How-To Turn Your Computer into a Supercharged TiVo with Sick Beard

By Jason Fitzpatrick on August 30th, 2011

sickbeardheaderimage

Wouldn’t it be awesome if there was a program that automatically downloaded, categorized, and organized your favorite television shows—a true fire-and-forget solution? There is; read on as we show you how to build a supercharged TiVo with Sick Beard.

What Do I Need and What’s the Point?

You don’t need much to turn your computer into a supercharged TiVo style device that uses the internet as a source for all your television watching needs. Let’s take a moment to highlight what you do need and what this setup is and isn’t. First, your “parts” list; for this tutorial you’ll need the following things, at minimum, to proceed:

Ideally, you’ll also have the following:

  • A dedicated always on desktop computer or home server

You don’t need a dedicated computer but if you want the process to be as smooth as possible with your shows instantly downloaded and sorted for you, ready to watch at the drop of a hat, then having an always on computer really helps.

So what exactly does Sick Beard do? Sick Beard is a fantastic PVR powered by Usenet. If you’re unfamiliar with Usenet, we’d highly recommend reading our previous guide to getting started with Usenet to get up to speed. For those of you that are already dedicated Usenet users or at least have gotten a taste for it following your introduction to it last week with our Usenet guide, you’ve probably realized that as awesome as Usenet is compared to Torrenting, it’s still a bit on the tedious side.

Let’s say, for example, that you’ve decided to use Usenet to keep up with some favorite TV shows. Without an automated system in place you need to, every week after each show airs, search a Usenet index for your shows, download the NZB file for the current episode, and then have your NZB client download and unpack the show. At that point you can watch the show in your Unpacked folder or take the time to move and sort it by hand to the library structure used by your favorite media center software. That’s a bit tedious. It’s even more tedious if you’re trying to build a back catalog of shows that have already aired. Do you really have the time or desire to sit there and hand catalog the back episodes of 20+ popular television shows?

This is where Sick Beard comes in. Sick Beard is an application that works like a sort of hybrid TV Guide/TiVo/TV Show Organizer. Once you’ve properly configured Sick Beard adding a TV show to your media collection is as painless as telling Sick Beard that you want the show and Sick Beard will take care of absolutely everything else including finding the show, downloading the show, organizing the show, and even alerting you that new episodes are available the next time you turn on your media center.

That’s a lot of awesome to take in at one time, we know. So what doesn’t Sick Beard do? Sick Beard, despite us using the word TiVo to describe it (since most people are quite familiar with the concept of TiVoing a show) isn’t actually a true digital recorder. It doesn’t record anything off your local cable feed or airwaves; it simply grabs copies of shows other people have uploaded to Usenet. You can’t tell Sick Beard to record the Mets game for you. Sick Beard is best suited for downloading and organizing television series.

We’re going to take a moment to stress this again: once you have Sick Beard set up and configured it is the absolute most painless way to download TV shows from the internet. It’s so seamless and easy you simply won’t believe it until you’ve tried it.

Installing and Configuring Sick Beard

2011-08-30_135423

Although you can use Sick Beard with other Usenet clients besides SABnzbd, Sick Beard is explicitly tweaked to work seamlessly with SABnzbd. Consequently this tutorial is focused on using SABnzbd and the accompanying SABnzbd helper scripts included with Sick Beard.

Grab a copy of Sick Beard for your appropriate OS here. The Windows version is precompiled, all other OS users will need to grab the Python-based source code. We’ll be guiding you through installing the Windows version; other than a few minor variations (like using the .EXE helper scripts instead of the .PY helper scripts) there is little difference in the configuration process.

Sick Beard comes packaged as a .ZIP file and requires no installation. Simply extract the folder to an appropriate location, such as C:\Sick Beard\ and run Sick Beard.exe to get started. Your default web browser should open to the site http://localhost:8081/home/. You should see a screen that looks like the one above.

Let’s get started with the configuration. If you take your time with the configuration you’ll be rewarded with flawless functionality from Sick Beard. Don’t rush through the process and make sure to check each setting twice. Skipping even a small step can grind everything to a frustrating halt. Click on the Config tab. We’re going to work from left to right, setting up each specific sub-category in the configuration menu.

Under the General tab you can specify if Sick Beard should launch the browser console on start, check for updates, and where the logging directory should be. You can also tweak the settings for the Web Interface—if you want to access Sick Beard from outside your home network now would be a good time to change add a username and password. Make sure to click Save Changes. Make sure to save changes after you finish editing each tab and section as we move forward.

