|Escient Fireball DVDM-100 DVD and Music Manager|
|Home Theater Media Servers Video Servers|
|Written by Brian Kahn|
|Wednesday, 01 September 2004|
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The Escient FireBall DVDM-100 retails for $1,995 and is a high-tech solution to the ever-growing problem of AV media management. The FireBall unit is best described as the brain or control center for up to 1200 CDs and/or DVDs. The Escient unit itself does not hold any discs, nor does it have an internal hard drive to store data (like the insanely overpriced Kalidescape products). Instead, these discs are housed in up to three of Sony or Kenwood’s 400-disc changers. The FireBall then acts as a switcher and controller for the external changers. The FireBall also thoughtfully has a built-in Internet radio receiver. For those of you with large MP3 libraries, the FireBall, when connected to a hard drive-based music storage system from Escient or another manufacturer, can access and manage playback of MP3 encoded music as well.
The unit itself measures 17-3/8 inches wide by four-and-five-eighths inches high and 11-7/8 inches deep, about the size of a standard CD or DVD player, but it is immediately distinguishable by its almost blank front panel. The front panel is a black piece of brushed aluminum with a small IR receiver window in the top left corner. The back panel is filled with connections for interfacing between the FireBall DVDM-100 and your system’s preamplifier or processor and the DVD/CD changer(s). The FireBall DVDM-100 has three complete sets of inputs for the changers, including 5.1 analog, optical, coaxial, composite video, s-video and component video, as well as one matching set of outputs to connect the FireBall to the rest of the system. In addition to the above audio/video connections, the FireBall DVDM-100 also features IR/S-link inputs and outputs, four RS-232 connections, video output for touch-screen panels, and lastly Ethernet and phone jacks for Internet/network connections.
Set-up was straightforward and easily accomplished. I first removed my reference Kenwood Entre' Hub ($1,500 - 1,750) from my system. I then connected the FireBall to my DVD/CD changer via 5.1 analog audio cables, digital coaxial cable, component video cables, IR control cable and lastly a RS-232 cable. I used the Kenwood DV-5900M changer, which handles DVD-Audio, as well as video discs. The process would then be repeated for up to two more changers. Connecting the FireBall DVDM-100 to my reference Krell HTS 7.1 was even easier. I connected the component video, digital coaxial and 5.1 analog audio to the DVD assigned inputs on the Krell. Lastly, I connected the DVDM-100 to my Ethernet network via the Ethernet jack on the back.
The physical connections were quick and easy to make. If one wants to later add another changer, all that needs to be done is to simply connect the changer to the DVDM-100. Once the physical connections are made and the unit is powered up, the set-up process continues with the FireBall software. The set-up process is easy to follow, with graphic onscreen menus. First you are walked through the Internet connection, setting up the dial-up or broadband connection. Next, the FireBall begins the Autobuild process, during which all the changers are inventoried.
The Autobuild process provides the user with ample time to do laundry, have lunch or otherwise catch up with household chores to keep your significant other happy. The length of time for the Autobuild process depends on the speed of your Internet connection and the number of discs in the connected changers. During the Autobuild process, the FireBall utilizes the Internet connection to access the Gracenote CDDB and Escient Movie DB databases. Using the information provided by these databases, the Escient attempts to identify and label all the discs loaded into the changers. In addition to being able to seamlessly integrate media from three separate changers, this is one of the main benefits of the FireBall system. I found that the The DVDM-100 was able to properly identify approximately 90 percent of the discs loaded into the changer. The titles of the remaining discs can be edited with the supplied wireless keyboard remote. The accuracy of the system is said to improve over time, as the DVDM-100 (unlike my Kenwood) shares the manually-input information with the database (which is double-checked by the Escient people), thereby expanding the database every time someone manually enters a title.
If one is fortunate enough to have a touch-panel control system like an AMX or Crestron, the FireBall DVDM-100 accommodates these systems with a composite video out and a fourth RS-232 jack to interface with the touch-panel system. Most popular touch-panel systems, including Crestron, PHAST, AMX, Elan and of course Escient, are supported. With a touch-panel system, one can easily search for and select the desired disc and have it cued up and ready to play while your family and guests are watching something else on the main screen.