Kaleidescape’s flagship Cinema One movie server has always catered to the most immersive theatrical viewing experiences in home theater, which streaming content has never been optimized for. However, the architecture of the media server is evolving with the addition of the Kaleidescape Store, and eventually, cloud-based storage and streaming. If there is one thing that cord-cutters and the proliferation of OTT set-top box solutions tell us, it’s that consumers love streaming media for entertainment today. It’s just another way of championing convenience over quality. Rather than getting too hung up on how tragic that is for professionals dedicated to the highest quality entertainment solutions, pride is being swallowed, and the technology is accommodating this demand. The trend has had significant impact on the traditional media server product category, in which manufacturers have for the most part adapted their products in response. What is encouraging is that these adaptations are taking on various iterations by each manufacturer. From HD audio and Blu-ray quality, to the user interface, control system integration, and streaming service partnerships, media management systems are evolving with the times.
The category has exploded over the past few years, as consumers have become more aware of the value and convenience of streaming content. How this might continue to develop is at the forefront of current product development plans for media management hardware suppliers.
High-resolution audio is one factor that Fusion Research has top of mind. “Convenience has been key in the past; we’ll see if this new push for HD audio will change the tastes of the public,” said Ingo Schmoldt, VP of sales at Fusion. “What’s been interesting is the absolute need for a solution by all the major home automation companies.”
New drivers for Control4, RTI, Crestron, and URC, among others, have been released by Fusion, as a result.
Fusion has focused most of its energy on streaming products for the last two years, Schmoldt said. The release of a new Ovation wireless music distribution system was based on the ease of taking streaming content throughout the home at reasonable price points. “We’ve also focused heavily on making sure all our streaming products are capable of reproducing the finest audio recordings,” he said. “As HD audio continues to get heavy coverage, consumers are beginning to understand that quality means something tangible to them. Our ability to play most audiophile formats, 24/96 audio and output 192/24 on all our music products has been a tremendous boon for integrators pitching that higher end solution.”
According to Schmoldt, his company’s Ovation wireless system is highly scalable, allowing integrators to distribute discrete sources through a house without needing to run wires or use matrix switchers. At CEDIA EXPO, Fusion will be showing these solutions, as well as the new Elite audiophile music server, which “will blow people away with the quality of sound for the price point–a true reference product for our Ovation music product line,” Schmoldt said.
The release of a new Ovation wireless music distribution system was based on the ease of taking streaming content throughout the home at reasonable price points. Autonomic is working hard to stay on top of the latest streaming services, as well. Most recently, Deezer was added to the Mirage Music Player, for customers in the 180 countries (not the U.S.) where that music service is available. The company has invested in the direct relationships with the individual streaming service providers instead of using third-party devices to access that content.
“Autonomic will continue to scour the market for viable services, and integrators can keep their customers current with the latest features and revisions through firmware updates, enabling the product to evolve even after the initial release,” said Autonomic CEO Michael de Nigris.
The experience of streaming within the Autonomic product line also has been a focus for the company. With Autonomic’s proprietary TuneBridge technology, users can browse between local content and streaming services while discovering new music and creating mixed queues from a blend of personal and streaming content.
The most recent introduction from Autonomic, the MMS-2A music player, uses an ultra-quiet solid state drive (SSD) for reliability, as consumers are relying less on mass storage of their media in lieu of streaming content. The music server is available with pre-programmed modules to integrate with the major control systems, including Crestron, RTI, Control4, ELAN, AMX, and others.
At CEDIA, Autonomic is showcasing its Dealer Zone, which allows set up for multiple employees with varying access levels for admins, managers, sales, and technicians. The main purpose is to increase efficiency for integrators while improving the customer experience. There is also a sales management lead generation tool.
Quality also has been priority one for Kaleidescape, And, due to concerns over lower performance, potential buffering issues, and user interfaces limitations, the company has avoided streaming in the past. However, CEO Cheena Srinivasan now believes that it is “prime time” for the media server category, which may lead to the first streaming products for the luxury brand.
“The consumers’ appetite for the convenience of purchasing movies from an online store for easy and immediate access has meant that Kaleidescape has had to focus on building a world-class online content retail store,” Srinivasan said. “We introduced the Kaleidescape Store last year, and we will strengthen it this year with some fantastic new content partners.”
With Autonomic’s proprietary TuneBridge technology, users can browse between local content and streaming services while discovering new music and creating mixed queues from a blend of personal and streaming content. The architecture of the movie server is what is evolving for Kaleidescape. “The current environment requires local storage, but as our architecture evolves over the coming years, the server will only include some local storage for caching high-resolution files,” Srinivasan explained. “The future architecture will increasingly depend on the cloud. This strikes a perfect balance: the convenience of internet delivery and cloud-based content plus the reliability of locally cached content for a responsive and high-quality viewing experience.”
There will be a place for media streaming within the Kaleidescape environment, eventually. “In the future, as we continue to offer the best movie experience at home, both download and streaming capabilities will have a place,” Srinivasan said.
“We believe that once all technology enablers are fully in place, we are going to bring the Kaleidescape experience, as you know it today, to a point where all of a customer’s content will reside securely in the cloud. And at some point in the future, we’ll naturally evolve to streaming movies from your library.”
Mozaex is addressing the streaming media appetite with iTunes integration. A new iPlay feature adds support for iTunes movie and music streaming to the Mozaex Blu-ray Entertainment Server to play content back with the quality of Blu-ray movies and CD music. “Now with iPlay, Mozaex clients can enjoy their entire iTunes, Bluray, DVD, CD, and other media collection all in one simple and elegant cover art media library,” said Douglas Kihm, CEO.
The iPlay feature automatically imports into the Mozaex cover art media library all movies and music purchased from iTunes, to display in the Mozaex library or control system display.
Since early 2007 and 2008, NuVo has gradually implemented streaming content options into its product offerings. “Today, we offer network content access first while still supporting analog inputs for legacy gear,” said Desiree Webster, marketing communications manager, for Legrand’s NuVo and On-Q.
With streaming content becoming more and more prevalent, the cloud is the area to look at for upcoming media servers. “The thing to watch is cloud-based storage, its providers, the membership plans and the adoption curve,” Webster said. “Cloud-based storage could change the world of in-home based servers and require access only to these services.”
Assassin HTPC is encouraging people to cut the cord through educating them about these options and adding plugins for streaming services, like Hulu Plus or HBO Go. “I think there are still some consumers out there on the fence about getting rid of cable and losing access to their favorite shows, but when they see variety of different content streaming services available, then it makes the decision a lot easier,” said Ben Settles, COO, who predicts that the number of streaming services are just going to increase.
“I think it’s going to be hard for anyone to rival what Netflix has done in terms of content size, but we might see new providers popping up that appeal to a certain demographic,” Settles added. “A great example of this is what Twitch.tv has done with the gaming market. It’s important that our products adapt with the marketplace and offer the option to stream new services as they become available.”
With the Indiana company’s third appearance at CEDIA, this year’s show marks the debut of a new brand from Assassin HTPC, Helix Media Systems, which were created specifically for custom installers.
“We received a lot of great feedback at CEDIA last year and have spent the past 10 months developing the Helix formula,” Settles explained. “I think the biggest difference is that our Helix lineup is designed to integrate with many of the popular home automation systems. Also, each Helix comes with professional support from our team who will work with custom installers to make sure their customers are getting the most out of their systems.”
Lindsey Adler is associate editor of Residential Systems and Systems Contractor News.