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Old 09-23-2010, 02:25 PM
RetroBox RetroBox is offline
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HTPC Gems -- Great Tools

Hello Everyone,

Over the years I have stumbled across some really neat tools that have helped me improve my HTPC build and general experience. Of course, there is a trove of treasures in this forum that have helped solve any number of issues and added a ton of improvements, however; there are other little tools out there that have helped me address perhaps really niche circumstances or were made me feel as if I made a real discovery when I finally found them. I would like to pay tribute to these tools by sharing them with the group.

Below are some of my favorite that I find most useful. What hidden gems do you use to build the best system or keep things running smoothly?

Updated listing to include suggestions from the group.

HARDWARE
  • DVI Doctor - I used to get really annoyed when I would turn on the TV to find the SageTV window scrunched in the corner of the screen. After some reading, I found that resolution information can get "lost" when a PC turns on or resumes from sleep when connected via DVI /HDMI - it loses EDID information. The DVI Doctor fixed this issue for me, and as an added bonus, the documentation does not tell you this, but audio is passed-thru the device when using it for HDMI, even through the adapter. I really find this one to be a must-have to anyone connecting to a flatscreen in the living room.
  • Mini RF Keyboard with Touchpad - Inevitably, sometimes you need to have access to a keyboard and mouse to troubleshoot the system, especially if you're in the middle of a show and the wife wants to see the end of it and its the only recording. This keyboard + mouse combination is really, really tiny. I've been using mine for about a year with no issues whatsoever. The construction is solid and the RF signal is very powerful - I see that they now offer a bluetooth version. I highly recommend it.
  • IR to RF to IR Remote Control Range Extender - I recently bought a Harmony 900 remote with RF capabilities, but this kit was extremely useful to accomplish the same purpose with my old remote - certainly worth the investment. I tried installing an IR-eye that would communicate with components inside a cabinet, but it was a little hit or miss. This is certainly a good (and somewhat cheaper) solution if you are in a situation where the IR receiver is outside the line of site.
  • Logitech diNovo Mini Bluetooth Keyboard - Interesting, I hadn't heard of the "Mini RF Keyboard with Touchpad". I'm news to Sage (have only had my "trial build" of WHS Vail/SageTV Server + Win7 Client running for less than a week now), so I can't comment too much on the usefulness for Sage yet, but for my Win MCE I have been using the logitech dinovo min bluetooth keyboard for a couple years, and it's been great for that, and it's actually smaller than the one you linked, and IMO looks sleeker on the coffee table, with the closeable lid. It's the gold standard for mini MCE keyboards, but I have no idea what market penetration it has for SageTV users. It is also about 50% more in price. -- Thanks mmanville
Remote Controls
  • sV70 Remote from VidaBox - Awesome remote. What I like the most about it is its ability to browse Music /Videos libraries from HTPC right on the remote control screen before making a selection and sending the command. Another great feature is that it communicates via WiFi. A regular retail version of this remote is available under the Nevo brand, but the VidaBox version integrates with QCQ (see Remote Control /Automation Software) -- Thanks SomeWhatLost


SOFTWARE

Cool Applications
  • Maximus Arcade - I wanted an elegant solution to play old school games in the living room without having to pull out the mouse and keyboard. Max Arcade does a really nice job in providing a seamless experience and providing an attractive front-end. There is even an editor tool to create your own themes - it took some learning, but I managed to make my own without too much effort. I control the interface with a Wireless Xbox 360 Control to navigate the interface and play games - maybe its just me, but I find myself playing 20 year old games more often than new releases to get a quick gaming fix with a side of nostalgia.
  • Hyperspin - Hyperspin is a good free mame/others front end, works well... and its free... Thanks SomeWhatLost
  • Kylo Browser - It is a web browser made for the 10-foot user interface that actually looks great in the living room. I was surprised at how much my wife actually uses it. I programmed the mouse to move using the remote arrow keys and left-click using OK with the RKM Remote tool, so there is no need for any additional devises for lite browsing.
  • Libox - Media streaming tool that delivers contents from your HTPC in HD (as advertised) to remote browsers and even to your iPhone (Android in plans) for free! What makes this more unique than other tools of the sort is that it has a social aspect - share media with friends. The tool actually creates a P2P network between your box and anyone connected to it - cannot download or alter content, just play media. Very interesting....
  • Quote:
    Originally Posted by Removed from List
    FoxIt PDF Reader - Foxit is a good pdf reader for those that are tired of adobe's updates. -- Thanks ccsmoke I also find this application to be a lot less bloated than the Adobe version and a necessary tool for the HTPC since inevitably, you will run into something PDF while browsing or fixing. Removal Reason: Newer versions bloated with crapware and decieving installation techniques

