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Media Servers Add Video, Ethernet, Web Radio

Denver — More media servers are storing video, exceeding 1TB capacities, and adding Ethernet-network connectivity to give consumers the option of distributing audio and video without installing full-fledged multiroom-A/V systems.

Here at the CEDIA Expo, Escient is adding HDD video storage and breaking the 1TB barrier for the first time, and Russound is unveiling a sextet of its first A/V-distributing servers with capacities up to 3TB (see story, right.)

For its part, Fusion Research is expanding the optional capacity of its Cinema Server music/video servers by 20 percent to 6.75TB, and Magic Home Entertainment is adding a 1TB audio-only server to its selection.

Because all of these companies enable streaming over an Ethernet network to shelf-top clients, all can also reach out to the Internet to deliver new features. ReQuest, for example, has added Internet radio streaming to its server, and Escient is adding streaming of Rhapsody’s interactive subscription-based music service.

Also at the show, Harman Kardon is unveiling a revamped version of its first HDD music server.

Here’s what select suppliers are showing:

Escient: The brand still has its FireBall media manager/servers, but the next-generation Vision media-manager platform expands video-management functionality.

Most FireBall music managers feature HDD music storage, management of connected CD megachangers, ability to stream passive Internet radio stations, and distribution of audio through connected multiroom-audio systems or to Ethernet-connected clients called Zone Players in other rooms. One of the current FireBalls adds control of connected CD/DVD megachangers, although it doesn’t distribute video to other rooms.

Now, the Vision series VS-100 and VS-200 media management systems add HDD video storage, ability to rip unencrypted DVDs through a front-panel CD/DVD slot, and ability to store video — including high-definition video — transferred from a networked PC. They also control CD/DVD megachangers, though they won’t distribute the changers’ DVD content to other rooms.

Other improvements include HDMI 1.3 ins/outs, a 720p/1080i onscreen user interface, video up-scaling to 720p/1080i, compatibility with Rhapsody subscription-based interactive streaming services, back-up RAID storage and Gigabit Ethernet support on top of 10/100 Ethernet support. A Gigabit Ethernet connection delivers faster copying from a PC and reliably streams up to five SD video streams simultaneously, the company said.

The VS-100 features 1TB RAID5 storage, and the VS-200 features 2TB. Both stream audio and video over Gigabit Ethernet to a VC-1 client, which features CD/DVD player, HDMI 1.3 in/out, ability to rip CDs and unencrypted DVDs to the VS-100 and -200, access Rhapsody and Internet radio stations, up-scaling to 720p/1080i and high-definition onscreen interface.

For additional storage capacity, the VX-600 network-storage device features 4TB of RAID5 storage.

All models are due in November and December at unannounced prices.

Fusion Research: The company is expanding the optional capacity of its Cinema Server music/video server to 6.75TB (or more than 1,000 DVDs) at a suggested $19,490, and the company is adding its second companion Ethernet-equipped A/V client. This one is capable of 1080p up-scaling.

In a multiroom installation, DVD movies can be streamed in encrypted form over a gigabit-Ethernet network throughout the house to the separately sold $2,495-suggested clients. The server supports up to 20 music and video programs simultaneously to networked clients. It also features five discrete audio outputs that can be fed directly into an installed multiroom audio distribution system.

Alternately, all of the clients can be stacked in the central A/V rack along with the server and connected to other-brand multiroom-A/V systems. Traditional A/V cable would run from the clients to A V systems in remote rooms, and the clients would be controlled via the in-wall controllers of other-brand multiroom-A/V systems.

The price per TB of capacity is also falling with the introductions. Pricing for a 3.5TB server with 550+ DVD capacity is now $14,490 compared to a previous $17,490.

The company also plans to unveil new music-management software available as a running change and free to current owners.

Harman Kardon: The brand revamped the DMC 1000 Digital Media Center it unveiled last year but never shipped.

Like before, it’s a four-zone music server, CD/DVD-Video player, CD recorder, CD ripper, photo viewer and all-around digital filling station that plays audio and photos from, and transfers audio and photos, to such portable media as USB storage devices and CF, MMC, xD, SD and MS memory cards. At a suggested $3,499, the new version adds 1080p up-scaling and raises capacity to 250GB from 160GB.

Other features include ability to play MP-3 CDs and music, photos and video stored on an iPod docked with the brand’s The Bridge iPod docking station. CD ripping speed is up to 16x.

The DMC 250 1080p/up-scaling DVD player at a suggested $449 lacks HDD music server and Bridge connectivity but adds DVD-Audio playback, PictureCD viewing and playback of WMA CDs. It similarly doubles as a music-filling station, ripping CDs and transferring photos and audio (at up to 4x speed) to portable media (USB, MMC, SD and MS only). It likewise plays back compressed music files and digital images stored on portable media and CDs.

Magic Home Entertainment: The newcomer is upgrading the base storage capacity of its M1 moodSeer music server and adding a 1TB model, the M2. They use wired Ethernet and 802.11g to stream music around the house to tabletop clients.

ReQuest: The company is adding new capabilities to its eight-zone IQ Intelligent Multimedia Server, which launched last year and combines an HDD music server with multiroom audio controller in a single box. It’s bundled with 16-channel multiroom amplifier and is controlled from the company’s in-wall and wired tabletop touchscreens and a planned handheld wireless model.

Content can also be accessed through third-party Ethernet-connected clients, including a Slingbox or Sonos system.

One new feature is the ability to simultaneously stream two MP3-based Internet radio stations directly through a broadband modem. Users enter a URL, then store it as an icon or user-selected digital image that, when tapped on the system’s touchscreen controllers, launch the station.

New free programs, or widgets, enable the screens to display local weather forecasts and a stock ticker pushed to the system over the Internet. Another widget lets users view up to six Web cams from around the world. Another program displays a calendar. All programs are automatically installed on Internet-connected systems.

In another upgrade, ReQuest is offering a $500 Network IR Extender to integrate control of legacy sources, and a separate $150 radio connection kit enables control of Polk’s component XM tuner and NuVo’s AM/FM/XM tuner with metadata and menu display on the touchscreens.

Consumers can view metadata and the server’s music menu on a ReQuest in-wall 3-inch color touchscreen controller or a 12-inch wired tabletop color touchscreen controller. The in-wall touchpanel is a suggested $500; the wired tabletop controller is $2,500 for the Ethernet-connected version and $1,500 for the direct-wired version;

IMS prices, including bundled amplifier, are $6,499 for the 250-CD version, $6,999 for the 500-CD version and $7,999 for the 800-CD version.