MEDIA SERVER REVIEWS

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Darryl Wilkinson  |  May 23, 2014  |  First Published: May 22, 2014  |  2 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $3,396 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Support for multiple high-rez codecs
No computer needed
Up to 32 players
$449 system entry price
Minus
No AirPlay support
Limited access to some popular streaming Internet services

THE VERDICT
Bluesound’s audio system takes the pain out of being an audiophile in a streaming digital music era.

Bluesound, as I found out, has nothing to do with the mythical brown note. (Go Google it.) Instead, this is how John Banks, Bluesound’s chief brand officer, described to me the who, what, and why of the new company—a splinter of the Lenbrook family responsible for the NAD and PSB brands—and its high-resolution, 24-bit native, pure-digital streaming music system: “Bluesound is an exciting alliance of audiophiles. We are designers, engineers, and passionate music lovers who have spent our lives in the audio industry. NAD and PSB, who you know well, pioneered hi-fi in the ’70s; clearly, innovation and the pursuit of perfection in audio runs deep in our collective DNA.”

Barb Gonzalez  |  May 01, 2014  |  2 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $35

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Streams full-screen videos from Netflix and YouTube
Mirrors Websites
Control videos from computer or mobile device
Minus
Must go to Chromecast Website to learn when new apps become compatible
No central control panel or app
Clumsy to pause video streaming from a phone when a call comes in

THE VERDICT
For $35 and a little practice, this is the best streaming solution available to date.

The Google Chromecast was an instant hit when it came on the tech scene, selling out before its release date last August. At $35, it’s the least expensive way to stream movies and music to your TV and view photos from online. Unique in its approach to streaming media, the Chromecast dongle can stream from a Chrome Web browser (PC or Mac) and from certain apps on iPhones, iPads, and Android phones and tablets.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Apr 25, 2014  |  3 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $999

AT A GLANCE
Plus
500-GB hard drive
DSD capable
Serious fun to use
Minus
No live streaming from network devices
Lightweight amp

THE VERDICT
This handsome DSD-capable audio player with built-in storage takes the pesky computer out of computer audio—and it’s way more fun to use.

Sony made waves when they announced their intention to market three high-resolution audio (HRA) products built around the company’s DSD file format. True, there was a nascent HRA movement before Sony made the move, with loads of network audio players and USB DACs flooding the market. But somehow the Sony announcement provided the extra momentum that finally made HRA seem not just promising but inevitable. That the Consumer Electronics Association has also launched an HRA initiative is icing on the cake.

Darryl Wilkinson  |  Feb 06, 2014  |  13 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $3,995

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Internal storage for up to 100 BDs, 600 DVDs, or 6,000 CDs
Bit-for-bit downloads of BDs and DVDs from Kaleidescape Store
System interface and operation unmatched by any other movie server
Minus
BD must be inserted to authorize playback, even if movie has been imported
Limited options for adding zones and storage

THE VERDICT
The Cinema One provides almost everything you’d want in a movie server. “Almost” not good enough? Pair it with the DV700 Disc Vault.

Sometimes I’d rather take a jackhammer to my brainstem than dig through piles of disc cases and endure the mind-numbing delays of spinning icons, non-skippable trailers, loading menus, FBI warnings, and whatever else stands in the way of watching a movie at home.

If it seems like I’m exaggerating, it’s only because you haven’t experienced the tidal wave of dopamine that comes with using a movie server in your home theater. For the uninitiated, a movie server is an A/V component that provides near-instant access to movies stored digitally on an internal or external hard drive (or drives). Some servers, such as Kaleidescape’s new Cinema One, include a built-in Blu-ray/DVD player that makes it easy to import movies or music.

Rob Sabin  |  Dec 13, 2013  |  0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,277

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Simple setup
Intuitive, engaging, easy interface
Excellent sonics when mated with good speakers
Minus
Limited streaming music options
No desktop controller

THE VERDICT
Though its wireless system isn’t as built out as the popular Sonos system, NuVo delivers a worthy competitor and a foundation for the future.