Conversion /Video Tools
  • MakeMKV - Utility that will convert your DVD /BD into a single MKV file; great for protability. The tool also comes with a command line version supporting scripts for automation. This is a new tool, since it is still in BETA release and is free for 60 days (developers suggests to install new version of the tool to reset clock, so profit doesn't seem to be the priority). Thanks wrems for pointing this one out.
  • DVDFlick - Really nice DVD burning app that can quickly and easily turn most any media format into a playable DVD. The menus aren't great but they're functional. -- Thanks wrems
  • Magic Disc - Mounts disc images (ISO, BIN/Cue, NRG, IMG, MDF, etc.) - FREE -- Thanks Mayamaniac
  • Handbrake - Most people already know about this, but it is one of the easiest to use app to convert DVDs to MP4 or MKV. -- Thanks Mayamaniac
    AnyDVD Rip Wrapper: a command line executable to help automate the ripping process; and AnyDVD Auto Updater: A tool that automatically updates AnyDVD to a new version, which is quite necessary if you want to back up the latest DVD's /BD's.
  • Virtual Clone Drive - If you want to mount BD images in Sage, this is the way to do it. The best part is that it is FREE.

Menial Task Life Savers
  • Simple ID3-Tag Editor - As the title suggests, a very simple and powerful ID3 tag editor for MP3's. Before using this tool, I had a real mismatch of albums and artists, along with a bunch of other junk within song metadata that did not let it play nice with the Music module. One of the things I like most about this editor is the ability to freeze content in fields so that all selected songs can be updated with the same value. The software is a standalone executable, really small and it doesn't have any additional "features" that I find make editors sluggish. UPDATE - Doesn't seem to handle some ID3 v2 tags very well, such as "Album Artist", which are important for Sage to display music properly. See TagScanner.
  • AutoHotKey - Excellent automation software with a simple scripting language. I believe this software was created by the people at LifeHacker.com, so there is a pretty active community out there for support. I find this tool easier to work with to accomplish complex tasks than writing batch files. There is a fairly decent script library online to perform a variety of Windows tasks. One of my favorites is NoMousey, a script that can hide /unhide the cursor - I have it run at startup and have mapped a button on my remote to display the cursor if I need the mouse. I know Sage is supposed to auto hide the cursor, but I get mixed results.
  • Bulk Rename Utility - Bulk Rename Utility is a free file renaming software for Windows. Bulk Rename Utility allows you to easily rename files and entire folders based upon extremely flexible criteria. Add date/time stamps, replace numbers, insert text, convert case, add auto-numbers, process folders and sub-folders....plus a whole lot more! -- Thanks ybrew
  • Belvedere - A little file management utility that can move items to folders and drives given a user-defined set of rules. I like to use this one to transfer converted shows to the transder folder linked to my iTunes account to take shows on my iPhone.
  • TheRenamer - Here's another file renaming utility; It works wonders on converting TV episodes into perfectly formated titles -- Thanks wrems
  • TagScanner - Powerful music renamer and ID3 tag editor with full support for all ID3 v2 tags. The software comes in a free version with little limitations or incentive to pay for full version. Software also available in Portable format.
  • Teracopy - Great at moving a lot of files around... also can do a checksum on both the original and the copy just to make sure they really are the same. -- Thanks SomeWhatLost

