Escient Vision Series Multiroom Media Server Reviewed

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Escient has established itself as one of the leaders in the music and media server category, thanks to its line of FireBall servers. While FireBall systems allow you to import audio and distribute it to multiple zones, they do not allow for the importing and multiroom distribution of DVD. That's where the new Vision Series line comes into play. This multiroom solution allows you to store digital movies (including imported DVDs), photos, and music and distribute the content to up to five 10ten simultaneous rooms; it also provides direct access to the Rhapsody online music service. This is a network-based system that distributes signals via Gigabit Ethernet, and it consists of an all-in-one client/ server product or separate client and server devices. 

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In the server all-in-one client/ server department, Escient offers two models that differ only in hard-drive size: The VS-100 ($3,999) offers dual 500GB hard drives, while the VS-200 ($5,999) offers dual 1TB hard drives (both use RAID 1 data mirroring). Via the front-panel disc drive, you can import DVD movies and CDs directly to the hard drive, and the server will automatically obtain metadata using the Gracenote, AMG, and EscientDB Muze data services. The front-panel USB port will support a USB mouse/keyboard, for faster data input when needed. You can also import content over the network from a PC, and Escient has said that a future software update will allow you to import content from a Mac. Of course, the disc drive also allows for general playback of CDs and DVDs; it does not support Blu-ray discs, but it does upconvert standard DVDs to 1080p. Back-panel connections include HDMI, component video, S-video, and composite video outputs, as well as optical and coaxial digital audio outs and one set of stereo analog audio outputs. Naturally there's an Ethernet port, plus another two USB ports and an IR input. One noteworthy feature is the inclusion of four HDMI inputs that will allow you to connect and control compatible Blu-ray multi-changers when they become available (Sony showed a prototype of a 400-disc Blu-ray changer at CEDIA 2008); the system is currently compatible with Sony's DVP-CX777ES DVD multi-changer for integratingto add additional changer based DVDs.

Escient also offers a large-capacity storage solution called the VX-600 ($7,999), which offers four 1TB hard drives in a RAID 5 configuration. You can add multiple VX-600s to a Vision Series system for nearly unlimited storage capacity.

On the client end is the VC-1 player ($1,999), which can play streamed audio and video content from the server but also has its own optical disc drive for playback and importing to the centrala Vision server. The VC-1 also upconverts video to 1080p, and it features the same connections found on the VS servers - except there's only one HDMI input and both USB ports are located on the back panel. You can connect an unlimited number of VC-1s to your network and up to five VC-1s to a single VS server and stream different content to each five5 zones simultaneously. The VX server supports streaming different content to 10 zones simultaneously.

The Vision Series system supports MPEG-2 video, as well as MP3, FLAC, AAC, Apple Lossless, WMA, and WAV audio files. It will not play copy-protected WMA and AAC files. When importing music from a disc, you can choose the MP3, WAV, or FLAC format. Compatible photo formats are JPEG, PNG, and GIF. The system uses an attractive, colorful high-definition onscreen interface to navigate all your content.

Read The High Points, The Low Points and the Conclusion on Page 2

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