Back in Sound & Vision’s July/August 2013 issue, my colleague John Sciacca favorably reviewed the NuVo Technologies Wireless Audio System, a multiroom music solution that goes after the popular Sonos system head on, delivered by a company with an even longer history in distributed audio. (Read John's review here.) About 10 years ago, when Sonos didn’t exist and companies like Russound dominated the multiroom industry with traditional pushbutton wall pads that blindly operated hidden CD players, radio tuners, or other analog sources using flaky infrared signals, NuVo had another way.

Kevin James  |  Sep 25, 2012  |  0 comments

There's no use pretending that Google TV wasn't a dud when the first products shipped back in late 2010. In fact, sales of Logitech's $300 Revue player were was so bad the company ran screaming from the settop-box market entirely, never to return. But now, like the Backstreet Boys and collateralized mortgages, Google TV is getting another shot, fueled by some much-needed upgrades to the software, including a more streamlined interface, improved search capabilities, and the ability (finally) to access the Android market, now called Google Play.

Barb Gonzalez  |  Sep 19, 2012  |  1 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: $100 At A Glance: Adds Vudu and more apps to SMP-N100 • Smooth streaming performance • Controlled by other HDMI CEC remotes • Xross menu displays only 10 files at a glance

Testing the Sony SMP-N200 made me consider how far network media players have come in the past few years. Sony’s base model, an upgraded version of its first player, the SMP-N100, handles most of the basic media streaming options with ease. It plays nicely with others, easily finding connections to DLNA servers, computers, tablet media controllers, and smartphone apps. It plays a wide variety of file formats. And it does it all for $100.

Barb Gonzalez  |  Sep 11, 2012  |  10 comments
It was a steadily growing progression. The more I streamed movies and music to my media players and home theater, the more movies and music I downloaded. My movie folder was stuffed with high-definition videos. There were more songs than I could listen to in a month. My media libraries had grown to hundreds of gigabytes and were slowing down my computer.
Darryl Wilkinson  |  Dec 21, 2011  |  1 comments
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: $1,249 At A Glance: BD player/recorder with 3D support • HDMI 1.4a • IR remote control

One of the many questions that keeps me up at night is why dedicated A/V media servers—the kind that sit cozily on a shelf above your AVR and pretend to be just another A/V source in your system—have traditionally been and continue to be so darn expensive. At the gleaming pinnacle of all that is good and glorious (and most expensive) in the media server world is the Kaleidescape movie system. Once you pull your head out of the “I could buy a new car with that kind of money” cloud and look down on the mountain of mere mortal media servers, you’ll see a small variety of makes and models with varying sphincter-constricting price points from companies such as Meridian, Olive, NuVo, and VidaBox. I reviewed Autonomic’s Mirage MMS-2 two-zone media server (Home Theater, October 2011), and I found lots to like about it—the iOS control apps, the integration of Internet streaming and cloud services, the two-zone outputs, and the all-around spiffy and ultra-easy way it provided access to my 300-plus-gigabyte library of digital media files—although none of that makes it any easier for most of us to sneak its $2,000 cost onto an already overburdened credit card.

Darryl Wilkinson  |  Sep 14, 2011  |  0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: $1,995 At A Glance: Upload and download content from Internet services • Excellent user interface • Designed to integrate with a variety of home-automation systems

There are some days when you’re just not sure it’s a good idea to get out of bed in the morning. Enjoy a few days like that, and you’ve made a week that’s rotten enough to justify drowning your sorrows in a pool of bourbon and absinthe. Now put a couple of those disastrous weeks on your calendar, and you’ll lay off the bourbon and go straight for the absinthe.

Kim Wilson  |  Jan 19, 2011  |  1 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: $399

At A Glance: Single-box solution • Easy setup and operation • Perfect for smaller rooms, garage, and outdoors • Integrates with existing Sonos systems • Product now called Play:5

Sonos, a leader in low-cost, wholehouse audio, has made it possible to inexpensively stream audio from a computer to multiple A/V systems using one or more of its ZonePlayers. The $399 Sonos S5, the newest ZonePlayer, is completely self-contained. It incorporates its own power supply, amplification, and internal speakers, which allows audio streaming from a wide variety of sources without a dedicated sound system. It can serve as your main (or only) ZonePlayer or as an extension of an existing Sonos system.

