December 22, 2008
| by Lisa Montgomery
The capabilities of the switchers range from Crestron’s Digital Media Switcher that can distribute content from eight high-def video sources to two TVs, to Savant’s beefy HD switch that passes 27 high-def sources to as many as 36 different areas in the house. In most cases, the switchers designed by home control companies are intended to be integrated with their core home control systems. This approach provides consumers with the tools to easily manage their media content as well as other electronics in the home, but it comes with a fairly high price tag.
Fortunately, there are lower-priced options. Recognizing that few people have 36 TVs and that consumers may not be willing to dole out big dollars for a complete home control system, Aton has developed a 4-zone HD router (expandable to 16 zones). Priced at $1,899, the HDR44 distributes four HD sources at up to 1080p to four TVs.
Now that there are plenty of solid systems for distributing HD, the next hurdle for manufacturers will be to design systems that can rip and store Blu-ray discs on the hard-disc drive of a media server. Some media servers promise to do this already. Inteset, for example, offers a 15-terabyte network attached storage (NAS) server for ripping and storing a huge assortment of entertainment, including Blu-ray movies. Media servers from VidaBox can be customized to offer any amount of storage capacity, and owner Steven Cheung recommends at least 4 TB for Blu-ray storage. Like Inteset’s solutions, servers from VidaBox can stream the media to multiple locations in the house. However, until copyright issues are ironed out, the software included with these systems can read only unencrypted Blu-ray discs.
Some companies are choosing to sidestep the technical and legal hurdles of storing Blu-ray content by creating servers that can enhance DVDs, play Blu-ray discs, or link with a 400-disc Blu-ray megachanger due to be released by Sony sometime next year.
For manufacturers like Escient, Kaleide-scape and ReQuest, the goal of upconverting DVDs stored digitally on the hard drive of a media server is to make them look as close to a high-def video source as possible. Kaleidescape product development director Linus Wong even goes so far as to say that the viewing experience of a DVD upscaled to a 1080p resolution will rival that of Blu-ray. It won’t be a bit-for-bit identical image, but the upscaling technology will certainly make your DVDs look great on a high-def 1080p TV.
Another way manufacturers are embracing Blu-ray is by building players directly into their media servers. Axonix, Fusion Research, Fuze Media Systems, Inteset and Niveus Media have all taken this course. “We started by building Blu-ray into our high-end servers last year,” says Niveus Media CEO Tim Cutting. “In 2009, it’ll be in all of our products.” Playback is only part of the picture, though. Some of the systems for 2009 will include technology that will scan the inserted Blu-ray disc to identify it and then retrieve a full profile of information—including cover art—to display on the screen of the TV.
Last but not least, there’s the 400-Blu-ray disc megachanger Sony plans to release. Unlike media servers that require content to be ripped and stored digitally onto a hard drive, the megachanger will physically hold each Blu-ray disc in your library. “Right now, there’s no way to legally pull a Blu-ray movie off a disc and store it on a hard drive,” says Sony’s Manowitz.
Of course, organizing and managing that many discs could be a real nightmare. Escient, for one, hopes to simplify the task by enabling the Sony changer to interface with the navigation software found on its Vision line of media navigation systems. Through the software, users will be able to categorize their movies by genre, artist or other classification to make finding a flick quick and easy. Escient provided a similar setup for Sony’s DVD changer that has been discontinued, so Escient is now focused on Sony’s new Blu-ray solution. “Our servers are ready and waiting for the Sony changer to come out,” says Marty Wachter, senior product manager at Escient.
Sony’s Blu-ray storage solution may not be available just yet, but the new year promises plenty of innovative products to get your home technology plans off to a great start. You’ll be able to get your flat-panel TV closer to the wall and share your Blu-ray discs with every TV in your home. Storage options for your audio and video content will be roomier than in years past, and new technologies will make it possible to enjoy all that media—in high def—from anywhere in the house.
Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.