2011-08-30_141145

Under the Search Settings tab is where the options become a little more arcane. Under the sub-heading Episode Search check Download Propers (Sick Beard will redownload a show if a better copy is uploaded. i.e. the original upload had out of sync audio or some sort of corruption), set the Search Frequency for 60 minutes (30 if you’re especially impatient) and the Usenet Retention for the length of retention your provider offers. Under NZB Search check Search NZBs and then toggle NZB Method to SABnzbd—fill in the information for your SABnzbd installation including your SABnzbd’s console URL, username/password if applicable, API key, and the default category, such as “TV”, the downloads should be directed towards. If you do not correctly configure this SABnzbd section than Sick Beard will not be able to send the NZB files it finds on your behalf to SABnzbd.

2011-08-30_141010

Under the Search Providers section you’ll setup NZB indexes for Sick Beard to discover TV shows with. You check the providers to enable them and drag and drop them within the roster to order them. Womble’s Index and Sick Beard Index require no configuration and are free to use. Other indexes are require information like username/password and/or API keys. Visit the sites for additional information (we recommend getting a $1 a year NZBMatrix account, at minimum). To get started select Womble’s Index and Sick Beard and move them to the top.

2011-08-30_141838

The Post Processing Configuration tab is the most option-heavy configuration screen. Take your time. The first section, Post-Processing, covers what Sick Beard should do with the shows it downloads for you. Leave TV Download Dir blank, even if you already have a dedicated TV show directory. We’re going to configure a helper script in a moment that will conflict with a manual entry here. Uncheck Keep Original Files, we’re going to move them to a new home and there’s not need to keep duplicate copies—if you’re nervous it won’t work the way you want, you can temporarily check this setting but make sure to come back and uncheck it when you’re satisfied Sick Beard is behaving. Also check Move Associated Files and Rename Episodes (Sick Beard does a great job cleaning up file names).

2011-08-30_141912

Further down you’ll see Metadata. Depending on how you watch your shows this may be really important to you or not so important. If you use a media center application like XBMC, WDTV, the PS3, or TIVO, Sick Beard can automatically download the meta-data for you. We’re XBMC fans so we’ve configured it to download all the metadata for us. Check all the meta-data you wish to download for your shows—we went with the works because, hey, somebody else is doing the heavy lifting for us!

Below Metadata is Episode Naming. How you configure this section is totally a matter of personal taste. We went with a simple Show Name – S01E01 – Ep Name layout; you can customize how you see fit.

The final section is the Notifications section. You can configure Sick Beard to notify you in a variety of ways including pushing notices to XBMC, Plex Media Server, Growl, Twitter, and more. While most of the notifications are limited to simply telling you what is going on with Sick Beard, the ones for XBMC are actually interactive. You can set up XBMC to not only ping you when a new show is ready to view but also have Sick Beard force a library update too. Sick Beard will work completely fine without any tinkering in the Notification section. The only setting we’d suggest taking advantage of is that previously mentioned XBMC library update—our goal is to make this all as seamless and effortless as possible, right?

Note: If you’re going to turn on XBMC-based library updates and push notifications make sure to fire up XBMC and navigate to Settings -> Network -> Services and enable control of XBMC via HTTP, otherwise you’ll be left wondering where all those wonderful notifications and push updates went to.

A final note before we leave the configuration menu. Go back and check every sub-menu again. If you forgot to save the settings at any step finding out something is missing now will save you a big hassle later.

Now, before we go crazy adding shows to Sick beard, let’s get SABnzbd configured and ready to play nice with Sick Beard.

Configuring SABnzbd to Interact with Sick Beard

Untitled-2

Fire up your copy of SABnzbd and open up the console interface. Head over to the Config menu. Click on the Folders sub-menu. Under the Folders tab scroll down and find the Post-Processing Scripts Folder entry. Make this directory a sub-directory of your SABnzbd folder like C:\Program Files\SABnzbd\Scripts\—technically it can be anywhere but you might as well keep your stuff together. Save your changes.

Navigate to the folder where you extracted Sick Beard. Within the Sick Beard root folder there will be a folder labeled autoProcessTV. Inside that older are helper scripts. If you’re a Windows user you need to copy sabToSickBeard.exe and autoProcessTV.cfg.sample to the Scripts folder you established in the previous step (non-windows users need to copy the .PY files in place of the .EXE files).

