your TV shows. There are a few extra steps involved in the process for TV Shows such as selecting the language the show is in, grabbing season thumbnails, and then of course the season/episode scraping. As a result you’ll need to right click and (Re)scrape each TV show. You can highlight multiple shows and then select (re)scrape to scrape them all, but you’ll still be prompted when it’s done with each show to make selections for the next show in the list.

Scraping for a big show with multiple seasons and hundreds of episodes can take a few minutes—Buffy the Vampire Slayer took a good 10 minutes worth of scraping, for example. Unlike movies where EMM needs to scrape only a few images, TV show scraping involves grabbing multiple seasons worth of cover and fan art, episode summaries, episode screen grabs, and additional information. Thankfully because you’re scraping the data and storing it with your media, you only have to do it once! Just like with the movies if you scrap a TV show and you’re really happy with the results don’t forget to right click and Lock the entry so that it doesn’t accidently get rescraped in the future.

If your test of Ember Media Manager’s movie and TV show scraping abilities went well, go ahead and copy over all the folders from your test directory back into their respective media directories. Then go into the menu bar and click Edit –> Settings and in the Files and Sources section under both Movies and TV Shows, change the source location from your test directory to your main directory. It’s an extra step or two we know, but it’s far better to learn the ropes with a powerful tool like EMM in a test directory than it is to make a mess of your entire media directory. Once you’ve changed the source directories you can scan the rest of your media collection to bring everything up to speed and enjoy your gloriously organized collection!

Viewing Updated Media in XBMC

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All that work isn’t worth much if you can’t enjoy it on your TV. Go fire up XBMC and update your library. XBMC should rescan all your directories and use the locally cached data as it searches for local data before sending the scraper out onto the internet to fill in the gaps. Thanks to your handy work there shouldn’t be any gaps to fill in.

In the above screenshot we see the listing for The Nightmare Before Christmas as seen in XBMC’s default skin (Confluence) under the Media Info view. All the information we saw in Ember Media Manager and the great fan art is present. If you click the menu button you can view the additional information such as the cast listing.

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In the screenshot here we see all the seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer laid out in Poster Wrap view. We can drill down into the individual seasons for more information and screen captures.

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Again, all the information that we carefully scraped and checked in Ember Media Manager is present in XBMC. Every television episode has a screen cap, a summary, and additional information like the type of encoding, display ratio, and more.


Have a question about Ember Media Manager that wasn’t covered in our guide? Ask here in our comments or hit up the official EMM thread at the XBMC forums here.

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 05/3/11

Comments (34)

  1. Jason

    How about some tips for what to do when the scrape comes up empty. I had this happen for some surprising films, such as 30 Days of Night, and Letters to Juliet. It knew what movie it was, but did not return any images. I ended up doing a Google image search, but if there’s an easier way, I’d like to hear it from you guys.

  2. Freakin

    Ember is working again? I was sad to see it die before…

  3. Ash Moollan

    I personally use YAMMM (Yet Another Metadata Movie Manager) – and although not quite as impressive as Ember, it works just fine, and runs as a Service.
    @Jason: using YAMM, you can add the imdb code to a folder if you know what movie it is, and YAMMM will comply.

  4. Drago

    @Jason: When Ember doesn’t find video
    Right Click the movie title on the left hand side list and choose – Change Movie, it will bring up an IMDB type search, you can try that or type in IMBD#.
    It’s odd that it doesn’t find the movies though, what movie does it find?

  5. Jorge

    Media Companion is a very good alternative to this one

  6. Tony

    I agree with Jorge. It’s been a while since I used Ember. I was a Media Companion user but tried Ember (because it looked better) and it didn’t work nearly as good for me. It missed movies which I didn’t expect it too. And i had trouble picking up TV shows. I might give it another try now.

  7. Ethan

    Is there a way to filter out strings that are in episode titles? I have coded all of the TV DVD that I have ripped with S– for easy browsing in Windows Explorer. Is there a way to filter that out? Or would I need to remove it from the file name? It is giving multiple of one episode because of that.

  8. Cryptic

    This may be a stupid question, but this there any way to use something like this on an Xbox 360?

  9. Corey

    I have an issue with this program because of the way that I originally organized all of my movies. I did not have them in separate folders. This caused me to to be able to add the movies folder that I had ot the EMM database so that I could scrape them. Ther eis good news however! A quick Google search found me a program called FoldMonkey. This allowed me to create folders for all of my files using the name of the file and it did it instantly. I wish that I screen shot that I could show. Basically what it did was move the movie into a folder named the same thing as the movie. I hope this helps!

  10. ankit

    i would say qvivo its very buggy because its still in alpha mode but its awesome because its easy and arranges media in nice way.

  11. Jimmy

    Well damn! Now i have to change all the metadata/tags of my movies again :)

    I made .nfo with the title/runtime/sortname and link in it and that worked like a charm, the only problem was, it took a lot of time..!

    I will try this guide out when im home, but so far, I’m like it a lot.

  12. James

    I have questions. I have XBMC and about 500 titles scraped EXACTLY the way I want them. Does XBMC not have a backup feature for art in the event I have to reinstall? Will Ember do this for me? If I make a folder for a film (ie movies/batman/batman.iso) and all the data files are in that folder, if i move the folder and update my library will it keep the same art?

  13. logicdustbin

    so, I’ve always wanted to clean up my video files, and I’m trying to understand….

    currently I am running XBMC on 3 xbox’s around the house, all my media is on a WHS.

    So, each video needs to be in its own folder?

