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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Why I like MediaMonkey

Didn't have anything else to talk about today, but I wanna make sure to post something, and I was just sitting here listening to my next 97 hours of podcasts on MediaMonkey, and I thought, "Hmmm..."

I've been using MediaMonkey again for what, a week or three now. I say "again," because I started using it quite a while back, then gave up on it. It was fine for playing audiofiles I already had. But I had to cope with downloading alla my many podcasts, and then try to get MediaMonkey to handle them properly.

I tried several other options for the podcast-aggregation process. The system that should have worked best was PodcastReady. They do have some seemingly well-conceived products, including especially "MyPodder." Works on almost any computer, almost any MP3 player that can be managed as an external harddrive. Doesn't work in Vista, though, and my computer runs Vista, so I was out of luck there. Their other product, "AutoPodder," works under Vista. But it doesn't work reliably. In fact, it would periodically lose all its setup information, and I'd have to start over.

I looked at "Juice Receiver," free form, very capable, and almost what I wanted. Insists on storing MP3's in folders by show/album name, and apparently not configurable to do otherwise. Didn't like that, so I dropped it.

It was about that time I remembered MediaMonkey from years earlier. Thought it was at least worth a look.

First of all, MediaMonkey is up to version 3.06, so it should be very stable and reliable, and that's been my experience. It had its roots as a music file/MP3 manager, and the Podcast-specific stuff is a later addition. They claim it can manage as many as 50,000 files, and I don't doubt it.

It reads the metadata inside MP3 and other sorts of files, and indexes all your audio based on all the main ID3 tags. It also offers user tools for changing the tags in your files, and a substantial number of user-configurable, additional tags, also indexed. This offers tremendous flexibility in searching your collection. You can create playlists based on any parameters the program can identify and has indexed.

It has built-in CD ripping and indexing capabilities. You can either have the program index the music on your CD collection, or rip digital copies of your CD audio and index that, or both. I only own 4 music CDs these days, so I used that functionality, but certainly didn't stress it much.

It also has CD Burning options. So, you could rip your CD collecti0n, build a playlist of your favorites from all your CDs, and burn a CD "mixtape" with only your favorites. Haven't used that, but I have my pack of CD-R's sitting next to the laptop for Some Day Real Soon Now.

What I do use, heavily, is the podcast subscription options.

Setting up a subscription is fairly simple, and can be made lots simpler. From the Podcasts menu, select "Subscribe to new Podcast." Give the setup screen the link to the RSS feed, MM goes and gets the show title and description from the feed. Uncheck "Customize this podcast," and it will be handled according to the current "Global Podcast Options."

Currently, I am subscribed to 122 podcasts, including a half dozen audiobooks from Yikes! I set Global Podcast Options to check all 122 subscriptions once an hour. If it discovers new content, it downloads the latest file. And if any podcast file is over 1 day old and already listened to, it is deleted in the update process. So I don't have a bunch of old podcasts I won't be listening to taking up space on my harddrive. Sounds simple when you put it that way, huh? It took me most of a week to figure that out.

Through Global Settings, Media Monkey can hold onto old files for a week, a month, or a year, or simply never delete them. It can also delete shows that are, say, 1 week old, even if you haven't listened to them, as far as you know. That way, you can ignore past shows you'll never catch up on anyway. This is particularly handy if you subscribe to something like AP's hourly news podcasts. One podcast an hour can pile up really quickly, even if they're short.

You can also manually download any or all the files listed in a Podcast feed. For example, I just subscribed to Coffee Break Spanish. Lovely show, teaches one Spanish bit by bit. Unfortunately, I subscribed 10 weeks after they started over from the beginning, and Show 10 was pretty much unintelligible. So I went back and told MM to download Episodes 1 - 9 inclusive. "Hola! Que tal? Bien, Grathias!" (It's Spanish from Spain, not Mexico.)

Now, let's suppose, like me, you subscribe to the main TWIT.TV feed. All their different shows in one feed. With Media Monkey, I'm fine, I can separately configure any subscription. In this case, I told the system to download 10 files whenever there's new content. And, apparently, it successfully ignores files it's already downloaded, even then.

If I want to listen to my podcasts my usual way, that would be all of them, oldest-to-newest. So I set up an AutoPlaylist that does the searching and sorting for me. Periodically, I tell MM to update my "Now Playing" list from that AutoPlaylist.

Use an MP3 player, maybe? How about an iPod or iPhone? Media Monkey is fine with those last two, they say; I don't know, I don't own one. But it copes with my generic $30 MP3 player by treating it like an external drive. I pick and choose which podcasts I want kept up-to-date on the player, and then have MM fill the remaining space with randomly-selected music from my ripped CDs. It maintains a list of the files that should be on the player, prompts me to delete any it thinks should be taken off, and does this automagically whenever I shove an SD card in the slot on my laptop. Or, I can tell it to update from a Playlist, say that AutoPlaylist I mentioned.

Lately, I've been listening to my podcasts on my laptop, since I've been off work and don't go out much at the moment. The internal player is currently loaded with 96 hours of podcasts of various lengths, and is playing them in sequence old-to-new, while periodically adding new ones on the end. It acts very nearly like a radio that plays only stuff I want to listen to. Sure there are web-based options that will do this. But MediaMonkey would work for another 96 hours even if I was nowhere near a WiFi Hotspot; the files are already local, stacked, indexed and organized for continuous playing.

I can set in detail the filenames and folder structures MM uses to store the files, including the option of just keeping the filenames the original feed uses. And I have the option I wanted in the first place, just save all the files in the root directory on my SD card for entirely straightforward management as I choose. Which gives me the further option of using the same setup to create a card for either my Motorola GPX or my Palm Tungsten E, which also works as an MP3 player.

It also has built-in support for various Internet Radio sites, configurable inside the program. It doesn't do video (yet). But it will play the audio from some video files, MP4 files being a noteable example.

Sounds pretty formidable, huh? Well, yes, it is, and that'd be the downside. The program is massive. It is likely Media Monkey will do what you're likely to want to do, but there's a significant learning curve. So, if you're like me, an inveterate tinkerer, you'll be fine with this program.

I think this program does everything my Mom would want for listening to podcasts. But she's not very technically savvy, and I think this program would intimidate her. I'd have to see if I could get it all configured so it'd do it all automatically, with essentially no intervention by her, other than clicking the Play button. And I'm not so sure that's possible.

I use the Free version. There's also a Gold version, with several more options fully implemented. There may be options I don't even know I don't have, because I've never tried them. I dunno if the paid version is worth it, but I think the Free version of Media Monkey is worth trying. As I said, if you like fiddling, this is your fiddle.


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