MEDIA SERVER REVIEWS

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Chris Chiarella  |  Dec 28, 2005  |  0 comments
Programming delivered fresh from the Internet to your set-top box.

Not to date myself, but I'm old enough to remember when video on demand was one of those coming technologies that made the hip groovesters at the malt shop say, "Neat-O!" even if they had no idea how it would actually work. But video on demand has been a fact of life for some time now, and everyone I know who actually uses it simply adores the power and convenience.

Chris Chiarella  |  Nov 07, 2004  |  First Published: Nov 01, 2004  |  0 comments
No, really: It's a computer!

Savvy readers might be familiar with Alienware. Their built-to-order gaming PCs are as famous as their functional and distinctive cases that prevent dust and birds from nesting between the circuit boards. Taking those two strengths into the living room, Alienware has introduced a Media Center Edition PC like no other, the DHS-321 Digital Home System. This box, which approximates the look of a consumer electronics component in black-anodized, brushed aluminum, runs the Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 operating system.

Chris Chiarella  |  Mar 24, 2008  |  0 comments
It’s like a UFO landed between your sofa and TV.

You’ve seen me write in these pages about the allure of the Microsoft Windows Vista operating system for PC, with its integrated Media Center application for serious next-generation living rooms. And you probably have one or more techy friends who extol the virtues of their multimedia PC, with its countless hours of stored music and video, TV recording, and the benefits of Internet access. But beyond custom-building your own rig or buying a traditional tower to stand next to your stylish A/V rack, how can you introduce a home-theater-friendly computer to your HDTV? Several manufacturers offer PCs with a form factor in the realm of traditional consumer electronics, namely a horizontal box with a remote control and a front-panel readout. The release of Alienware’s first such machine, the DHS-321, kicked off an evolution from that “digital home system” to their new high-definition entertainment center, code-named Hangar18.

Chris Chiarella  |  Jul 24, 2006  |  0 comments
The fruit takes root in the living room.

A while back, we Home Theater drones were all on Macs, and life was good. Then, one day, the powers that be told us that the bulk of us were switching to PC, and that was that. I had a few annoying differences to work through, but I eventually forgot my first real computer. And then the Mac mini showed up for review in its pretty white cardboard box, and it reminded me of the experience of bumping into a friend from the old neighborhood: familiar, sure, but with a lot of catching up to do.

Michael Antonoff  |  Feb 09, 2016  |  13 comments
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $149 (32 GB), $199 (62 GB)

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Touch surface remote
Dedicated App Store
Snazzy photo slide shows
Minus
Arduous ID and password entries
Weak implementation of Siri
Lacks 4K video support

THE VERDICT
Apple TV Gen 4 brings a better remote to the table but fails to soar above other top streaming devices.

When Apple TV debuted in 2007, dozens of rival media receivers were already in place. At a time when TVs were too dumb to do their own streaming, Apple TV came along mainly to benefit iTunes users. Since then, other media players have come and gone, but Apple has persevered. The company recently shipped Gen 4.

What’s different in 2016 is that most consumers now own a smart TV, media receiver, game console, or Blu-ray player connected to the Internet. Unless Gen 4 can deliver a richer experience over other Internet appliances, notably the Roku 4 Streaming Player (see review, this issue), Apple TV will be a tough sell.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Jan 25, 2006  |  0 comments
Four Jeeveses, serving music.

Let's fantasize a bit. Let's run wild. Let's say your hunger for music has genetically transmitted itself to your kids. Now let's postulate that every member of the family has different musical tastes. Fortunately, your McMansion is big enough to let everyone blast away with impunity. Now all you've got to do is serve up, say, four audio feeds. In your designer home, local systems would be a recurring eyesore—you want your multizone system to do the serving. All you've got to do is find an audio server that'll satisfy four mutually incompatible music lovers in four separate zones at once.

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.

Kris Deering  |  Jun 12, 2014  |  7 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $2,995

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Handpicked parts and proprietary audiophile touches
Nearly plug and play
Supports all high-resolution formats
Reference level audio and video quality
Minus
Needs a tablet for easiest interface
Still only as good as what you plug it into

THE VERDICT
A no brainer if you seek audiophile performance from a media server without a lot of homework and trial and error. Customer support is exceptional and takes the IT guesswork out of the equation.

