Sunday, February 27, 2011

Downloading TV Shows Automagically With uTorrent

Bit Torrent is a wonderful peer to peer network.  It's easily an order of magnitude above the previous generation of networks.  In many ways it's like the step from Napster to Kazaa.  If you remember, Kazaa allowed you to transfer any file type, not just music.  It also showed multiple sources for identical files, and I believe it allowed resume.  After Kazaa the next generation of peer to peer was bit torrent.  Yet for some reason, many people went to some nonsense called Limewire (aka Virus Downoader Pro).  I've excluded Aimster and DC++, but will mention them just for the memories.

I won't bother with a guide on how to use bit torrent in general, as there are many already.  However, I'd like to go over a feature I find very useful: downloading tv shows automatically when they come out.  Before getting into the specifics, I think it's necessary to clarify some ways bit torrent differs from previous peer to peer networks.  Unlike other networks, where you just needed a program (client), with bit torrent you not only need a client, but a tracker and a search.  Often the tracker and search are the same.  However, there are times when the search site doesn't run its own tracker at all.  You don't need to worry about the tracker so much, but you'll need to find a client program and a search site.  µTorrent is a good client, and btjunkie is a good search site.  However, when you are looking for specific content types there are often better choices than a catch all like btjunkie.  In the case of TV shows, EZTV is a good source.  Lastly, let me mention RSS feeds.  If you don't know, RSS feeds are simple text news feeds.  In the case of a torrent site, they would list each new torrent that gets added to the site.  If the site is setup correctly you can filter the feed to show the newest torrents for a particular TV show, which is how we will download them automatically.

There are many ways to set this up.  And both the RSS feeds, and uTorrent's handling of them change from time to time, requiring tinkering.  This is currently how I have it setup, and I feel it works well.

To begin, head over to EZTV's RSS feed search, and set up a search that only shows the TV show you want.  Look at the list and make sure that it only displays the show you actually want, and that it only displays one version of each episode.  For example, a simple search for Top Gear lists two different quality versions of each episode.  You'll have to mess with the search options to get it right.  In this specfic case I used "HDTV" with the exact option to exclude the 720P|HDTV versions.  When your search is right you have to get the true RSS version of it.  This means click the link at the top of the results for the "Search-based RSS Feed".  Here's the one for the Top Gear search.

You need to copy the URL of the RSS feed version of your search.  Now, open up uTorrent and choose add new RSS feed (either in File menu or the RSS button on toolbar).  The dialog that comes up is pretty self explanatory.  Put the URL in for feed URL.  If you want add a custom alias (name), and then select download automatically.

Here's where my current method differs from my previous, and probably many others' methods.  uTorrent has a built in RSS downloader, which lets you parse a full RSS feed of all TV shows from any site and only download ones matching whatever filters you set up.  It has a "smart episode filter" which attempts to look at episode number in the file names and remember which ones it has already downloaded to avoid downloading them again.  This is useful when you use a general feed like the Pirate Bay's that will have multiple copies of the same show uploaded by different users.  However, by only using EZTV's feed you ensure there is only one version (after you filter it that way on their site), and that it is good quality/not a fake.  To be honest, TPB will often beat EZTV to have the episode up.  If you are looking to download a show as soon as possible, then I recommend you just go to a site a refresh the page until you see it and download it manually.  RSS feeds are nice for just not having to remember to download shows and have them just be ready in the morning after a show airs.

Finishing Up:
Back to the guide though.  Since we set up the filters on EZTV's site, there isn't much to do in uTorrent.  After adding the feed, you should see it get listed in uTorrent.  Clicking on it shows the last 20 or so episodes that are in the feed.  Here's where there is one important thing to note.  Upon adding a new feed uTorrent will attempt to download every new item in the feed (if you have download automatically selected).  Since the feed itself is new, as far as uTorrent is concerned, every item in it is new, and it will download all the episodes listed.  There are ways to prevent this, but as it only happens the first time you add a feed I prefer to just be aware it will happen and wait for them to show up in the download list and just delete them (it sometimes takes a few minutes).  Once you've done that, uTorrent calls them all "previously downloaded" and won't attempt to download them again.

After that, you are done.  Just wait for the show to air and make sure everything works right.  There are a few other options you can mess with.  For example, you can right click a feed and open the RSS downloader.  In there you can set up certain things to do for any particular show.  The most useful likely being to save a show in a different folder.

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