The Personal Chef
(average bill $5,000 and up)
At the top of the dining heap, there’s the personal chef. Here’s where someone comes to your house, finds out exactly what you want, scours the city to get the right ingredients and cooks it all up in your kitchen for an exquisite custom experience. From media servers like that, expect the best, and pay for it.
A couple of things set these servers apart from the others. Storage is one element, but even in some entry-level or DIY systems, storage can be easily expanded. Multiroom capability is very important here. What’s the use of having access to a massive library of media if you can’t enjoy it all over the house? High-quality audio and video output is also guaranteed at this level. Just as you’d expect the top restaurants in the country to only serve the best steaks, you can take it as a given that this level of product serves high-end files.
Still, one of the main differentiators is the user experience. They handle you like a fine sommelier would by guiding you through your media selections, offering you ample background information and handing it to you with a deft touch that makes you wonder why the whole world doesn’t function this easily.
Usually systems like this either rely on their own graphic touchpanel interface (such as Crestron’s Adagio server or Meridian’s Sooloos Control 15 touchpanel) or they integrate with a control company’s interface device. Most come with apps for smart phones or tablets as well.
You’d think that at the top end of the spectrum, there would be a limited selection of offerings. Surprisingly, there’s quite a few. Meridian’s Sooloos system is an exquisite example in configurations that will get audiophile-sounding tunes delivered to every room in a house. If music variety is your primary interest, then devices like Autonomic’s Mirage MM5 server will fit the order perfectly as it combines a hard drive, several streaming services as well as cloud-access and backup which will also let you get to your music via the Internet even when you’re away from the house.
Check out our review of Autonomic’s Mirage MM5 here.
There a few products that take media serving even further by delivering you DVD and Blu-ray videos as well as music. The Vidabox system is one. It’s based on Windows Media Center, so the interface may seem familiar to people who’ve used the Media Center feature on their computers.
The top chef of this family of products is Kaleidescape. The Kaleidescape system is scalable to anyone’s media needs and able to easily help you find your way through a menu of thousands of movie and music titles. Since it stores movies losslessly on multiple hard drives, the picture experience is indistinguishable from the original Blu-ray disk. Because it’s designed as a multiroom system, you can access your collection anywhere, pause a movie in one room, then pick it up where you left off in another. The company recently launched a new feature called Kaleidescape Scenes that allows you to quickly find some of the best scenes in a movie rather than having to wade through entire films just to find a special moment. The company also offers systems preloaded with movie collections to get the user started. Collections include The Best of Blu-ray, Critics’ 150, New York Times Best DVDs, Academy Award Winners and more.
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Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. He's also the author of the book The Trouble with Rivers
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.