We have recently come to an enormous crossroad in entertainment. Physical media as a whole is withering on the vine and everything is moving to either streaming playback or file downloads. While I’m all about the convenience that this offers I hate the idea (and reality) of the compromise this situation can create in the quality of the content. We’ve already seen the music industry destroy the quality of music recordings to appease the iPod generation, and regardless of the convenience provided by Netflix and a host of other video streaming services, they cannot match the quality of Blu-ray video playback. So what do you do if you want to enjoy instantaneous access to your media but don’t want to compromise the quality of the material? Baetis Audio may have a few answers for you.
Barb Gonzalez  |  Oct 16, 2014  |  0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $90

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Well-designed remote app with mirroring mode
Uses phone’s accelerometer to control games
Multiple users can control same BiggiFi
Minus
Touchscreen remote mode takes practice
Slight lag time when using screenshot remote mode

THE VERDICT
A versatile streamer that’s fun for playing games.

Before the official Android TVs come on the market, several small companies have been making Android-streaming devices that connect to a TV. BiggiFi is the newest Android-on-a-dongle that connects to a TV’s HDMI port. Other than its strange name, and obvious English-as-a-second-language notifications, this smartphone-controlled device might be a good streaming stick choice for users who like to play smartphone apps on the big screen.

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.”

Al Griffin  |  Nov 07, 2017  |  2 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $2,995

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Neutral sound from Class A/B amp
Upsamples and converts PCM and DSD
Compact form factor
Minus
Futuristic design means no mechanical controls
No wired headphone output

THE VERDICT
Cary Audio’s all-in-one system looks great, sounds great, and is packed with cutting-edge features.

Cary Audio is known in the high-end audio scene for making vacuum-tube and solid-state stereo components, and the brand has also established a foothold in the home theater world with its Cinema 12 preamp/processor and multichannel amplifiers. Cary’s AiOS (All-in-One System) is the first offering in the company’s Lifestyle series. With built-in aptX Bluetooth, wired Ethernet and Wi-Fi connectivity, AirPlay and PhoneShare support, and onboard Tidal, Spotify, and vTuner streaming, the AiOS really does have everything you need to immediately start playing music. Just download the company’s iOS/Android app, connect speakers, and you’re good to go.

Chris Chiarella  |  Mar 12, 2004  |  First Published: Feb 01, 2004  |  0 comments
We glimpse the shape of things to come.

Last fall, the editors of Home Theater beat a path to our industry's CEDIA Expo to see and be seen, as we do every year. This time around, we were surprised by the opportunity to witness the bona fide evolution of entertainment gear. We learned the names of three manufacturers (and so will you) whose creations—each multizone-friendly and high-end in its own fashion—bring next-generation features to the home theater and beyond. At press time, these products were still too new for a full hands-on review, so we'll share what we do know thus far.

Joshua Zyber  |  Nov 24, 2008  |  0 comments
It’s like a Blu-ray and a half?
Chris Chiarella  |  Feb 28, 2006  |  0 comments
Dual-core and other Intel technologies are a boon to heavy users of multimedia PCs.

One wife, two kids, and one cat later, it hit me: There are just not enough hours in the day. My leisure hours, like work, have become a matter of multitasking—watching a DVD in one window as I write a review in the other, downloading photos, and sending e-mails. I can no longer use the "I'm already busy" excuse since, frankly, I'm expected to walk and chew gum at the same time around here. And what of my poor PC, which is charged with performing all of the above and more? At least I know I'm not alone, here at wit's end, as the fundamental usage model has evolved and one-thing-at-a-timers have gone the way of the Timex Sinclair.

Al Griffin  |  Feb 15, 2018  |  4 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,100

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Free app from Roon Labs
Wired and wireless multiroom playback options
Impressive sound from built-in DAC
Minus
Track count limited to 30,000
Requires wired LAN connection

THE VERDICT
Elac’s Discovery provides a simple, elegant option for adding a networked music server with Roon to an existing audio system.

Before diving into a review of Elac’s Discovery DS-S101-G music server, it seems apt to ask: What is a music server? In the past, it was a standalone audio component with a built-in hard disk that stored and played a ripped CD collection while connecting to the internet to fetch metadata. While products that fit this description still exist, a music server can also be something as basic as a software application running on a computer or on a network-attached storage (NAS) appliance. The server application, wherever it may reside, acts as a librarian for your digital audio files, sorting and retrieving them, and then routing the data to a USB DAC or a networked audio component that translates the ones and zeros into music.

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