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Escient FireBall DVDM-300 Media Server

Part III

November, 2005

Sandy Bird

 

Movie Playback

The most unique features about the DVDM-300 is its ability to control up to three Sony or Kenwood DVD changers. In other reviews, we have mentioned that it is possible to copy (rip) DVDs to hard drives of some PC-based solutions. However, the software support for this is not great, as the MPAA does not appreciate the movies leaving the DVD media. The Escient gives the user the same experience while leaving the DVD data on the DVD.

The DVDM-300 connects to the Sony DVD changer via the RS-232 control and uses the S-Link connections for Kenwood players or Sony CD Changer. It then uses that control to discover what DVDs are in the changer and look up information about the DVDs via the internet. This process take some time, approximately 1 minute per disc, but once complete, the DVDM has a full index of all your DVDs, so now you can select and play any of the media through the DVDM which controls the changer. The information is supplied by the Escient MovieDB.

The audio and video signals from the DVD player are passed through the DVDM, allowing seamless playback. While this type of connection is excellent for ease of use and queuing movies, most of us have upgraded to some form of digital connection to our display, so changing inputs on your display for a direct connection of the highest quality signal is recommended.

Navigation of movies in the DVDM is almost exactly the same as navigating your music library, so I won't go into details on navigation. There are additional functions included in DVD set-up, such as passwords for movie ratings, which can be very useful if you have children using the unit.

Here are the Movie Menus.

Internet Radio

The DVDM-300 also provides access to Internet Radio stations. The interface for navigating the stations is very similar to navigating music and movies, and in each of the genre groups, there are between 1 and 10 stations to choose from. The audio quality of these stations was OK, but I certainly would not replace my media collection. I have never been overly impressed with the quality of Internet Radio, and this solution didnít change my mind. However, if you are a frequent listener of audio streamed from the internet, this is a nicely integrated and easy to use solution. The user can also add their own WMA-encoded Internet Radio sites.

Web Interface

Another great option that the DVDM has is the ability to be controlled using a web- based interface. This allows the user to connect to the unit using a standard web browser from another computer and control it just as if you are using the remote control. If you have an old tablet PC or an Air Panel you can use it as a touch screen control for the unit. This comes in very handy when you are using another input on the display device in DVD playback mode or when you are in another room (or zone) listening to music. The Web Interface can also be used to stream music playback to another PC in the home. In this mode, instead of controlling the playback of the DVDM, it can give your PC playback access to all your stored media. This would make an easy way to set up several wireless music zones in your home. Escient also sells a touch panel control to be used directly with the DVDM-300.

Note: Interface images in this review were captured using the web interface. In all cases, the screens shown on the video display were similar, with the exception of the button down the sides of the screen captures. These buttons (such as music, radio, movie, volume, etc.) are not shown on the video display, but are accessible from the remote.

Firmware

I would love to report this DVDM is a flawless unit, but any time you cram this much functionality into a single box, you will end up with the odd quirk. Luckily the DVDM allows users to download new firmware to the unit from the Internet just by choosing a simple menu option in the set-up. The issues I had with the unit were fairly minor, but it is nice to know Escient has thought of this in advance and allows users to easily upgrade.

Conclusions

As I mentioned, I found the interface for the DVDM a little different from some of the other solutions I have used. I seem to prefer the IPOD/Media Center-like interface nearly all of the other systems have chosen to use, but I am sure that is only because I am familiar with them. At times, I found the DVDM interface a little sluggish, but not to the point I could not live with it. In the Movie mode you do have to remember the DVDM is controlling a physical changer, so the changer takes a bit of time to move the DVD after selecting one from the interface. There are media players out there that store the movies on hard drives, but they cost a great deal more.

The DVDM-300 is a pleasant surprise when it comes to media library playback and management. It accomplishes what most PC-based solutions strive to be, but shouldn't anger the copyright gurus in Hollywood. The interface is user friendly enough that you could easily teach guests how to use the system. The video interface should allow a color pallet for everyone's liking. The only important feature missing from the DVDM is support of video playback formats like DIVX and WMV.

If you are looking for a media server, the Escient is one I would recommend that you try, especially if the thought of having a PC in the middle of your entertainment system makes you cringe.



- Sandy Bird -

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