Remote Control /Automation
  • LM Gestion Remote KeyMap - I've tried using other remote control mapping /automation software, but I find RKM to be the most user-friendly and fast to implement without a too steep learning curve. The free version is great, but I would recommend getting the Donator edition - this version provides the ability to use a web remote that I use on my iPhone (and works for any web-enabled phone) to control the server - useful for skipping audio tracks while in the patio, and it also supports user-created onscreen Menus - I use these to launch applications; particularly useful in the absence of dynamic customizable menus in Version 7. The customer support is really great and the software keeps getting better with every new release.
  • Intelliremote - (Windows only) programmable remote software. This combined with my Harmony (550) remote and the free iPhone remote app means I can forego the need of a mouse and keyboard 99.9% of the time. -- Thanks darcilicious
  • IconHarmony for Harmony Remotes - Those looking to spice up harmony remotes by adding some cool channel logos in black, iconharmony is great for that -- Thanks ccsmoke. The package includes virtually all TV network logos and I'm actually using this for my Harmony 900 remote.
  • EventGhoust - Very useful free automation/remote software for windows. I use it to control sage on one htpc as well as to create popup OSD menus to control other apps or even restart the htpc. It supports most usb ir receivers as well as http, X10 and serial. -- Thanks whartsell
  • CQC - It does everything... and has a very nice Sage driver too... Powerful automation software and interface building tool.
  • Display Changer - Software version of the DVI Doctor mentioned in HARDWARE. This tool will set/keep the display solution even if it goes it changes once the PC resumes from sleep mode - EDID issue. Make sure to set all the arguments for it to work. -- Thanks sjrx0213

Remote Desktop /Access Tools
  • No-IP with dyndns.com - This is the solution I use to access my server and Placeshifter from outside my home network - I find it very reliable and it is Free. I know there is a "new" HTTP Redirect Service made available by SageTV to connect to their server to accomplish this, but I have not yet tried it.
  • RealVNC Free Edition - For "remote desktop" control of your SageTV server -- Thanks korben_dallas
  • LogMeIn -Also for free "remote desktop" control of your SageTV server. Very useful for headless server setups. Probably better for configuration and maintenance tasks than for watching videos, etc. -- Thanks KeithAbbott
  • Radmin - My "remote desktop access" software of choice. The "server" costs, the viewers are free. -- Thanks darcilicious
  • SoftPerfect Network Scanner - The software pings computers, scans for listening TCP/UDP ports and displays which types of resources are shared on the network. Displays a nice inventory of the devices on your home network. -- Thanks KeithAbbott

