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Escient to D&M: Don’t Bury Me! I’m Not Dead!

Well, it’s been over six months since I postulated that iPod – with it’s cheap-cheap 160 Gig drive, incredibly-easy-to-manage-your-library iTunes software and heck just forget the whole iPod altogether and use an Apple TV – was going to possibly kill server company Escient. The real warning sign for me was getting t

Well, it’s been over six months since I postulated that iPod – with it’s cheap-cheap 160 Gig drive, incredibly-easy-to-manage-your-library iTunes software and heck just forget the whole iPod altogether and use an Apple TV – was going to possibly kill server company Escient. The real warning sign for me was getting the latest price sheet that rivaled Airplane’s Pamphlet of Famous Jewish Sports Legends in size with a whopping two (2) SKUs. (Now, I’m no detective, but those were some tea leaves that seemed pretty easy to interpret.)

And it has been a mere five months since D&M Holdings confirmed that they were actually closing Escient’s doors; announcing that they were “discontinuing Escient branded products in order to utilize all of the company’s expertise toward incorporating its innovative technologies into our core D&M brands.” You can read my original post, Escient: RIP, iPod Did Kill You, here.

So, OK. Escient is gone. But with another CEDIA EXPO under our belts, and a whole new slate of Marantz and Denon products available to us – and nary a server in either company’s line-ups, I figure that I’d ask, that I’d just put it out there…just because Escient has closed its doors, does ALL of it have to be gone?

Maybe it isn’t economically viable for Escient, the standalone company, to remain in business, producing, warranting, and R&Ding cool new stuff and choosing whether or not to exist in those sketchy Hollywood can we/can’t we movie ripping waters and now how do we handle Blu-ray and it’s entirely new set of angry kittens tied in a burlap sack? However, maybe it IS totally possible for Escient to recreate itself – to burst forth from the charred and scattered microchip remains and streamline itself into a much leaner and meaner technology add-on offering, allowing the three principal D&M lines – Denon, Marantz, and McIntosh – to offer an awesome feature set found NOWHERE else.

Let me posit what I suggested to Kevin Zarrow, VP at Marantz, several years ago at an Escient anniversary dinner back when CEDIA was in the happy land we industry insiders call “Denver.” (The Reserve Cabernets were flowing like the Grade IV rapids, though instead of being rough and choppy, they were smooth and big and oaky.) So I asked him, “Kevin, why not incorporate Escient technologies directly into higher end Marantz and Denon receivers?”

And I ask that again now. Kevin, why not incorporate Escient technologies DIRECTLY into your $1,000 and up receivers? Now, I’m no engineer, so I’m sure there are some technical whoop-de-doos and hurdles to deal with, but I’m pretty sure that D&M has some freaky EEs on board that would love nothing better than to sequester themselves away in a overly lit fluorescent room with T-squares and slide rules and CAD workstations and totally geek out on this at the chip level. But from how I see it, this looks like it should be an incredibly simple integration.

First, let’s take one of Escient’s final components, the FP1 iPod dock. This was a relatively small component that on the surface seems that it could easily be incorporated into a mega-receiver with seemingly little fuss, muss or expense. First, take off the plastic case; we don’t need it. Any receiver has a much nicer shell already. Second, remove the external power supply; we’ve got a giant power supply in the receiver. The analog and digital audio outputs? Yank’em; the receiver has plenty of A to D and D to A on board and probably of much higher, 96/24 processing horsepower anyhow. The Ethernet jack? Redundant, as nearly any receiver over $1,000 already has hardwired and WiFi network streaming capability. The variety of video outputs? Yep, don’t need them either, as every AV receiver already has a full complement, with stellar processing and cross- and upconversion. The IR and RS-232 and IP control? Yeah; got that covered too.

So, what are we left with? Basically the Escient chipset, GUI and database, all of which I would imagine could fit on something little larger than a postage stamp and should still be part of Escient’s intellectual property that should have survived and still be part of D&M’s arsenal and is probably just sitting there like a Cold War nuke buried many feet underground in a lead and concrete lined bunker.

So, how would this work? I see Denon, Marantz, and McIntosh embedding this chip into their upper end receivers, which would then offer customers a spectacular step-up incentive beyond the usual “well this one has 100 watts times seven, and this one has 105 watts times seven, plus one extra HDMI and an analog Zone 3 output.” So, since EVERY receiver has “works with iPod/Phone” connection, why not process this material in an Escient manner, giving a WAY better interface? For instance, bring up the iPod input automatically, pull the Escient interface, and throw it up on the big screen instead of just some pathetic white block text on black background. That is a real-world upgrade. Don’t want to use it with an iPod? Fine. How about one of those USB jacks that has made its way onto virtually every receiver now, allowing you to connect to a giant Terabyte drive and enjoy your music with a WAY better GUI. Don’t want to add a separate drive? Escient had a very workable piece of software called Fireball PC that let you browse and stream your music across the homes’ network.

Also, with just a little bit of R&D money, this Escient technology should be able to easily interface with the new Sony 400 disc Blu-ray changer. Look, if Control4 can do it via RS232 in a box that retails for under $700 and does a TON of other stuff to boot, then there is no reason that Escient couldn’t do it as well by just slightly modifying what they had already been doing for years with the original Sony 400 disc DVD changer. Imagine if one of those random USB jacks or a new, purposed RS-232 jack could connect to a mega-disc changer and give you another terrific movie browsing interface right out of the box? People paid $1,000 and up for this management feature ALONE, so you think that it would help you sell $2,000 and up receivers beyond the fact that it has a way better power supply and amp section? I do!

Come on, Escient! Don’t Rest In Peace! You’ve been struck down. Now’s the time to come back, more powerful than we can possibly imagine!