    Then EMM adds all the files within these folders, and XBMC will just pick up this info when I navigate within XBMC?

    I ask because I thought the “.tbn” for the folder needed to be in the same directory as the folder, not within the folder…

    @Corey. thanks for the ‘foldemonkey’ tip, I’m thinking I need this……

  14. Darth Abba

    @James.
    In video settings you can export everything Xbmc has on your videos to individual files into the folders that contain your data. This would include nfo files, Posters, Fanart ..etc.

  15. Antunes

    I had fanart and posters for all my movies, but I decided to use this anyway. Thing is, I still see the old posters and fanart in XBMC, although the new ones are in the movie folder. How do I fix this?

  16. Harrie

    I get constant error popups along the lines of “SQLite Error No Such Table: Sources”, can anyone help me out here. I tryed the x64 version.

  17. logicdustbin

    @Antunes

    I know with the XBMC on Xbox, once it ‘sees’ the .tbn, it places it in its cashe. For example, if I make a .tbn and place it in the folder on my server for a particular movie, once my xbox sees this file, it saves it locally. I could now delete this tbn file, but it still shows it just fine on the xbox.

    On the xbox I could select the movie with the ‘white’ button, from here I could change the ‘fan art’.

    I’m not sure how to change this on more recent builds….

  18. Patrick

    The option I like most about this is the choice between fan art. I personally use Media Browser which has been out for quite some time and is some nice eye candy. I used to use XBMC but after finding out about Media Browser for WMC I had to switch but if Ember can prove to be bug free and software managed I may just go back to XBMC.

    If you haven’t seen or heard of Media Browser i would recommend at least looking at it as it is the sole reason i jumped ships back to WMC; however like Ember, movie art retrieving requires specific folder and file naming which can be a pain if you have lots of tv shows.

  19. Simon

    Hello!
    Really awesome article, I just have one question (to the communty, and of course you at HTG)
    Do you know if this could work with Xtreamer? (I mean xJukeBox)

    Thanks!

  20. Bobro

    Im confused… maybe i missed something… is this like Media centre? is it just for XBMC? is this just a manager to get all the metadata for the films? I thought it was a media centre software with the first picture… but i cant seem to find that side of it…

    if its not can i get Windows Media Centre to find all these details and show it off all cool like? or is there another piece of software?

    thanks

  21. James

    @Corey… I use this as a bat file myself… it makes what ever file into a folder and then moves into it.

    file2folder.bat

    @echo off
    for %%a in (*.*) do (
    md “%%~na” 2>nul
    move “%%a” “%%~na”
    )

  22. Patrick

    @Bobro

    Media Browser is a media (aggregator) plugin for media center. If you want to see what you can do with Media Browser just search for ‘media browser’ in google and it will be your first search result. it is very attractive looking and DOES retrieve all metadata about films/shows.

    you could just also in the search result images to see some ppl who have uploaded some pics of there HTPC using media browser.

  23. Jack

    Is anyone getting an error that says: “Ember Download Site is Not Available. Please try again later.”
    I turned off my firewall and everything and still got nothing :-/

  24. Adam

    @ James

    You don’t need a batch file if you use ember. It has the functionallity built into it and it is remarkably quick. Follow the menu path Tools > Sort Files Into Folders.

  25. Chris

    What advantages does this application over the fabulous
    Movie Collector from Collectorz.com?

  26. johnsonjunk

    does it work for WD Media players?

  27. PrinceUchi

    try metabrowser from themetabrowser.com
    It works with MediaBrowser and xbmc

  28. vinnie

    @Jack

    You need to get emm-r (ember media manager revisited) if you are getting that error, its a slightly updated version of what you are trying to use

  29. Efrain Emestik

    Wow… this is what I was looking for!!! Thanks a lot! congratulations for this awesome work!!!

  30. Troy

    All,

    This is a good article but…. There is a simpler method if you use XBMC. Once the media is scraped, you can EXPORT the metadata as SEPARATE files. I consider myself an average media user, i have roughly 2TB of movies. When i reinstalled win7 and Linux Mint, XBMC scraped the files almost instantly, NOT HOURS N HOURS. btw, when you export the files separately, it places the data in the same location as the media file. Cheers

  31. Freddie

    Hey, I’m looking for something to update my XBMC library in Linux. Ember ain’t workin’, neither is Ember revisited.

  32. Stefan

    Hi,

    I have used Ember to scrape a test directory on my nas. The folder looks like this:
    Two and a Half Men
    –S06
    –S07
    –S08
    In each Season Folder are the episodes names Two.and.a.half.men.S06.E01.avi

    Ember has created correctly all neccessary files like .nfo and .tbn in the seasons folder as well as in the main folder (Two and a Half Men) as well as the .jpg for fanart and posters.

    Normaly XBMC should use this information but it does not.
    I do scan the folder after I set the content to TV-Show but it just looks in the internet and only finds the fanart and poster but no information about each season is found and used at all.

    Can you help me with that?
    Thank you very much
    Stefan

  33. Peter

    bug, v1.2 : If I mark multiple movies to scrape and one cannot be found on imdb or otherwise and I have to press “cancel”, all following movies are actually not scraped any more (EMM does something but doesn’t download anything or write the nfo files)

    it would also be extremely handy if within the bulk renaming, one could select the movies which should be renamed. this eases renaming especially, if it has to be done multiple times

    otherwise, really brilliant program!

  34. Markus

    Which theme is it in the XBMC screenshots? It looks pretty nice!

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