Saturday, May 02, 2009

Exploding Kinetoscope Vs. Delicious Library 2

A few months ago I rented Brian De Palma's Murder à la Mod (1968) from Netflix, intending to screen it less as candidate for addition to my permanent collection than to decide when to buy it. Economic times being what they are (yawn!) and the Something Weird Video DVD having an SRP of ~$20 at last check, it seemed likely that I could do without completing my De Palma library by sating my curiosity about his long-lost first feature. As is my wont, I sat on the disc for several weeks without watching it, until I happened to be hunting for a title on my shelves and, lo and behold: I had already bought Murder à la Mod. There's no telling at what point I purchased it -- could've been years ago now. At any rate, the price has now dropped to $9.98 (SWV has ended their distribution partnership with Image, lowered prices across the board, and returned focus to grassroots DVD-R sales; their shit remains totally off the chain).

The point being: I have too many DVDs, and cannot keep mental track of them. This is only one incident, and at least six times, I've dropped cash on a disc to get home and realize I already own it. Voluntarily shelling out for a double-dip on a new transfer is one thing. Investing in a Blu-ray upgrade is another. But buying stuff you already have by reason of your own scatterbrainedness/ elephantine collection is galling, because it is your own damn fault.

Next point being: I need a way to keep track of DVDs. The physical mass of plastic cases has its own set of difficulties. I've not only run out of shelf space repeatedly, but long ago hit the second wall and can no longer accommodate more shelves. Biting the consolidation bullet was admittedly difficult. I am a collector at heart, and one of the joys of collecting is displaying one's collection. When this was no longer possible, the aesthetician in me realized that while the visual bulk of a thousand DVDs signaled an impressive appetite for film (and, er, fiscal irresponsibility...), DVD cases are not actually good interior decoration. Books are, toys are, art is, but not DVDs. Well, except for some novelty package designs like tins, boxes and those Star Trek boxes that look like spaceman mess kits. After some false starts with disc albums, it was apparent that I may not need a warehouse-worth of Amray cases, but I did need to retain the cover art and any packaging inserts. So, slowly, and at some expense, any disc in a normal, unattractive package is being transfered into MM Designs' DVD Pro Sleeves, which house both discs and printed matter. And hooray, after consigning the empty cases to the storage unit, I haven't missed them for a moment. I've still got some 600 discs to transfer, but at least they are on shelves.

But. Oops. Now titles are even more difficult to see, the covers being flattened into plastic sleeves with no visible spine titles. Browsing has become... difficult. I need an index, a database, a catalogue. Being a man of refined taste and complex needs, no way in hell am I making an Excel spreadsheet. What am I, at work?

There are myriad DVD cataloguing computer applications vying for one's dollars and/or time. They all serve the same purpose, do roughly the same thing, that is, they keep a list of your DVDs. I have played around with the free and Web-based DVD Aficionado on and off for several years, and found it unwieldy to the point of being useless. In hunting high and low for the finest in the land, reading too many useless reviews, and futzing around with demo versions, it has become clear that I will simply have to try two or three different cataloguing programs. This is faster and more fun than researching and debating for days over a matter of $17. First up, Delicious Library...

Delicious Library Is So Cute I Could Punch It

I've got needs. And I'm picky about aesthetics and organization when it comes to my library. The first need is that I am a Mac person, and this sometimes restricts available softwares. It also indicates that I will pay extra for pretty things and good design. The second need is the ability to display a large collection in a meaningful, organized way. This is a primary problem with DVD Aficionado, which breaks a big collection into multiple, numbered pages. Reviews of any cataloguing application tend to start with "now, I have a big collection, so I can use something like this..." So far so good, until: "More than 81 DVDs!" Um. That is well and good, but I kinda need one that will run smoothly while sorting thousands of discs, and I know I am not alone in this. Given the size of my library, ease of data entry is a consideration. Given the nature of the collection, depth and scope of the database from which the app is drawing disc information matters a lot. Finally, speed and muscle to reorganize the listings in a variety of meaningful ways (e.g. - by year, by director, by studio, by label) is important.

Mostly, I picked Delicious Library because it looks adorable. It also can catalogue books, CDs, video games, clothes (snore), tools (double-snore, if that makes sense), and, thrillingly, toys! With appealing interface art designed to look like wooden shelving units (with removable alphabetization labels), animations as products load onto the shelves, cute templates for cover art, and the addictive ability to scan barcodes via built-in iSight webcam, the whole thing is just too irresistible. Those who would balk at the $40 price tag will not likely be swayed by the delight of hearing a speech synthesizer attempting to pronounce "Varan the Unbelievable" and failing.

I have not entered many of my books or toys, but Delicious Library automatically imports your iTunes library. Due to being a scoundrel, my iTunes selections are not synonymous with my physical CDs and vinyl, and I already have, y'know, iTunes to do that for me. Entering my DVDs took the better part of a week. Using the iSight as a scanner works surprisingly well, though light glare off plastic cases requires some creative tilting. Small barcodes proved difficult or impossible to bring into focus, as did a few extra-shiny cases. For unknown reasons, most MGM titles would not scan at all, forcing manual-entry of everything from Planet of the Vampires to West Side Story. Boxed sets with barcodes located on gummed attachments only proved scannable because I am obsessive enough to have saved nearly all of the paper. The bigger the barcode, the better this method works.

