Scrolling through options like movies, music, or weather on RipWave media server fills the screen with various appropriately themed, highres images.
Editor's Note: Following publication of this product review in the March 2014 print edition, Residential Systems was informed by the owner of Assassin HTPC about a lawsuit in Indiana's Marion County Circuit/Superior Court that he had initiated against the owners of Rip Wave Media (aka "Encompassed") alleging several things, including that Rip Wave Media "was capitalized, without permission, with software licenses and product parts purchased by Assassin" and that it Rip Wave Media's owner "took and used Assassin's product designs, instruction pamphlets and confidential and proprietary information for the benefit of Encompassed." It's a convoluted situation, but one that Residential Systems felt warranted a disclaimer to go with this review by John Sciacca. As with any new product or company, perform your own due diligence before committing to this product.
Media servers used to be the hot products at tradeshows, with numerous manufacturers demonstrating their spins on the category. But over the years, the number of options has waned, and now only a handful of premium priced systems remain.
RipWave Media began by making media servers for advanced end-users, but recently, decided to bring its more affordable systems to a wider audience. In fact, the company exhibited for the first time at this past CEDIA EXPO.
Usually I configure review components for the full install experience, but the RipWave system arrived pre-configured and only required connecting an HDMI cable to my Marantz pre-pro. The Premium Media Server looks like a high-end component and its build-quality and assembly look top-notch.
The system boots very quickly, and it is apparent that RipWave is running Windows 7 Professional using the open source media player, XBMC. It launches into the RipWave Media screen, essentially “locking” users out of any Windows functions. (They are still accessible if you connect a keyboard.) This makes the system far more stable–I experienced very few issues requiring a reboot–and keeps users from doing anything that could cause performance issues.
I’m something of a GUI snob, and I was very impressed with RipWave’s look. Scrolling through options like movies, music, or weather fills the screen with various appropriately themed, high-res images. The system offers the typical music browsing options and also supports AirPlay and UPnP along with a large variety of audio files including 192/24 FLAC.
Like many servers, RipWave won’t import any encrypted, store-bought discs out of the box. “Unlocking” this ability requires purchasing and downloading either MakeMKV or AnyDVD HD. Of course, “RipWave does not condone any other use for this product and suggests owners should respect the copyrights of others,” so use your own interpretation of the Millennium Copyright Act.
My system arrived with AnyDVD HD installed and imported most DVDs and Blu-rays with aplomb. It handled major Blu-ray titles–Last Vegas, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, Man of Steel–with no trouble, but was oddly tripped up by test discs like Spears & Munsil and Silicon Optix HQV.
Looking at my usual battery of test patterns, the RipWave had difficulty handling interlaced SD content, producing many jaggies. When playing DVDs, it didn’t deliver the resolution and detail of better Blu-ray players. However HD material looked terrific. Once imported, the movie library is presented in a variety of really cool manners, including a “Showcase” display that reminded me a lot of the way Prima Cinema looks, which is high praise. The system can play a Bluray disc without first importing it, but this requires “launching” a separate program– Power DVD 10–that was more cumbersome to control with the remote.
Because it has the flexibility of a computer, the server supports a huge host of streaming services, like Pandora, Grooveshark, Spotify, Hulu, Vudu, Netflix, Redbox, Amazon, and more. But beyond these are the High Tide, Low Tide, and Rip Tide streaming features that are the most interesting. These services scour the internet to locate a huge source of movie and TV content. In fact, this would be a cord cutter’s fantasy. I’m not going to say that everything is available, but many things are, including things that feel questionably legal. For example, I watched Lone Survivor two weeks before its official release, and the Desolation of Smaug days after its theatrical release. Because this content streams from outside the country and isn’t downloaded to your drive, it is technically not illegal, but it feels a dark shade of grey. Also, quality varied from good (HD Academy screener) to horrible (guy with camcorder in a theater). Also, there were frequent issues with buffering or where a movie would just abruptly stop.
Because it has the flexibility of a computer, the server supports a huge host of streaming services, like Pandora, Grooveshark, Spotify, Hulu, Vudu, Netflix, Redbox, Amazon, and more. Beyond these features, the server includes multiple usable media slots (USB, SD, etc.) for adding storage or content, has drivers for Control4, RTI, Crestron, and AMX, and can be controlled via XBMC Remote app. The system can accept a CableCARD or OTA antenna to add full DVR functionality. Also, its internal fans are extremely quiet, a problem that had plagued some servers in the past.
Further, the server is loaded with OpenRemote, an automation platform that can integrate and control a huge array of devices via IP, Z-Wave, and IR. With this, installers could easily add lighting, IP camera, security control and more. The RipWave certainly has the capability to be far more than “just” a media server.
I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the RipWave, and for the right client, it would be a terrific product. Of course, I accepted some of the quirks and enjoyed almost instantaneous tech support from RipWave, including Christmas day and multiple Sundays. For a younger, computer savvy client who understands sometimes things need to be rebooted, streaming quality will be less than optimal, and updates/ tweaks will need to be periodically installed, I think they will be blown away by the experience and won’t ever want to go back.
Very slick looking GUI; ultra-quiet fan; amazing array of streamed viewing options; automation features
Had issues with disc importing; quality and moral quandary over streamed content
• The MSRP of the Premium is $4,650
• Full HD audio and video support, including 192/24 and 3D
• Supports multiple streaming services, including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Pandora, Spotify, etc.
• Comes with nine Terabytes of storage, expandable to 15 TB
• Supports up to eight additional streaming devices
• Importing DVD/Blu-ray content requires purchase and installation of MakeMKV or AnyDVD
• Drivers available for a variety of automation control systems