David Vaughn  |  Oct 11, 2010  |  0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: $300

At A Glance: Elegant touch-sensitive screen • Decodes multiple audio formats • Internet radio support • Integrates with Facebook and Flickr

Remember the days when you stacked hundreds, if not thousands, of CDs into towers or bookshelves so you could have your entire music collection at your fingertips? The CD player evolved from a single tray to a multi-disc changer that allowed up to 400 discs per unit, but you still had to find a place for all of those pesky cases. In 1999, the music world turned upside down when 18-year-old Shawn Fanning created Napster, and a new way of music delivery was born. Millions of people around the world digitized their music into MP3s, which compromised quality in favor of convenience. Fortunately, as computing power increased and storage became cheaper, audiophiles could store their digital music in a lossless format (FLAC, WMA Lossless, Apple Lossless, etc.) in order to preserve the integrity of the original recording. But with all of this music digitized, how do you listen to it in your home theater?

Shane Buettner  |  Sep 20, 2010  |  0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: $16,470 (as tested) At A Glance: One-of-a-kind, best-in-class movie interface • Very expensive • Music management not at same level • Blu-ray playback currently cumbersome • Standout pure performance

Escape Physical Media

Going back several years, I remember my first reaction to learning of the Kaleidescape paradigm. Then, media servers didn’t exist, and a Kaleidescape starter system cost a startling $30,000. On paper, it looked like its principal novelty was ripping and playing back DVD movies without having to load a disc into a player. My first thought was something like, “Wow, life is really expensive for people who don’t want to get up and walk a few feet to grab a disc and put it into a DVD player.” Of course, this was exceptionally ignorant and shortsighted. My cynicism lasted roughly two and a half to three seconds into actually using a Kaleidescape system. Much like the Apple products that are so near and dear to my heart, Kaleidescape’s power is in the interface. The library management and organization is a metadata-enriched, best-in-class experience. It’s about changing the way you browse and experience your content at least as much as it’s about storing your digital content on a server. What’s better still, it’s dead simple to use. You could hand the remote to your mom, and she’d be watching a movie in seconds. But power users can dig deeper and find movies by their favorite actors, directors, genres, and more.

Darryl Wilkinson  |  Apr 26, 2010  |  0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: $1,098 (as reviewed)

At A Glance: Robust wireless communication between devices • Supports most audio codecs except Apple FairPlay DRM-protected and WMA lossless • Access to numerous online audio-subscription services • ZonePlayers can stream local analog sources to other zonesI’ve often thought it would be nice to have music in multiple rooms of the house; but, as I’ve alluded, my home is not custom install friendly. I decided that a wireless multiroom system would definitely be the best bet. Sonos, a company that focuses exclusively on wireless multiroom audio, has a system that’s designed to do just thatŃand moreŃin up to 32 independent zones without breaking the bank or tearing down any walls. After I read the endearing tag line, “Wireless that works like magic,” I thought, what better time or place could there be to check out Sonos’ latest system incarnation? So I asked Sonos to send out its Bundle 150 two-zone package ($999 ) plus a ZoneBridge and let the fun begin.

Kim Wilson  |  Mar 29, 2010  |  0 comments
Price: $6,294 At A Glance: 1-terabyte hard drive • Built-in CD/DVD optical drive • Two audio zones • Remote worldwide access to F2 server • Blu-ray capable (though not standard)

Single-Source Access

ReQuest is one of the first companies to bring proprietary music and media servers to the home entertainment environment. The company offers various systems that simplify how you store and retrieve your music, movies, photos, and more. ReQuest’s F2 Media Server is primarily designed for integration into existing A/V systems, and its IMC Intelligent Media Client adds video functionality to the F2.

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