|Escient Fireball DVDM-552 Movie Manager|
|Home Theater Media Servers Video Servers|
|Written by Matthew Evert|
|Sunday, 01 October 2006|
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Another unfortunate drawback with changers is their huge lag time and the clunky sounds they make as they change discs. Imagine a playlist of tracks on discs that are located on the opposite sides of the changer … yikes! It could be nearly a minute to get to the next song. Party over, because everyone got bored and left. This is where the 500GB internal hard drive comes into action. By selecting the music CD or tracks in the onscreen library and selecting the options screen, you can rip the selections to the hard drive as MP3 or lossless FLAC files. Now you can create a series of playlists that run quickly and smoothly without the clunky changers. You have a myriad of bit rates, ranging from 128kbps MP3s to the lossless FLAC files. Naturally, movies cannot be ripped due to copyright laws.
Let us not forget that there is also a DVD writeable player built into the DVDM-552. This allows for copying of CDs, creation of CDs from MP3 or FLAC files on the hard drive, or even creation of MP3 mix DVDs. All the DVD+RW and DVD-RW formats are supported, so you can buy just about any blank media and use it with the Fireball. Many of you will already have an MP3 collection on a networked PC in your home; the Fireball can import those files into your library, too. A 500GB hard drive is very big for an MP3 collection, but if you are doing FLACs, then you could run out of space after 1,500 discs. If you are in danger of this happening, you can add another DVDM-552 and double your library capacity.
In addition to music and movies, the Fireball is an Internet device, so it can navigate and play back Internet radio stations. Escient pre-loads the Fireball with some free RadioIO and Shoutcast stations, but it is easy to add your own stations if you know the URLs. As with the other media mentioned above, you can organize radio playlists and groups.
The remote is nearly identical to my Anthem AVM30 learning remote and is intuitive to use. It has the ability to control the players and navigate the menus of the Fireball. Escient provides an output RS-232 port and direct access IR codes for the Fireball, so that you can program a fancy remote like the Marantz RC9500 or program a control system from AMX, Crestron, Elan, etc. A web server is featured in the Fireball, which allows it to be controlled by a desktop PC, Mac, laptop, or PDA via a web browser. That’s not all. If you are really savvy with your web browser, you can actually have streaming MP3s play from any computer with a web browser. Sorry, but it doesn’t work for anything in the changers like CDs or DVDs, just MP3s and FLACs on the hard drive.
Lastly, the Fireball has many custom options. A screen saver function is provided to prevent screen burn-in issues. Different user interface skins are available to change the look and feel of the Fireball to your liking. Screen adjustments such as color, tint, sharpness, aspect ratio and brightness can be accessed from the menus as well. Although the reference media databases are mostly accurate, they do make mistakes. Escient provides a manual edit function for all the media information and allows you to manually search the database for album artwork and other information to correct any mistakes in your library.
Music and Movies
I began the movie playback with a cult favorite of mine, Conan the Barbarian (Universal Studios Home Video). Arnold Schwarzenegger certainly does more speaking as California’s governor in one phone call than he does in the entire movie; instead, he lets his sword do all the talking. The sounds of Conan’s horses galloping on the trail leading up to Thulsa Doom’s mountain lair echoed from the back to the front of the soundstage. The panting of the horses as they ran past my listening position really immersed me in the scene, as if I were sitting there right along the trail eating a burrito. The loud knocking of the hooves striking the ground perplexed me as to how something that loud could still sound so liquid and uncolored. The efforts of the digital remastering team for the soundtrack obviously did a great job with such an old film. Equally as startling to me was how much of the picture came alive with rich colors and excellent contrast, even on my LCD projector, which has average contrast range. Significant details in the background of the scene where Conan and his warriors enter into the lair came into the light. For example, even after viewing this film a dozen times, I never noticed before that the workers in the lair were actually hacking up human bodies and were moving them around in the background in order to make some sort of cannibal soup du jour. A critical piece of the plot is now uncovered with a high-resolution DVD player, a decent projector and a remastered DVD.
Spy Game (Universal Studios Home Video) was a thriller about a retiring spymaster who comes back to save the life of one of his pupils. In one scene in Beirut, Bishop (Brad Pitt) takes Muir (Robert Redford) to breakfast and, in the process, they must sneak across an active battlefield. Sounds of bullets whizzed by the two spies as they took refuge behind disabled cars strewn across the battlefield. The high-pitched sound of bullets bouncing off the steel cars was sharp and startling, but did not feel harsh to my ears at any time. Dialogue between the actors was clear to me even as the barrage of other battle sounds were constantly inserted into the scene. I did notice a little washout with the whites and light blues of the sky as the two characters sat and waited for the doctor to meet them. As the sun began to set, the light colors seemed a little exaggerated and appeared to lose some resolution. I saw less whitening of the sky with my Marantz DV9500 as I watched the same scene. Again, the Sony ES777 player is a fraction of the cost of the Marantz, so there are obvious processor and electronic improvements to explain that.
Having seen Slayer for the first time about a month ago when they came to San Diego, I was anxious to compare the live experience to their Reign In Blood: Still Reigning DVD (American Recordings). True to form, the video contains all the critical elements of a good Slayer show: lightning-fast guitars, double bass and blood. During “Necrophobic,” drummer Dave Lombardo conjured up a violent symphony of decaying cymbals rings. There was no noticeable graininess, despite the nonstop assault of crash cymbals and high hat taps filling the air. Accompanying Lombardo was the deadly guitar duo of Hanneman and King, whose blazing fast speed metal guitar work was proudly showcased during this song. The infamous track “Reign in Blood” featured the thunderous double bass of Lombardo, paired with the screams of singer Tom Araya. Although more limited in vocal range, the now older Araya has no problems delivering the message of this song to the audience with ferocious passion. At times during the song, Tom belted out high-pitched screams, followed by low-pitched groans. The entire vocal range was constantly tested and the digital output of the Fireball system had no trouble delivering impact and clarity. As if colorful flashing lights and ever-present smoke was not enough to visually stimulate the viewer of this video, Slayer added blood to the formula. During this song, blood (or red-colored water) was sprayed down on the band members to emulate raining blood. Excellent! Apparently the band must practice playing covered in blood, because this did not affect their ability to play one bit and they repeated this act during their live show.