Open the autoProcessTV.cfg.sample file with your favorite text editor. The inside should look like this:

[SickBeard]
host=localhost
port=8081
username=
password=
web_root=

Edit the file to suit your installation. Make sure the host, port, and username/password are all properly entered. If you mess this up you’ll get your shows downloaded but Sick Beard won’t post-process them and you’ll be a sad panda. Save the file. Once saved, rename the file to autoProcessTV.cfg (dropping the .sample off the end). Now return to the SABnzbd console window. Navigate to Config –> Categories. Within the Categories menu you need to create a new category for your TV downloads. Name the category TV (or whatever you decided to call it in the previous step in the Sick Beard configuration), set the priority to High, and—this is the most important part—use the Script pull down menu to select sabToSickBeard.exe. If you do not select and properly save this then SABnzbd will never shuttle the shows back to Sick Beard for post processing. Once you’ve created the TV category you’ve got everything in place. It’s time to go back to Sick Beard and pick some shows.

Instructing Sick Beard to Download Shows

2011-08-30_151148

There are two ways to get the ball rolling with Sick Beard. You can tell Sick Beard to download new shows that are not in your media collection or you can tell Sick Beard to start things off by scanning your existing TV show collection to keep it up to date. We’re going to highlight some of the critical things you need to know for each method to be as frustration free as possible. Open up the Sick Beard console and click on Home –> Add Shows.

If you have an empty collection and are just getting started you’re in good shape. Sick Beard will handle everything for you. You can click Add New Show to get started. First., you plug in a show such as The Twilight Zone. Since The Twilight Zone has been rebooted twice (the show aired in the 1950s, the 1980s, and the early 2000s), you’ll be prompted to pick which version of the show you want. Click next. Enter in the root folder for your TV collection and click Set as Default. Click next.

2011-08-30_151047

Here you can customize your download options. How you set the initial status of the episodes is important. If you want all the episodes of the show, change it to Wanted. If you don’t want the old episodes but want future airings to be downloaded, switch it to Skipped (it won’t go back and try to grab old episodes). In the case of The Twilight Zone since the show is off the air we’d probably go with Wanted for everything. For a currently airing show with a large backlog like The Daily Show we’d definitely go with Skipped—it would take quite awhile to download all the old episodes. Check Seasons Folders, you want Sick Beard to keep it tidy.

Finally, you need to select what quality you want the show to download in. You can select from HD, SD, or Any to keep it simple. If you want to be particular you can select Custom—be forewarned that using the Custom setting can really narrow your options though. We’d recommend keeping it super simple: HD if you’ve got the hard drive space and an HDTV to watch it on, SD if you’re short on hard drive space and/or don’t have an HDTV.

Before we leave the new-shows section, here’s a pro tip: you can add shows that haven’t even aired yet. See a preview for a show that starts airing in the fall and you want to make sure you don’t miss it? Plug it into Sick Beard now. Sick Beard will keep tabs on the show and begin downloading and sorting it the day it starts airing without any further interaction from you.

2011-08-30_152040

Now that we know how to add in a new show, let’s get started adding in your existing shows. First, visit Home -> Add Shows -> Add Existing Shows. Start at the Manage Directories tab and point it at the folder where you keep all your shows. It will scan the folder and offer up all the shows it finds in a check list. You can check/uncheck the shows to indicate which ones you want Sick Beard to monitor. Then visit the Customize Options tab. Set the default to Skipped. Trust us on this one; if you have a big TV directory with lots of shows the last thing you want is for Sick Beard to get confused and start bulk downloading HD replacements for everything. Start slow. Set the default to Skipped. If you want to play it extra cautious check  Prompt me to set settings for each show for granular show-by-show control.

Once you’ve either added some new shows or scanned in some existing shows, all further show tweaking occurs within the Home screen. Click the Home tab to see a list of all your shows. You can click on any one of them to edit the options including marking individual episodes as wanted, already downloaded (if you get them from another source), skipped (if you don’t want them) and archived (if you’ve backed them up to a secondary hard drive or burned them to a DVD).

Once you get comfortable with Sick Beard, there’s one other area you should pay attention to. Under the Manage tab there’s a Mass Update menu. Here you can essentially batch edit your entire or partial collection. Want to rename all the shows in a new format? You can batch it here. Want to sort all your shows by those currently airing and make sure everyone of them is set to actively download (or pause them all if you’re having a HDD space crisis)? You can do that too. It’s a great way to quickly and effectively interact with your collection without the tedium of opening each individual show and altering the settings one-by-one.


At this point you should be completely configured and ready to rock. If you have any additional questions sound off in the comments to get things cleared up or visit the Sick Beard Wiki.

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 08/30/11
More Articles You Might Like

Enter Your Email Here to Get Access for Free:

Go check your email!