|Escient Fireball DVDM-552 Movie Manager|
|Home Theater Media Servers Video Servers|
|Written by Matthew Evert|
|Sunday, 01 October 2006|
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Let me begin by coming clean about probably being one of the bigger nerds at AVRev.com when it comes to the home theater techno-toys. I jumped at the opportunity to review an all-in-one media manager and the Escient DVDM-552 did not disappoint. Escient is not new to the arena of the music management category of home theater. With several management devices already successfully on the market, Escient was primed for a big splash when it released the DVDM-552 in early 2006. Escient is a division of D&M Holdings, which also owns familiar names such as Marantz, Denon, Boston Acoustics and McIntosh, none of them wimps in the home theater industry. The $5,999 DVDM-552 is a multi-zone music and movie manager targeted for use in a home theater. It slices, it dices and it purées all your media into one conveniently organized interface. It combines DVDs, Internet radio, SACDs, CDs and MP3s into three neatly filed menus. By adding up to five 400-disc changers to the DVDM, you can quickly organize your entire music and movie collection in one place in your home and not have to worry about changing a disc ever again.
This amazing amount of multi-media management functionality is housed in a small footprint no larger than a typical preprocessor or preamp. Measuring 17-and-three-eighths inches wide by four-and-five-eighths inches high and 11-and-seven-eighths inches deep, the DVDM will have no trouble fitting into your equipment rack. The silver brushed aluminum face has a similar look and feel to a DVD player, with a large two-line LED display, a disc tray and a few navigation buttons. I really liked this aspect of the player because there is so much under the hood of this unit that it would be pointless to try to move much control to the front panel. As a result, the user is forced to use the onscreen display on the monitor and has simple navigation controls on the remote or panel to maneuver around. Not to worry, Escient did an excellent job with the user interface of the onscreen controls, so this design is superior.
Underneath the steel chassis is a super-charged media center PC. There is a 500GB hard drive, a DVD rewriteable drive, video processors, Ethernet card, audio and I/O boards, and a fan. On the back panel, you find yourself looking at a preprocessor-like layout of inputs and outputs, with five sets of video inputs, including S-Video, component and composite video connections. I pity the fool who uses the composite inputs, but if you like torture, then this is your “iron maiden” input. On the audio side, there are both analog RCA and digital optical inputs. Strangely, there are both optical and coaxial audio outputs available.
Two sets of outputs for both video and audio are provided, so that you have an additional output to either an Escient 15-inch touch panel display or to another room. Using a MP-200 Remote Digital Media Player (MSRP: $999) in this other room, you can browse and play from the same collection of media as the room with the DVDM-552. The MP-200 has its own audio/video outputs, remote and Ethernet connection, so it can act essentially like a remote DVDM-552. Want to watch the same movie as the one in the main room? No problem. Just select the same movie from the onscreen display. Of course, if you want to watch something else, you can do so as long as it is in a separate DVD changer. If the movie or CD is in the same changer, it will be grayed out, but if you insist on still watching it, you can kick the main room Fireball off its movie so you can watch yours. An endless battle may ensue as a consequence over who gets to watch what. With great power comes great responsibility.
Once you have hooked up the audio, video and the RS-232 cables from each of the five 400-disc changers to the Fireball and connected the Ethernet cable into your home network. After connecting the Fireball into your preamp, you are ready to rock. The onscreen display will ask you to verify that the network is set up properly and then it will start building your media library. The Fireball will begin cycling through each disc in each changer and looking up the disc in either the GraceNote CD database or the Escient Movie Database via the Internet. A progress bar will keep you updated on the process of downloading all the media information for each disc, such as title, movie summary, cover art, song lists, aspect ratios, etc. Each disc takes several minutes to locate all of its data, so depending on how many changers you filled up, this should be an overnight activity. The result of this is a cataloged library of all your movies, music CDs and SACDs. The discs are sorted by genre and by whether they are movies or music.
Massive multi-disc changers have always been a great idea for protecting your collection from the bumps and bruises of handling them, not to mention avoiding loading them in the wrong way. The issue with changers is locating certain discs in the carousel itself. You can manually enter in a few characters of text to label them, but it is tedious and cryptic to read. For a distributed audio system, it gets worse, since the changer (and the display) is in a rack somewhere out of sight. With the DVDM-552, all the navigation is done via the monitor and advanced tricks like creating playlists of music tracks from several thousand music CDs is a snap. You can even create custom groups of movies that are your favorites or children’s movies, for example. The Sony changers that work with the Fireball can play DVD-Video, SACD, MP3 and music CD discs without issue.