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Molino Networks Launches Entertainment Servers

Molino Networks, a start-up consumer electronics company based here, introduced two aggressively priced DVD video servers capable of cataloging and storing hundreds of DVD discs, CDs, home videos and JPEG images in full quality on very large hard drives.

“These are the first products to deliver against the promise of Media Center PCs in a device that’s not a PC,” said Amy Love, Molino Networks marketing VP. “It is as easy to use as a DVD player, does not compromise the quality of the video or the audio fidelity and it maintains a very simple, easy-to-use interface.”

The entry product, called the Media Mogul, will incorporate 300GBs of storage capacity and will retail for $995 — thousands of dollars less than some similar competing entertainment servers. The storage capacity is said to be sufficient for 50 DVDs or 500 CDs, all stored bit-for-bit without any compression that can affect playback quality. Entire contents of the discs — including menus, copy protection and extra bonus material — are stored to the drives, where files be can played back just as if they were on the originally discs, but with faster disc navigation speed.

The flagship product, called the Media Mogul TB, will sell for $2,995 and includes 1 terabyte (four 250GB hard drives) of storage, good for up to 200 DVDs or 2,000 CDs or “weeks of home videos.”

Company founder and CEO Tim Sylvester said he conceived the device last summer because “I felt there had to be a better way to store and catalog digital content, and at the same time preserve the quality of that content.”

Sylvester is currently finalizing negotiations with “a Taiwanese manufacturer” to build the products for the company.

The key enabler of the system, Sylvester said, is an “importing” system he developed to make bit-for-bit transfers of content onto the hard drives.

“There is a big difference between importing and ripping,” Sylvester said. “Ripping is a copy and compression process. With importing we make a perfect digital copy of the entire contents of the DVD or CD.

“Where ripping a DVD can take up to 8 hours, the Molino system requires less than 15 minutes to import an entire DVD and less than 2 minutes for a CD,” said Sylvester.

Content can be automatically cataloged using a networked Internet connection running Gracenotes’ CD database for music CDs or Gracenotes’ new Video ID database for DVDs.

Video ID is billed as the equivalent of CDDB for DVDs. Molino Networks is the first to announce support for the new application, Love said. The Video ID program will include the title, actors, genre, cover art, year of release and a plot synopsis.

The units, which are not much larger than standard DVD players, feature a front-loaded optical disc drive that can be used to play or import discs. The drive includes CD-R functionality to allow users to back up/archive content — most specifically photos — on removable discs. Also on the front is a 6-in-1 Flash Memory card reader, USB port for digital camera connections and a FireWire port for digital camcorder connections.

Back-mounted video outputs include composite, component, S-Video and DVI jacks. Audio jacks include stereo RCA jacks, both coax and optical digital outputs, and a networkable Ethernet connection using either CAT-5 cable, or a Wi-Fi system via an adapter.

To launch, Molino is using a direct sales e-commerce model, taking pre-orders from consumers over its Web site. The company is asking for a $100 deposit (fully refundable if a customer decides to cancel) in advance. Products will ship this summer. At that time, Molino will also open up sales through select e-tail partners.

The company is in the process of putting together its retail distribution plan and will be looking first to distribute through select custom installers and other high-end resellers by the 2004 holiday period. Additional resellers and brick-and-mortar retail accounts will be added by the 2005 holiday season.

As for Hollywood’s concerns, the Media Mogul system uses CSS security/encryption. It also adds as “a short-term solution” a new “auditing function,” that asks the consumer to validate that they still own a DVD through a two-minute, one-time-only process that pops up about two-weeks after a DVD is imported. The system makes it impractical to import a rented or borrowed DVD, Love said.

Sylvester said the Media Mogul supports most widely available content standards, including DVD videos, music CDs, Video CDs, JPEG files, MP3s and DivX video, but doesn’t currently support Windows Media Audio or less common audio compression schemes. Those formats will be supported through future software updates, Sylvester said. HDTV video support will be considered after content is widely available and file formats are standardized, he said.

Media Mogul will not include personal video recorder (PVR) functionality, although the system is designed to eventually work with PVRs, to archive recorded content.