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Escient: TuneBase 100 To Expand Distribution

Escient expects to expand its distribution base beyond custom installers with the May shipment of its Java-based TuneBase 100 CD library-management system, said Tom Doherty, executive VP of business development.

The company also announced co-promotion plans with Denon’s new dual-transport 100-disc CD changer. TuneBase 100 will appear on Denon’s web site and packaging, Doherty said.

The component-style TuneBase 100, expected to retail at around $3,000 with a 40-point margin, simplifies the search for discs stored in compatible CD megachangers.

After discs are loaded into a Denon or 200-disc Sony megachanger, the device automatically builds a database containing the stored discs’ titles, song titles, and artists’ names. Then, through an onscreen GUI appearing on a connected TV, users search for and select particular discs or songs for playback.

Compatibility with Sony’s new 300-disc changers hasn’t been determined. Other Escient CD-management systems are also compatible with pro changers from Pioneer and Naim.

With the 100’s launch, said Doherty, “the goal is to cross from a custom product to take advantage of promoting specialty retailers.” Escient’s other CD-management systems are sold through 400 custom-installation locations, but with Tune-Base 100, Escient expects by September to expand distribution to a total of 700 outlets, said Cat Fowler, marketing VP of Escient’s consumer division.

Escient has already won commitment from retailers Myer-Emco, Chelsea AudioVideo, and Harvey Electronics, Doherty said.

Escient’s other CD-management systems are directed to custom channels because they’re designed to integrate with distributed-audio and whole-house automation systems via bidirectional RS-232 ports. The TuneBase 100, on the other hand, is designed to be an over-the-counter component-style sale.

It’s also designed to be more user-friendly because it’s built on the more stable Java-based platform rather than on a PC platform like the other models, which look like components but operate on a hard drive using Windows 95.

Calling TuneBase the industry’s first Java-based home-entertainment product, Doherty said it is intended to “behave like a consumer electronics product” because it uses flash memory to store and access discs, song titles and cover art and create play lists.

TuneBase 100 ships without any disc or song titles loaded into memory. Once a consumer inserts discs in a compatible megachanger, the TuneBase 100 identifies each disc by reading its table of contents, then dials out via a toll-free number to Escient’s CDDB web site to grab and store disc- and song-title information. The site expanded its database to 360,000 discs from 300,000 at the beginning of the year and is adding 600 per day. TuneBase also searches partnered web sites to grab and store cover art.

After the process is complete, a GUI appearing on a connected TV lets users search for discs by artist name and the title of each disc in the changer by that artist. It also allows searches for particular songs, which are listed in alphabetical order. The search service is free.

Shipments are beginning about six months later than planned, Doherty acknowledged, because “the software development tools to write the code weren’t all there when we started or they were harder to use than we thought.”

Doherty sees retail demonstrations of the TuneBase 100 leading to increased sales of compatible megachangers.

In other developments, Doherty said an Escient subsidiary headed by former Harman executive Chris Stevens plans fourth-quarter deliveries of a convergent-technology product that “will lay the foundation” for Escient’s “media furnace concept.”

Escient demonstrated the concept privately at CES, where it talked of an audio-video server that distributes on-demand audio and video programming throughout the house via CAT 5 or other wiring. The server would cache time-shifted cable, satellite or HDTV programming as well as audio and video programs from a central DVD/CD changer.