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Are You Being Served?

Many of the predictions about media servers—that they will grow in popularity, capacity, and functionality— have come to fruition within the last year. Underscoring the growing significance of this product category
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As Media Servers Grow In Presence, The CI Channel Pays Attention

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Media Fusion Research, which has a new line of Blu-rayready BD media server products, partnered with technology firm, ArcSoft to help it overcome some of the challenges of integrating Blu-ray playback. Many of the predictions about media servers—that they will grow in popularity, capacity, and functionality— have come to fruition within the last year. Underscoring the growing significance of this product category to the custom installation channel is the recent formation of the Media Center Integrator Alliance, which made its debut at CEDIA EXPO 2008 in Denver last month. The organization has charged itself with creating a unified front to advance the Media Center ecosystem in our industry,and intends to do so by building a bridge between integrators and manufacturers in hopes of raising awareness about Media Center-based technology and its role in whole-home systems.

According to the Alliance, to date more than 110 Media Center software editions have shipped, and the MCIA want the CEDIA channel to benefit from its promising business opportunities. Kevin Collins, chairman of the board and president of MCIA, said that the new Alliance has linked major industry manufacturers—Crestron, AMD, Intel, Niveus Media, HP, Life-ware—with specific core strengths to collaborate on certification, standards, education, and other training tools to maximize the potential and profit of the Media Center. The intention is not only to “pool resources” to help grow market penetration, Collins noted, but the MCIA wants to create a true community spirit. “[We hope to] share best practices and techniques, bring together the best in breed and all the companies and add-ins that fill out this sector,” he said.

MCIA’s treasurer, Greg Schlechter, added: “In the next year we aim to get a critical mass of integrators and manufacturers, establish training sessions, create white papers and roundtable discussions to get the important feedback on what integrators really need.”

Sooloos has taken a mix-and-match packaged approach to selling its music server system, with a choice of three different storage levels, two playback options, and three control options that includes its proprietary Control:One LCD touchpanel (pictured). Besides media servers, the Alliance has invited relevant manufacturers of all aspects of the wholehome environment—from HD digital content, extenders, security, thermostats, and lighting control—to join the initiative.

Integrating blu-ray

With growing market penetration and consumer recognition, media server manufacturers have kept up pretty well with changing forces in the field. The CEDIA EXPO showfloor saw a wealth of manufacturers pitching relevant upgrade like Bluray to their range, as well as proprietary software functionality aimed at standing out from the pack.

Fusion Research, which has a new line of Blu-rayready BD media server products, partnered with technology firm, ArcSoft to help it overcome some of the challenges of integrating Blu-ray playback. Fusion president Joseph Storm noted upon unveiling the the new line that it was the first step in the company’s multi-tiered approach to providing content support. “We also wanted to make sure that every Fusion customer is given an upgrade path, so no one is left out of the new technology.” To that end, Fusion is also offering Blu-ray upgrades for its existing customer’s non-BD players.

Inteset, which prides itself on its hardware and software savvy, has updated its Movie Collection server module, which interfaces with Windows Center to fully support Blu-ray movies. The module is available on all Inteset media servers, though the company’s Maximus server comes equipped with Blu-ray playback; it is optional on the Denzel and Vana media servers. The module upgrade is free on all prior and new Inteset servers running Vista Media Center.

Niveus Media has brokered its own partnership with CI distribution giant ADI to get its latest server, the Vail Edition, into the hands of integrators. Once referred to as the Sierra during its Beta phase, the new server runs with the company’s proprietary Niveus ConvergencePanel AV ports, is energy efficient, and integrates with popular home automation controls like AMX and Crestron.

Proprietary considerations
Kaleidescape, which recently placed number 415 on Inc. magazine’s “500 Fastest Growing Private Companies in America for 2008” list, is well known for having created its own media server universe. The company has now opened up control integration via Exceptional Innovation’s Life-ware platform. Users will now be able to use the Life-ware interface via any device that can run the Life-ware client software, such as EI’s Life-point touch panel, to navigate and select movies and music using Kaleidescape’s onscreen displays.

Along with the Life-ware partnership, Kaleidescape also has released a 1080p Player and Fusion Research, which has a new line of Blu-rayready BD media server products, partnered with technology firm, ArcSoft to help it overcome some of the challenges of integrating Blu-ray playback. 1080p Mini Player that create high-definition output from DVDs, providing a viewing experience that the company says rivals Blu-ray. The units also have new user interface support for the Philips Pronto TSU9400, TSU9600, and TSU9800 suite of remote controls.

EI has its own solid-state server, Life-media, which like all of the company’s products works via Microsoft Windows Vista. Kitted out with a DVD drive, Life-media comes in five versions as either a three or four-space rack-mount or set-top unit, with a choice of a digital CableCARD, ATSC and NTSC tuner, as well as 7.1-channel analog and optical audio with Dolby Home Theater decoding.