PC Utilities /System Health
  • Memtest86+ - And old favorite. There's been several occasions where I tried to troubleshoot random crashes and general erratic behavior within Windows itself, for hours, to find that a bad memory chip was to blame. I (sort of) learned my lesson and now use it as a regular diagnosis tool. There is even a version that runs off a usb drive.
  • Hot CPU Tester - RAM is a good place to start troubleshooting hardware-related issues, but the answer may be in a faulty motherboard or CPU. This tool provides a stress test on the system, maxing out performance while making components run in high heat. I find the error reports a little cryptic and hard to understand, but an "All Clear" result would certainly make me feel more confident that the system is ready for the living room. The software also has a CPU burn-in feature that is supposed to make it perform better... I don't know about all that, but the feature is available.
  • CCleaner - A good registry and junk file cleaner that I can actually trust not to break more things than it fixes. I really like using the Uninstall Programs with this software to make sure no registry keys or software bits left behind by inefficient uninstallers.
  • DFS Manager - Useful DirectShow filter manager to see what codecs are available and their corresponding merit. The tool may be a little dated, but it provides the information I need to make sure that FFDShow audio codecs don't take over settings in AC3 filter and to verify that Windows did not decide to re-order filter priorities after reboot.
  • ShadowCopy - Free backup utility that can copy files on a live system, including locked files like SageTV's wiz.bin. -- Thanks korben_dallas
  • Atomic TimeSync - One that I really like since my computers time never used to be correct. You can make manual adjustments as necessary to dial in the perfect time for recordings. -- Thanks wrems
  • WakeUpOnStandby - I've used this in the past to schedule putting the server into standby/hibernate at night and waking it again in the morning. -- Thanks Brewston
  • Acronis True Image - I was looking for a good HD imaging tool that is powerful, but easy to use. This utility is described as having "bare-metal restore capabilities" -- Thanks KeithAbbot It was also noted that Windows 7 has built-in imaging capabilities that I did not know about -- Thanks gplasky
  • Ninite.com - Saves a ton of time, especially after doing a fresh install. -- Thanks peternm22 This tool removed toolbars and any other unwanted bloat from commonly used applications and creates a new executable; excellent.
  • MD5Summer - Application used to test and verify MD5 checksums; good utility to test files copied to a hard drive and migrate to a new unRAID box. -- Thanks Spectrum
  • IntelBurnTest -This is for for Intel CPU's, this is a front end for the Intel Linpack. This stresses the CPU, memory and many of the subsystems on the motherboard. Can also expose CPU heat issues, etc. Run it for 24 hours. -- Thanks RocKKer
  • Prime95 - Stress testing utility for AMD platforms. Run it for 24 hours. -- Thanks RocKKer
  • HDTune -Use this in conjunction with the manufacturer's HDD diagnostic tool. I run the Benchmark and Error scan. Sometimes the Error scan shows slow or bad blocks, I have fixed them by running the manufacturer's write zeros to the HDD. Writing zeroes is a destructive test so if this there is data on this HDD, back it up or be prepared to lose it forever. For new drives there is no need to partition and format it for any of these tests (writing zeroes destroys partitons and file systems anyway). -- Thanks RocKKer
  • BlueScreenView - Utility that lets you read MiniDump files generated from Windows systems during BSOD events. It will show you the process that created the BSOD and possibly even tell you if you are having driver issues crashing your system. I find reading the MiniDumps somewhat helpful in diagnosing a root cause; unfortunately, certain Windows processes always show up as part of the list of culprits that fail because some other process behind the scenes is making it fail. Other times, reading these files hits it right on the nose.

OTHER GEMS
  • Setting Up Bitstreaming with Windows 7 - Part I and Part II Guides - There's a number of guides out there to help implement HDMI HD audio, but I find this one to be the most straight-forward and most detailed. This is the guide that finally got bitstreaming to work in my system. There is also a nice write-up from Missing Remote providing detail on what cards are capable of bitstreaming along with a more high-level implementation guide.
  • Concurrent Remote Desktop Sessions Guide - I guess this one falls under "at your own risk" category, but I found this guide really useful when I wanted to find a way to work on my new box (already in the living room) without disrupting (and having to log back on) the default media center account. This setup was great for troubleshooting and adding the final finishing touches to the box before really using it in the living room.
  • Channel Logos from Lynsat - I actually got the link from SageTV's "Tips and Tricks" page. I really like their selection of channel logos and it certainly beats using Google Images or Wikipedia to complete the collection.
  • Icon Finder - A collection of royalty-free icons free to use. I found these extremely helpful when I created an onscreen menu to launch external apps. This link has to be useful to all the talented Studio developers out there.
  • UnRAID Server Configuration Tutorial - Extremely useful guide for those of us just getting into using UnRAID and writted by a member of our forum. This tutorial goes over all necessary configuration to get a working array quickly. -- Thanks Spectrum
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Tuners: Clear QAM Dual Tuner; HD-PVR -- Time Warner Cable / Control STB via Firewire; use USB-UIRT with LM Gestion Remote KeyMap

Last edited by RetroBox; 01-30-2011 at 03:25 PM.
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  #2  
Old 09-23-2010, 03:13 PM
ybrew ybrew is offline
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add to either Software Or PC utilities -
Bulk Rename Utility http://www.bulkrenameutility.co.uk/Main_Intro.php
Bulk Rename Utility is a free file renaming software for Windows. Bulk Rename Utility allows you to easily rename files and entire folders based upon extremely flexible criteria.
Add date/time stamps, replace numbers, insert text, convert case, add auto-numbers, process folders and sub-folders....plus a whole lot more!
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Old 09-23-2010, 06:05 PM
Bizarroterl Bizarroterl is offline
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Retro - nice post. Thanks
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  #4  
Old 09-27-2010, 11:13 PM
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korben_dallas korben_dallas is offline
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RealVNC free edition for "remote desktop" control of your SageTV server.

