I recently made a big move to the wide open spaces of Montana to work more closely alongside all the great people at Avodah Publishing. After spending about two decades in an aging house in the desert southwest, my wife and I were ready to relocate and find a larger house that would better fit our lifestyle. She was looking for a nice sized kitchen and sewing room, while I, on the other hand, wanted a dedicated home theater and rooms pre-wired for every electronic goodie I could conjure up. We didn't search long before we found a Montana building contractor willing to make our dreams come true.
The construction took about three months and now my wife has the kitchen and sewing room she wished for, and I have a pre-wired house with an unfinished basement large enough for a game room and sizeable theater. It wasn't long after my Avodah friends helped us move in that I embarked on a quest to find components that would not only play music and movies in one room, but integrate into a complete automated home theater system. One of the first products I came across was the Video ReQuest digital video controller. The Video ReQuest controller manages DVD movie libraries, making manual disc changing obsolete.
Unlike digital media servers that rip and compress movie and music content before saving them to a computer hard disk drive, the Video ReQuest unit controls up to four Sony DVP-CX777ES 400 disc changers through a video switcher. The system can consolidate an entire movie collection without any degradation in quality from compressing the files. Video ReQuest does not make recordings of copyrighted material to a hard drive or manipulate the original material contained on the discs. For this reason, no copyrights are infringed upon. Instead, the Video ReQuest unit takes complete command of the Sony changers and builds a database of all the movies for easy access. Once discs have been loaded into the Sony changers, the Video ReQuest creates a library from which to browse the media by Title, Actor, Director, Rating, or Genre. With its simple intuitive interface, navigating the library of discs is easy and can be performed with the single ReQuest remote control.
Video ReQuest doesn't come with a built-in database. Rather, it requires a dedicated Internet connection through a network configuration to catalog and store the information of each disc loaded in the disc changer. By networking the system, it can be integrated into a home automation system quite easily so the library of DVDs can be controlled and played in different rooms. One benefit of using an external Internet database is having new movie titles added all the time. Another online feature is the controller's ability to manually store jpeg cover art for DVD discs to display on screen for easy disc selection. Since we are all visual creatures, it is nice to be able to flip through hundreds of movies and see the covers of each DVD case.
The heart and soul of this multimedia system is the user interface. The user interface is an intuitive graphic menu system controlled by the remote to browse and search the movie database. From the home screen, the Video ReQuest displays what disc is currently playing and several categories in which to search. For example, searching movies by genre will lead you to subcategories such as Action, Adventure, Children's/Family, Comedy, and so on. If you are in the mood for a little Clint Eastwood or perhaps Adam Sandler, searching by Actor will bring you closer to what you seek. A search of Directors will yield a similar result with a file of directors listed alphabetically. The system even uses MPAA ratings to allow for searches by ratings like G, NR, PG, PG-13, etc. If you are still undecided, all the movies can be searched alphabetically with the genre and rating listed beside each title.
Auto loading of DVDs and displaying titles is nice, but Video ReQuest goes even further toward convenience. When browsing through the selection of discs, pressing Enter will bring up a screen with more information about the movie including cast, director, plot summary, run time, and year it was made. It is here and on the Now Playing screen where you will find the aforementioned jpeg cover art of the DVD cases.
Installation/Setup/Ease of Use
The Video ReQuest system can be used as a stand-alone controller for a single room or integrated into a custom home installation. The unit is available in a silver or black finish and comes with rack mount ears pre-installed to add to a new or existing rack system. The front panel of the Video ReQuest has a brushed silver finish free of any buttons or clutter. It merely has an IR sensor and a status light on the left side. Removing the two thumbscrews on each side of the faceplate reveals a hard power button, dip switches to control the IR detection and power LED light, a USB keyboard connection and a FireWire port.
The Video ReQuest is a versatile product designed to be professionally installed by authorized dealers. It works in conjunction with home automation systems and specialized video switchers through RS-232 connections. It can be connected directly to a single Sony DVP-CX777ES 400 disc changer, but it works best when it is used with an external video switcher between it and the DVD changers. The video switcher enables the Video ReQuest to switch between the menu screens and the DVD movie automatically.
Video ReQuest supports direct control of Zektor, Key Digital and Sima A/V switchers. Video ReQuest includes four RS232 cables and accessories to set up the system with a switcher. In addition to working with popular switchers, Video ReQuest is designed to be part of a complete control system such as Crestron or AMX, or as a basic IR system using a Pronto. The unit uses VRQConnect protocol for serial and Ethernet control by leading integration systems.
Using the supplied RS232 cables, high-end component, and TosLink wiring, I connected the Video ReQuest controller and a single Sony 400 disc changer to a Zektor HDS 4.2 switcher. The Zektor supports four pieces of equipment and has optical and coaxial digital connections and component inputs for the best picture and sound quality. Once the equipment was connected together, I ran outputs to my A/V receiver and HDTV.
Setting up the Video ReQuest system would be no easy task for someone not accustomed to installing custom home automation systems. That's why Video ReQuest controllers are a dealer installed product. You won't find these on a store shelf next to the $69 DVD players. Instead, they are available as part of a total package to add convenience and control with home automation. The unit is designed with custom installation in mind. Even so, the on-screen user interface is so simple and intuitive, anyone that can read the screen could pick up the remote control and navigate the software effortlessly.
The Video ReQuest controller appeared to have no negative affect with the video signal coming from the Sony changer. Each movie appeared sharp and clear. The ReQuest remote is convenient because it has full transport control of the DVD changers including play, stop, fast forward, and rewind. I enjoyed searching for movies in different categories without having to crack open a single DVD case.
The only negatives to speak of are loud fans and the initial load time the machine requires to gather information about each disc. After loading up the DVD changer, each disc needed to be played for a few seconds for the system to recognize the disc and gather information about it. Of course this task doesn't happen all the time, just on the initial start-up sequence and occasionally to verify the kids haven't switched discs while you were in another room. My other annoyance is the loud fans used to keep the Video ReQuest cool. However, I didn't have my test model rack mounted. It was sitting on top of other equipment near my screen. The noise complaint is moot because most installations will require the unit to be rack mounted and out of the way.
On the whole, I was satisfied with the performance characteristics of the controller and very pleased with the added convenience it offered. This digital video controller would make a terrific addition to any integrated home theater system.VIDEO REQUEST