Pick and choose
One of the newer players on the block is Sooloos,which has taken a mix-and-match packaged approach to selling its music server system. With a choice of three different storage levels, two playback options, and three control options that includes its proprietary Control:One LCD touchpanel,PC-based integrated control, and Crestron interplay. The company recently added to this cache with more hardware options for dealers and users. The new Sooloos Ensemble, which has a removable drive bay that can accommodate up to a terabyte of storage, features four stereo unbalanced RCA outputs and one S/PDIF digital out that allows users to listen to multiple Sooloos feeds in different rooms simultaneously.

The new Sooloos Twinstore has a single chassis with two removable drive mechanisms that can accommodate up to a terabyte of storage each. With Twinstore, primary and backup drives for Sooloos can reside in a single enclosure. The company now offers hard drive purchase options as well. Ensemble, Twinstore and all other Sooloos storage components are now priced without drives, enabling dealers and customers to add whatever storage fits their needs.

Sunfire, too, has tapped into the modular and scalable server option, with its TGM-100 system that ranges from 1TB to 6TB. An animated TV interface provides intuitive and instant access to the collection, while the system also upconverts the user’s existing DVD library to near-HD 1080p quality.

Kaleidescape has released a 1080p Player and 1080p Mini Player that create HD output from DVDs, providing a viewing experience that the company says rivals Blu-ray.

CodexNovus’ DML Series Digital Media Player/Server is built around the company’s HDcodex software architecture, which allows users to consolidate all their music, movies, and photos via its on-screen user interface. Interestingly, the DML series also has what it calls a Peer-to-Peer Network that allows nearly limitless combinations of CodexNovus’s digital media servers, its digital media library players/servers, and Client players to be configured into an extensive, multimedia network.

FUZE Media Systems is launching FuzeOne, a whole-home media system designed for the retrofit market. It offers two features never before offered on the system: the FuzeOne disc importer, which allows users to insert a DVD into any PC in the home and store it on the hard drive with a single button click; and the enabling of PC control, which allows users to use any PC throughout the home to control the system, in addition to using the system’s standard remote control at any TV.

Network pipeline
Bringing online streaming content and DVD movies into living rooms of owners of the iQ and F-Series media servers, Request unveiled its Intelligent Media Client (IMC) network device at CEDIA EXPO. IMC includes a slot-loading DVD drive to deliver local playback of DVDs, as well as the ability to archive movies to the host system’s iQ or F-Series media server. Once archived, music, movies, and videos become part of the server’s library, available for search, instant recall, and viewing in any room of the house via ReQuest’s graphical user interface. Movie playback, whether local or archived, is upscaled to 1080p by the IMC for near-HD image quality via its HDMI and component outputs. The IMC also acts as a gateway to online media and offers access to millions of videos from YouTube. In the near future, ReQuest plans to integrate many more services like YouTube for streaming and downloadable content of music, video, and photos.

Home automation giant, Crestron, has harnessed its extensive expertise of home automation control with the increasing ubiquity of the iPod to create the iServer, touted as the world’s first permanent, integrated iPod-based home audio server.Using the iPod itself as the hard drive (it is installed in the front panel slot of the unit), the iServer connects to the home network to provide direct communication with the home computer and enables automatic synchronization and updates whenev changes are made to the iTunes Library.

ReQuest’s Intelligent Media Client (IMC) network device includes a slot-loading DVD drive to deliver local playback of DVDs, as well as the ability to archive movies to the host system’s iQ or F-Series
Escient, one of the pioneers in digital media management, has begun shipping its Vision Series Media Management products to authorized dealers. The VS-100 and VS-200 are advanced hard drive-based components, with RAID backup, that let users store, manage, and stream all of their media to a host of devices within their home network. Throughout the Vision Series line, advanced lifestyle-enhancing features and capabilities are integrated smoothly, including direct access to Rhapsody— a leading digital music service.

Control4’s Media Controller digitally stores a home’s various music collections and delivers simultaneous audio streams over a wired or wireless home network. In addition to its online music recognition hook, the Controller does double duty as a home automation system, controlling everything from light, security, and climate. The 80-gig server integrates with Control4’s wide array of interfaces, as well as other third-party components.

CodexNovus’ DML Series Digital Media Player/Server is built around the company’s HDcodex software architecture. Networked AV systems manufacturer Netstreams announced at CEDIA EXPO that its DigiLinX audio, video, and control system now offers integration with the Qsonix Q110 Series Digital Music Management Systems. Customers can now use the Qsonix user interface to stream audio over the DigiLinX network to different rooms in the home. Qsonix’s new Version 2.45 software showcases three major upgrades: the MusicGiants builtin music store with even more search features, new .flac lossless format import and optional .wav uncompressed storage format support.

Margot Douaihy contributed to this article.

Llanor Alleyne is managing editor of Residential Systems in New York City.

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