ShadowCopy - free backup utility that can copy files on a live system, including locked files like SageTV's wiz.bin.
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Old 09-28-2010, 06:48 AM
KeithAbbott KeithAbbott is online now
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http://logmein.com, also for free "remote desktop" control of your SageTV server. Very useful for headless server setups. Probably better for configuration and maintenance tasks than for watching videos, etc.
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  #6  
Old 09-28-2010, 09:02 AM
RetroBox RetroBox is offline
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These are great! I have already used the Bulk Rename Utility and plan on looking into ShadowCopy to schedule backups. Thanks for including your own.

One other piece of Software I forgot to mention is:

Kylo Browser - It is a web browser made for the 10-foot user interface that actually looks great in the living room. I was surprised at how much my wife actually uses it. I programmed the mouse to move using the remote arrow keys and left-click using OK with the RKM Remote tool, so there is no need for any additional devises for lite browsing.
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Old 09-28-2010, 01:22 PM
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darcilicious darcilicious is offline
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I use the following:

Intelliremote (Windows only) -- programmable remote software. This combined with my Harmony (550) remote and the free iPhone remote app means I can forego the need of a mouse and keyboard 99.9% of the time.

Radmin is my "remote desktop access" software of choice. The "server" costs, the viewers are free.

There are certainly cheaper (aka free) alternatives but I have found both of these products to be rock solid and the customer service for Intelliremote to be outstanding.
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Old 09-30-2010, 09:05 AM
pjpjpjpj pjpjpjpj is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ybrew View Post
add to either Software Or PC utilities -
Bulk Rename Utility http://www.bulkrenameutility.co.uk/Main_Intro.php
Bulk Rename Utility is a free file renaming software for Windows. Bulk Rename Utility allows you to easily rename files and entire folders based upon extremely flexible criteria.
Add date/time stamps, replace numbers, insert text, convert case, add auto-numbers, process folders and sub-folders....plus a whole lot more!
Big +1 on this. A co-worker gave me a copy a while back, I can't tell you how much I use it. I use it at work when I create bulf PDFs, and I use it at home for photo renaming (taking off the "IMG_" or "DSC_" or whatever prefix your camera sticks on every photo) and some other stuff. Saves a ton of time and drudgery.
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Old 09-30-2010, 09:35 AM
ybrew ybrew is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pjpjpjpj View Post
Big +1 on this. A co-worker gave me a copy a while back, I can't tell you how much I use it. I use it at work when I create bulf PDFs, and I use it at home for photo renaming (taking off the "IMG_" or "DSC_" or whatever prefix your camera sticks on every photo) and some other stuff. Saves a ton of time and drudgery.
I've used it to rename ripped tv shows (among other things).
I've got every single episode of the simpsons (Season 1 to Season 21 - don't have season 22 yet) available for streaming and it would've been a nightmare to rename all "Simpsons - S01E10 - Homer does something crazy"
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Old 09-30-2010, 10:30 AM
RetroBox RetroBox is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ybrew View Post
I've got every single episode of the simpsons (Season 1 to Season 21 - don't have season 22 yet) available for streaming and it would've been a nightmare to rename all "Simpsons - S01E10 - Homer does something crazy"
Lol... that is so funny you would just mention that. I just renamed all of my Simpson episodes for all 21 seasons in like 30 minutes with the Bulk Rename Utility. Certainly a lot easier - believe me, I've tried doing it manually before (and have done this for a whole bunch of other shows).