Manual entry is, on the whole, probably faster. The fun of scanning one's belongings wears off after a few hours but the fun of typing titles in is minimal to begin with. Delicious Library uses the entirety of as its database for product identification. This is a blessing and a curse in slightly-more-blessing measure; DL simply pulls all metadata and cover art from Amazon. If it's not on Amazon, you'll be entering it by hand. Nearly everything currently in print was dropped onto my shelves and identified correctly, including every disc from countries that are not the United States. I don't think I had to manually enter a single R2 disc. Naturally, anything without a bar code (DVD-Rs, whether gray market or legit) has to be entirely entered by hand; likewise all adult titles, as Amazon does not sell pornography. This is the biggest problem with the utter reliance on Amazon's product listings. Several similar applications utilize a wider variety of searchable sources to identify discs, but Delicious Library is all-'Zon, all the time. So out of print discs, if they aren't currently being sold on the Amazon Marketplace, are going to have to be typed up. While DL honors VHS pre-records, those with laserdisc collections are out of luck. Again.

Upon entering a title, a blank template in the shape of a DVD case or VHS box appears (the books and CDs look like, um, books and CDs), and the cover artwork pours into it from above, as the mechanized speech man announces title and "creator". Art and info, again, all pulled from Amazon. Product not available on Amazon will remain a black, empty case with superimposed title, until you provide an image (see the article masthead up top). Again, some pos and some neg. The idea is that the cover image looks like it is loaded into the case. More often than not, Amazon's default images are an angled shot of box art, show discs poking out of sleeves, or the entire enticing spread of an open boxed set. Perhaps a dozen times per 200 discs, Amazon would identify the wrong edition of a title with multiple issues, or grab the wrong alternate cover art (off the top of my head, Girl, Interrupted popped up with reissue art featuring too much Angelina Jolie and not enough Winona Ryder. NOT OKAY). Keep an eye out. Keep an eye out, too, for any doubled items: DL will assume you did not mean to scan Supervixens twice, and not assume that you are an idiot who accidentally bought the same edition of Supervixens twice. Cover art can be replaced with a simple drag and drop, though should Google image searches prove fruitless, you may be scanning in obscure and outdated covers. Obviously, it doesn't make sense for old-timey WB snapper cases or honking TV season boxed sets to be squeezed into pretend-Amray cases, but I am not psychotic enough to be concerned. It would, however, be neat if gimmick packages could be freed from the templates. I like that on real shelves The Wicker Man's wooden box and Anchor Bay's old massive, pointless tins, and M*A*S*H - Martinis and Medicine's mammoth canvas box dominate their smaller brothers. It is not really possible to separate out the big boys at a glance, but not worth complaining about, either.

There is really no telling who will be credited as "creator". Presumably, this is supposed to be the director, as there is no other field to enter the director's name. There are not designated fields for editors or producers. Usually upon entry, the creator will be listed as director and/or screenwriter, sometimes a producer or editor, sometimes the producer of the disc's supplements, sometimes fifth-billed cast members. When DL announces "Shepherd, Cybill" as solely responsible for Taxi Driver, it is fully possible to edit all data fields in all categories. This is vital, as Amazon synopses and "reviews" are generally useless. Like the cover art issues, part of the pleasure of collecting is the endless garden-tending. There will always be stray, tiny, inconsequential errors to correct. Speaking of the robot-voice, there are audio easter eggs when entering Star Wars and Harry Potter products, but they are not nearly as funny as what happens when you enter a Buñuel movie.

With all this junk loaded up, it can be viewed either on their resize-able shelves, or in list format. Then they may be organized according to whim, by any field. This is where it is crucial that Delicious Library allows full editing of any data, including title. When The Lucio Fulci Collection Volume 2 is listed as such, how am I to remember which two features are in the box? Roan's "Horror Classics" series is listed as such, though I shelve and think of them by the titles of the first films on the discs. Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas pops up without its authorial possessive, unless you change it. I can never remember which films are in BCI/Eclipse's "Drive-In Classics" series, and must find a way to address the issue. Naturally, sorting films by year of release or score composer only works on titles where that information has been filled in correctly. More gardening. Sub-collections of whatever-you-want can be separated out on their own shelves. There is at least one useless and wonderful sorting option: cover color. Alas, it does not work very well.

Besides being vastly easier to navigate than physical walls covered in DVDs, Delicious Library does not offer much besides basic organization. Much data which I consider crucial has to be manually entered, and the entire library combed through for accuracy checks. While I do a majority of DVD shopping online, I still don't have an easy solution for next time I'm at Amoeba Records and pawing through the bins and wondering which Lionel Atwill movies I don't have (though, to be honest, I am currently extremely familiar with what I own. Exhaustively familiar). Some non-vital statistics would be nice, such as quick calculation of the total number of discs I own, as opposed to individual collections. All in all, an excellent, attractive, and above-all, fun tool for browsing, though there is a lot more of which I would ask the Gods of Cataloguing.

Next up: the more powerful, less handsome, significantly cheaper DVDpedia.


Dennis Cozzalio said...

Thanks for taking the time to document this experience. I'm in the same boat, to the point where stacks of DVDs threaten to fall on either me or one of my innocent children every time I decide to, oh, change a shirt or brush my teeth. Looking forward to hearing about DVDpedia, but I'll check up on it myself too.

By the way, Chris, what are you doing on May 30th?

Star said...

Delicious library rules !! i have the deluxe box DVD with cheap viagra and interviews with the members of the crew