The Future of Media Servers
Digitized media and distributed A/V are gaining traction, fast. Where this trend will take us, and which media server technology will dominate are the big questions.
Fictional Denon Media Server
Denon’s new Blu-ray Media 2TB Server? Alas, no, just one (very imaginative) artists concept rendering of what the future may bring. Are you listening Denon?
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January 04, 2008 by Rebecca Day

Still, there’s a thriving market of proprietary server systems that are taking varied approaches to whole-house distribution of entertainment. Control4 has linked up with Sony, for example, to stream content from the company’s CAV-CVS12ES High-Definition Video Distribution System. The Sony switching system distributes up to 12 HD signals—from any HD source including DVD, satellite or set-top box—to up to 12 different TVs over a single Cat 5e wire.

High-end control company AMX keeps its server and control solution in-house. The AMX MAX home entertainment server stores movies and music, which users select through an AMX touchscreen controller, TV or PC. You can search for media by cover art, title, artist, genre, playlist or other data via icons or on-screen text that’s customizable to the user. In a hurry? Type in the movie you’re looking for using a virtual keyboard.

iMuse, which sells through the custom channel, provides the hardware server for DVDs and CDs and leaves it up to dealers and owners to choose the ripping software required to decrypt and store content to hard disk. The iMuse Ascent media server stores movies and distributes them to Sierra players that connect to TVs in satellite rooms. The company expected to ship high-def versions for Blu-ray and HD DVD discs by the end of last year. Server prices start at $4,000, not including installation.

Escient’s Linux-based Vision series servers start shipping to dealers in February and will allow users to import their movies and videos (if the user confirms that they have the right to do so) and play back content in the same way the company’s music servers organize and play back music. “Escient’s vision for the future is one in which people have an easy and totally secure way to access and enjoy their entertainment media throughout the home via a single intuitive interface, and our new Vision series products make this promise a reality,” according to Bill Carson, general manager at Escient. Regarding the digital rights management issue, Carson notes. “We are placing the power and responsibility to choose how you manage your content with our customers.  We’re providing the capacity for users to store all of their digital content in an extremely secure environment and access it throughout the home.  At the same time we are requiring customers to confirm that they have the right to put the content there,” he says. The Escient model uses standard file-transferring software to move DVD content from the home PC to the Vision hard drive.

According to Carson, Vision differs from Kaleidescape in features and price. The company has integrated the Rhapsody music system with Vision and adds digital image support. The price of the Vision system starts at $3,900 for the S100 single-room solution. The networked 4TB VX600 ($8,000) server connects to VC1 client boxes ($1,999 each) to give users access to all files on any media servers in the home.

Other media server companies are more cautious about video distribution. “The legal stuff happening on the video side has held us back,” says Bill McKiegan, vice president of sales and marketing at ReQuest. The ReQuest VRQ controller works through a Sony DVD changer and can distribute movies throughout the house via a third-party switcher, but the company is avoiding a hard-disk solution for DVDs at this time.

Instead, ReQuest is looking at online download opportunities in the form of high-speed Internet services, including Verizon’s FiOS network, whose promised download speeds of 6 megabytes per second make hi-res video downloads a realistic alternative to discs. “The download model is much more viable, and that’s the direction we’re looking toward,” says McKiegan. “The silver disc will eventually become obsolete.” Look for ReQuest to introduce a video download solution in mid- to late 2008.

As online media proliferates, A/V distribution will go more mainstream, according to Exceptional Innovation’s Seamons. “Anybody who’s moving toward getting digital, high-definition, on-demand content over the Internet,” he says, “is going to need servers like these.”

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