Certainly a +1 for the Bulk Rename Utility.
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Old 09-30-2010, 11:35 AM
RetroBox RetroBox is offline
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Master List

I'm not sure if it is sustainable, but I have added your suggestions to try and create a master list for reference. I have added some new categories to better divide tools into areas of usefulness... please be forgiving on where I place these for I know some tools may fall into several different buckets.

I have also made a new addition to the list: Libox
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Old 09-30-2010, 11:39 AM
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wrems wrems is offline
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Great thread! Very nice to have a list of these tools. Here's one that I really like since my computers time never used to be correct:

http://www.analogx.com/contents/down...s/Freeware.htm

You can make manual adjustments as necessary to dial in the perfect time for recordings.
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Old 10-02-2010, 06:48 AM
mmanville mmanville is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RetroBox View Post
Mini RF Keyboard with Touchpad - Inevitably, sometimes you need to have access to a keyboard and mouse to troubleshoot the system, especially if you're in the middle of a show and the wife wants to see the end of it and its the only recording. This keyboard + mouse combination is really, really tiny. I've been using mine for about a year with no issues whatsoever. The construction is solid and the RF signal is very powerful - I see that they now offer a bluetooth version. I highly recommend it.
Interesting, I hadn't heard of this before. I'm news to Sage (have only had my "trial build" of WHS Vail/SageTV Server + Win7 Client running for less than a week now), so I can't comment too much on the usefulness for Sage yet, but for my Win MCE I have been using the logitech dinovo min bluetooth keyboard for a couple years, and it's been great for that, and it's actually smaller than the one you linked, and IMO looks sleeker on the coffee table, with the closeable lid. It's the gold standard for mini MCE keyboards, but I have no idea what market penetration it has for SageTV users. It is also about 50% more in price.

I would be interested in hearing a comparison of how your meritline keyboard works with Sage compared to the dinovo mini, if anyone happens to have experience with both. There's a few irritations I've had with the dinovo mini so far, but like I said I've only been using it (to control SageTV) for a couple days

Last edited by mmanville; 10-02-2010 at 06:53 AM.
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Old 10-02-2010, 06:58 AM
brewston brewston is offline
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I've used this in the past to schedule putting the server into standby/hibernate at night and waking it again in the morning.

http://www.dennisbabkin.com/php/download.php?what=WOSB
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Old 10-03-2010, 08:38 AM
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hyperspin is a good free mame/others front end, works well... and its free...
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Old 10-04-2010, 12:17 PM
RetroBox RetroBox is offline
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Thanks, guys. This is becoming quite a useful list.

Other than the new additions, I have also added Belvedere to the list from LifeHacker - a file management utility (see above).
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Old 10-08-2010, 09:52 AM
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wrems wrems is offline
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Here's another file renaming utility:

http://www.therenamer.com/

It works wonders on converting TV episodes into perfectly formated titles.
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Old 10-08-2010, 01:49 PM
RetroBox RetroBox is offline
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Originally Posted by wrems View Post
Here's another file renaming utility:

http://www.therenamer.com/

It works wonders on converting TV episodes into perfectly formated titles.
I took a look at the screenshots on the website and this tool looks awesome - will certainly try it when I get a new batch of renaming candidtates.
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Old 10-08-2010, 02:07 PM
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wrems wrems is offline
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Originally Posted by RetroBox View Post
I took a look at the screenshots on the website and this tool looks awesome - will certainly try it when I get a new batch of renaming candidtates.
It's pretty sweet. Just drag and drop. You can go into the options and customize the output to your liking too. Too bad it's only for TV... Makes quick work of episodic TV disc sets and ensures that every individual file is named properly and follows a specific convention.
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Old 10-19-2010, 07:19 AM
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wrems wrems is offline
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Just thought of another. DVD Flick: http://www.dvdflick.net

Really nice DVD burning app that can quickly and easily turn most any media format into a playable DVD. The menus aren't great but they're functional.
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